Over two years into the travel restrictions implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my plans for traveling back home to visit family in the Philippines were postponed yet again this past winter. My nostalgia for travel directed me to recreating my missed homebound vacation elsewhere, specifically Ecuador in Latin America. They have unique cultural traditions, a melting pot of must-try cuisines, and a shared history with the Philippines under Spanish rule that I was curious to learn more about. Plus, I heard Ecuador has some of the best roads for a motorcycle adventure, which I came across through an ad for Ecuador Freedom Bike rentals.
Through Ecuador Freedom, I also found the PfaP program, where they encourage their clients to pack an extra bag of donations. These donations go towards partnered schools and programs that benefit the local community. This solidified my choice of traveling to Quito, Ecuador. To me, this was the perfect way to continue the tradition of bringing gifts and essentials, similar to how my family and I did consistently when returning to the Philippines. Known as balikbayan in Tagalog, this cultural tradition is practiced by most Filipinos abroad when visiting their motherland. It would feel like I was bringing school supplies to my own family.
After I figured out the logistics of traveling to Ecuador, I was motivated by the prospect of connecting this trip with a local nonprofit in Chicago, called Nadia’s Howse of Hope. I reached out to my friend who runs this nonprofit, where they distribute gifts and donations to children hospitalized in Chicago. They had extra supplies and gifts from previous fundraisers that we agreed could be put to good use abroad.
This opportunity represented my desire to get involved in charity working with children and start a nonprofit that is related to my own experiences. Growing up in the Philippines, my classmates and I were inhibited from participating in school projects because we lacked certain school supplies. I’ve even seen one of my childhood friends starve during the school week. One memory of this friend influenced me: after we found a chicken’s nest in my backyard, my friend quickly devoured a couple of fresh eggs in front of me. I was shocked and in disbelief because I was privileged enough to never go that hungry. This memory turned into a passion, promising to myself that I want to help anyone wanting to receive a proper education and nourishment wherever I go.
Once I arrived at Ecuador Freedom in Quito, it was a great feeling to hear that the teachers and schoolchildren would love the donations we brought over. It even encouraged us to bring bags of toys along our motorcycle tour to give out along the way. The team at Ecuador Freedom were such a tremendous help. Since we could not load everything up on the bikes, they helped transport the donations using Jeeps.
This experience inspired me to pursue a career in charity, where I could pair my passion for motorcycle traveling with donation transport and logistics. Wherever this leads me, I will always keep in mind the work and locations of PfaP and bring more attention to programs like these in my future travels.