When I first arrived in Ecuador, I knew I wanted to make a change. My goal in the 250-person community, Patadel was “community development.” As the time passed I slowly began to understand how difficult this was. My days were spent working with the women of my community, who were some of the most hard-working people I had ever met. In the mornings I would I wake up to the soft páramo, or drizzle, beating at my window and go drink the Tisanita my host mom made me every morning for breakfast out of the flowers found in her garden. She would take me to herd the sheep, milk the cows and feed the pigs. Mid-day, I would teach summer camps for a few hours for the boys and girls in my community. In the afternoons, I would help my aunt or grandmother cook the corn they shucked days before and the potatoes they had picked that day. The food would be served to my host father first, then my brothers, and lastly, to the women in the family. When I asked why this was, the women told me the men were the dueños the bosses, and they worked the hardest in the house. That was not my observation.
Machismo is sexism often found in Latin America, and it was not only prominent in the older generation, but had immersed itself through the mind of almost every person in the community. One day my host brother taught me how to make kites by carving out bamboo shoots with knives and attaching them to plastic bags. I thought this would be a good idea to do in a camp one day, so I told my class to bring in materials to make kites the next days. Michelle, a 12-year-old girl in my class, immediately told me she could not. After I explained to her that other students in the class could help her with carving if she did not feel comfortable holding a knife, she told me that was not the issue. “Luna, es que las cometas no son para las niñas, son para los niños.” Luna, Kites are not for girls, they are for boys. After seeing my shocked face, Michelle told me that if I wanted, she could have her brother make one for her and she could bring it in the next day.
I realized that community development does not necessarily mean building a school, a health clinic, or even removing machismo from an entire community. It starts with personal growth on an individual basis. It started with Michelle, who believed she was not allowed to make a kite because of her gender. I knew I had inspired change when I saw the smile on her face as her kite flew higher than every other kite in the class.