Buellton residents Brooke and Skyler Goodwin and Cynthia Uribe-Rodriguez were among students who traveled to Ecuador this summer to work in rural communities and immerse themselves in local culture.

The Resilience Education Adventure Community and Health (REACH) Program teamed up with The Tandana Foundation to give two student groups the graduation trips.

The first group, made up of 12 students including the Goodwins and one chaperone, was in Ecuador from June 22 to July 11. The second group, made up of 19 students including Uribe-Rodriguez and two chaperones, was there from July 17 to Aug. 5.

Both groups stayed with host families in different communities during their trips. The first group stayed in the Pastavi neighborhood in the community of Quichinche, and the second group stayed in the community of Agualongo.

The first group worked in several different communities on a variety of projects. They spent three days helping paint classrooms at the community school in Panecillo and spent a day at a rehabilitation center for stray dogs in Ibarra, according to a statement from The Tandana Foundation. They also visited a weather station in Inguincho, where they planted 60 native trees and learned about the impact of climate change in Ecuador.

The second group worked in Quichinche. They worked at Tandana's summer school program for a week. The REACH students taught classes, which they designed themselves, to students participating in the summer school program. The classes the students taught included dance, geography, food science/nutrition, arts and crafts and painting.

Both REACH groups worked on an ongoing construction project that was started by another group of Tandana volunteers. They worked alongside Quichinche students to continue building a reading gazebo at the school. The first group mixed cement for the foundation and built posts for the columns. The second group mixed cement for the floor and put up the structure for the gazebo. Future volunteers will continue working on this project.

Both REACH groups also participated in the Andean tradition of minga in their respective communities. A minga is a community workday where many community members get together to work on a project for the good of the entire community. The students and the community members worked to clean up and improve roads in Pastavi and Agualongo.

REACH is an experiential education program for motivated high school students from Santa Barbara County that prepares them for successful futures. The program helps students develop skills in areas including outdoor education, career exploration, financial literacy and personal development.

The Tandana Foundation is a non-profit organization that supports cross-cultural volunteer opportunities, scholarships, and community projects in highland Ecuador and Mali's Dogon Country. For more information or to sign-up for a volunteer vacation, please visit www.tandanafoundation.org.

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