How These Kids are Giving Back in Ecuador

“Travel itself is very scarce for me, as I’ve never even commuted outside of the northeastern coast of the United States. Everything from the volunteer work to the small details — such as the different smells of the streets and different tastes of the food — will be exhilarating and memorable.” —Gabriella, student at Excelsior Academy traveling to Ecuador this summer

Travel has the power to change lives for the better. It provides an education one can never receive solely within the walls of a classroom. It teaches you about the world and yourself.

Last year, I started The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) because I want to give those who aren’t privileged or lucky enough to travel the chance to do so. I wanted to create something that takes kids like Gabriella and shows them that, though it’s a big world out there, we’re all really the same. I wanted to share the positive impact of travel with those less likely to experience it.

The more I travel, the more I realize how alike we all are. Sure, there are cultural differences, but the human experience is a shared one: we all laugh, cry, wish the best for our friends and family, worry about our health, and want to live with meaning. We all complain about the long commute and smile at the beautiful sunset.

As Maya Angelou said, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

You and I know this to be true. People like us know how important it is to have a global perspective. With the world being more interconnected than ever, understanding it has never been more critical – not only to succeeding as a person but also in our interconnected economy.

Yet there are kids who can’t see beyond their own town, who have never had a chance to meet someone from another country, or travel somewhere distant. They live in depressed communities where the world is just some big “other.”

FLYTE was born so that we could help those who don’t have the resources to do so — and with your help and generosity, we’ve funded two trips already! Because of us, 25 students have seen beyond their borders, volunteered in other countries, interacted with different cultures, and now have a passport (so they can keep seeing more). Students like Kaleb from Atlanta:

“Traveling abroad exposed me to different cultures and prepared me for the diverse community at college. Because of this trip, I’ve decided I’m going to study abroad in college.” —Kaleb, BEST Academy student and FLYTE Crew participant, spring 2016

Today, I couldn’t be more excited to announce that FLYTE has partnered with Excelsior Academy in Newburgh, New York, to send them to Quito, Ecuador, this summer!

Newburgh, once a thriving manufacturing center on the Hudson River, has faced deindustrialization and failed urban renewal attempts that have left the town struggling both financially and socially. Complicating the matter, the Newburgh school district is located in what the FBI has repeatedly named one of the ten most dangerous cities per capita in the United States.

With that in mind, we’re going send 15 Excelsior Academy students to volunteer for ten days in Quito, Ecuador. The students will volunteer at Casa Victoria, a grassroots community betterment program located in a struggling section of Quito, and work with local students helping in an after school program. Not only will they get to experience another culture, country, and continent, but they will also give back while there.

As Excelsior teacher Christine McCartney says, “At Excelsior Academy, we strive to create global citizens who recognize their power to enact change at both the local and global level.”

Here are the students talking about why this is so important to them — and what this trip means to them: