Nowadays it’s really rare for us, Americans, to go a day without electricity and warm water. However, in other parts of the world these amenities are limited. For a week, 10 high school students from San Diego embarked on a trip to Ecuador where their eyes were opened to the true reality of global and environmental issues.

During the trip the goal was to construct a school in a small community in Ecuador, but the students ended up getting so much more out of the trip. Helix Charter High School student Desiree Wilson said she had a lot more appreciation for luxuries she had taken for granted before. She reminisced about the timed showers, the times when only cold water was available and the four hours of electricity they got a day. She also recollected how the people in Ecuador had to walk miles to get their food and drinking water, which made her realize how fortunate we are in the U.S.

The trip’s expenses were funded by Elementary Institute of Science ambassadors, Walter and Lola Green and a group of generous friends and supporters in light of the institute’s 50th anniversary. It has provided a place for students from ages 7 to 17 to do hands-on activities and learn more about science, technology and the environment.

The students had to go through a rigorous selection process including giving a speech and getting recommendation letters. Officials were initially going to choose five students, but the donors decided to fund all 10 of the students’ traveling funds through a socially-conscious and environmentally-friendly program.

The student volunteers spent the first two days of their trip painting, sawing wood and collecting and moving rocks to build the foundation for a community school.

They even got to see the Equator.

Jeffrey Kramer, Phillip Beckham IV and Taurus Myles-Hendricks stand at the Equator.

Afterward, they traveled to Quito, Ecuador’s capital that was built on top of Inca ruins. Here, they were able to meet members of the community and explore the city’s culture by tasting foreign foods, such as plantains, and participating in cultural dances.

Taurus Myles-Hendricks ,Phillip Beckham IV, Nishon Tyler, Francesca Tirpak, Sasha Horne, Desiree Wilson, Dieynaba Edwards, Marielle Nava and Veronica Vasquez show off their painted faces.

They traveled eight hours up the Andes Mountains on a bus and then took a boat ride to the heart of the Amazon rain forest. Here, they visited a shaman that practiced a ritual on the group testing each person’s energy.

They hiked three hours in the pure rain forest, tasted plants and enjoyed the humid weather by building up a sweat.

Phillip Beckham IV and another volunteer show off their glowing faces while hiking.

The trip impacted all the students in a different way. They each shared a presentation on their trips’ highlights, impacts and influences at a dinner where their parents were in attendance on Tuesday, Aug. 26 at the EIS facility.

High Tech High International student Marielle Nava said taking the trip to Ecuador inspired her to start a Me to We program at her school to build awareness of global issues.

For Taurus Myles-Hendricks, High Tech High International student, the trip’s focus on team work and collaboration taught him that “you don’t have to go after things alone.”

Even parents realized the difference the trip made on their children. Parent Phillip Beckham said his son came home with a greater appreciation for everyday luxuries after the trip, but that he “also came home with a better understanding of the wealth of this country and why so many people risk their lives to get here.”

The Commission on Science that Matters is an after-school program under the Elementary Institute of Science for 14-17 year olds that explores the themes of health, energy, water, green living and sustainable living in San Diego.

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