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PCV Lee Ullmann works with poor children in Ecuador
PCV Lee Ullmann works with poor children in Ecuador
Postcards from Ecuador: List College Grad Gives Peace Corps a Chance
Before he left to fulfill a twenty-seven-month commitment to the Peace Corps, Lee Ullmann (List College, ‘01) was slightly worried. He knew he would be going to one of two places in Ecuador but he "wasn't quite fluent" in Spanish. He also knew that his assigned location could be either two hours or twenty hours from the capital city of Quito. Proximity to Quito meant having some of the luxuries that the Long Island native was used to, like running water. Distance from the capital could yield a very different living experience indeed. But despite all the unknowns, Lee was optimistic, keeping his goals in perspective.
Since he was a high school junior, Lee had worked at Camp Anchor on Long Island, which brought kids with Down Syndrome, Parkinson's, cerebral palsy and attention deficit disorder (ages five and up) to the camp for a six-week program that included outings and field trips. By the time Lee began the Joint Program between JTS and Columbia, he had already decided to take a year after graduation to help others in a foreign country before going into the job scene. His particular interest, cultivated during his experience at Camp Anchor, was working with children. "I owed it to humanity to do something good," Lee remembers. "The Peace Corps was the most fitting program for me."
Once he had settled on the Peace Corps, he had to select a region in which to serve. His first choice was the Middle East, which included Jordan and Morocco. But as a Jew with both American and Israeli citizenship, he was advised to select another region. It was suggested to him that he register for Jewish programs that do the same thing. But Lee felt that with his upbringing and his JTS education, he had a strong enough foundation in Judaism that he could "go anywhere and help anyone. I will be helping a general population, not a specific Jewish population." So he went for it, choosing to pursue the South American region, which included Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay. Lee's archeology adviser at Columbia is a leading scholar of Incan history; this influence made him push hard for Ecuador. He admits that he feels very lucky to have been accepted to the South American region program: usually, he notes, "if you don't know Spanish, they won't give it to you."
[woodcut of South America]
When he last communicated with JTS via email, Lee was in a city called El Carmen, about four hours outside of Quito. To send us an email, he had to travel an hour by bus to the nearest Internet café. He found that "adjusting to a house that only has water six hours a day, and no hot water at all," was "a little rough." But don't worry; he isn't starving. Plantains, he reports, are plentiful and the food is "really great." He is staying with a Roman Catholic family, "They are very interested in Hebrew and what a Jew is," he recounts. "They have been telling people that I speak the language of Jesus and it is really strange. After the [August] bombing in Jerusalem they made me watch the news because they wanted me to make sure that what was going on in Israel was not any of my family."
Lee relates that even the New York subways are no match for the interesting packages people bring aboard public transportation in Ecuador. "In New York, when someone brings something interesting into the subway car everyone is really interested and stares. Here they tie chickens by the legs and bring them on the buses alive. They kill them right before they eat them so they stay fresh. The other day this guy walked on the bus with about ten chickens all tied together by one string, hanging upside down so that they don't move around much. Lucky me, he sits in the seat next to me. So one of the chickens just starts pecking at my foot. So I said something to the guy. He says it must be a bad chicken and snaps the chicken's neck on the spot. Shortly thereafter another chicken started pecking at my foot. This time I did not say anything."
In November, after a three-month training period teaching Ecuadorean school children about American culture and English, he will begin his site assignment in South Quito, about an hour and a half outside of the main city. He will live in a barrio known as Jose Peralta, which is located on the top of a mountain. "On a clear day, you can see about three or four snow-capped volcanoes. The site is also far enough from the center of Quito that it is not affected by the smog or the crime of a big city." Lee's assignment is to work with about a hundred poor children. "As of now, they get fed five days a week at a local soup kitchen but after that take to the streets. I will be organizing and running an after-school and weekend program for the children." This program will probably include trips to museums and nature excursions, and will feature activities designed to improve the participants' nutrition and self-esteem.
[mountain in the Andes]
During his training, Lee observed that the children he taught were extremely poor, even by Ecuadorean standards. "They live in a house with four tin walls, a tin roof, no water and no electricity. I want to help children at risk to become better equipped to meet and overcome life's challenges. There are a lot of conflicts in South America between the indigenous peoples and the modern Ecuadoreans who do not want to identify with their Incan roots," Lee observes. "It is my personal goal as an anthropology and archeology student to have kids go to museums and cultural things and take pride in their own culture."
He also intends to stay close to his roots while he helps Ecuadorean youth discover theirs. Before he left, Lee contacted Joseph Brodie, vice president for student affairs at JTS, who put him in touch with the local Jewish community, a point of connection for a young Jew far from home. He attended High Holy Days services in Quito with another program participant. Three of the program's thirty-one participants are Jewish, he reports.
Additionally, Lee feels that his educational experiences in the JTS/Columbia joint program, which included an internship at the American Museum of Natural History; academic digs in Cyprus with Princeton University and in Ashkelon with Harvard University; and study of Akkadian, Aramaic, Ugaritic and Hebrew biblical grammar, taught him to respect and value natural and archeological history. His education, he further noted, will enable him to "delineate between religious and secular society without compromising either."
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.
|By RebbetzinRachel (18.104.22.168) on Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - 11:05 am: Edit Post|
I am always so inspired when I hear of my fellow Jews doing work like this! It's a true tikkun olam and I truly hope that this kind of work will improve world opinions about Jews and Israel. Keep up the good work!
Next time you're traveling to Ecuador, please visit http://travelingrabbi.com/countries/ecuador/ for information on Jewish resources. Please also feel free to post on our Ecuador page about your experiences there - our readers would be very interested in this!