This was supposed to be a cute post about how the Youth Ambassadors from Ecuador (8 high school students and one adult mentor) ended up having to stay two extra days in Chicago because on the day of their departure (9/30) the military closed the airports in Ecuador after a rebellion by the police, in response to rumors that year-end bonuses were to be cut.
The idea was that as “typical” Americans we tend to gloss over world events unless something connects us personally…or really unless we are inconvenienced. In the case of recent terror threats in Europe, the news angle was to interview USAmerican tourists in London and France to see if they still planned to visit the London Eye and the Eiffel Tower, respectively. “Yes, they answered, otherwise the terrorists win” was the trite answer.
In this case, after two weeks of scheduling, homestays, parties, school shadowing, presentations, meetings, museum visits and other assorted planning, the Youth Ambassadors showed up at the airport only to find that they couldn’t travel.
The urgent call came to me as a planner for this program locally in Chicago (via the Illinois-Sao Paulo Chapter of Partners of the Americas–the program was implemented nationally by Partners of the Americas, funded by the US State Department). “The kids are still here. We have to find places for them to stay at least until Saturday…possibly indefinitely.”
For me it became a funny anecdote as relates to my realm of responsibility…not a “real event” affecting “real people.”
For 15-year-old Dayana, it was deep concern for her family’s safety in Ecuador; or for 17-year-old Andres it was wondering when he would see his family, as he already was expecting a two day delay to get to his home on the Galapagos Islands after the group returned to Ecuador. And for the President of Ecuador it was a threat to his life, and for Ecuadorians a fear for national stability.
Even with a program designed to foster intercultural understanding, appreciation and global leadership (and it does, I don’t want to discount that), it’s still hard to step outside of one’s frame of reference to empathize with the position of others.
Perhaps the person who got it the most right was the Consul General of Ecuador, who was at the airport to say goodbye to the youth when the announcement came through. He and his wife invited two of the students to stay in their home until they were able to travel (two other volunteers with the program also immediately stepped-up to host the other students for the additional days).
If the role of the Consulate is to protect and serve nationals from their country when on US soil, he certainly aligned his ideas with his actions.
How do your ideas and actions align?