Queen Elizabeth Scholar makes impact during co-op in Ecuador
By Geron Malbas
During a three-month international co-op work term in Ecuador, SFU health sciences undergrad Juanita Mora interned with the Community Evolution Foundation (CEF), a Canadian NGO devoted to empowering communities through co-operative community enterprises.
Mora selected the internship in Ecuador as part of her membership in the Queen Elizabeth Scholars Program, which supports capacity-building in five countries while also furthering the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. She also chose the Ecuador internship because the nation shares some of her Colombian culture, as well as the language.
“My ability to speak the native language allowed me to create strong relationships with the Indigenous people in these communities and listen to their stories,” says Mora. “Because of this, I was able to create a 'profile' for a community member in Ecuador and demonstrate how CEF has impacted their life.”
Mora worked on a project to promote cultural tourism that would generate social and economic change in the town of Sigchos. As a health sciences student, she says she was intrigued to see how CEF would use cultural tourism to improve the Ecuadorans’ health and well-being over time.
“I had never previously considered how big an impact cultural tourism could have on a community,” she says. “Ecuador is so rich in biodiversity and culture that these communities can create a sustainable form of tourism that not only brings in a source of economic growth, but also promotes, celebrates and creates awareness of the beauty of Ecuador’s Indigenous culture.”
Mora’s ability to foster relationships between tourists and locals, using both English and Spanish, helped her facilitate important conversations. Among her many activities, she offered English workshops to both children and adults, focusing on tourism initiatives; acted as a representative face of CEF; and spoke on behalf of CEF and Simon Fraser University to communicate her role to the community.
A stand-out aspect of the internship was its flexibility, she says. Free to get involved in roles beyond those assigned to her, she connected with a health centre in Sigchos.
“This health centre ran medical visits for rural people who were unable to travel to the nearest health clinic. I went on several visits with a team of nurses and doctors, observing and assisting the doctors by taking notes and photographing them as they worked, because documentation was necessary,” she explains. “I also helped to find and provide the medication they would prescribe. My supervisor saw my initiative and helped me find this role so I could further expand my experience and learning in Ecuador.”
The experience has encouraged her to seek a study exchange program that focuses on global health, and to pursue a master’s in public health to learn how to make an impact on the health and well-being of populations, from an upstream point of view.
For students interested in co-op, Mora recommends considering co-op positions beyond their comfort zone.
“Look for opportunities that will push you to grow not just professionally but also personally, as you will feel much more confident in yourself and what you want to do with your career,” she advises.
“It is important to take the time outside of the academic obligations we have as students and use your time in university to experience as many opportunities as you can grab ahold of, as those will be the ones that will shape your career.”