To Ecuador…and Beyond

Abi Nelson participated in PAA’s Music Internship in Ecuador in Fall 2017. She is from Edinburgh and has just begun a job at The Orpheus in Surrey just outside London, an opportunity she says grew directly out of the work she did during her PAA program. Another exciting example of a PAA participant using our program as a springboard for her career in the arts!

Getting ready to leave university is a pretty daunting thing. Will I get a good grade? Where will I be in a few months time? How will I pay for things without student finance? Will I get a job?? I never would have guessed that just 3 months after walking across that stage in my gown and cap that not only would I have travelled across the world to live in Ecuador for two months doing something amazing, but I would also get a job that I not only get paid for, but I LOVE. And who’s to thank?

Performing Arts Abroad.

Love at first sight…

In my final months of my university career, I had a lot of thinking to do. I knew I wanted to travel after I graduated. I also knew I wanted to work in the field of Theatre for Development. What I didn’t know is that I could do both those things immediately after I finished university and that one would provide a kickstart for the other. How did it all happen? Well, that’s a long story. But I’ll try cut it down for you…


Going back a few years, when I was 18 I went to study Drama at Kingston University in London. Not exactly a parent’s dream – especially when I threatened to study Law just a few years prior – but my favourite subject nonetheless. Apart from knowing I didn’t want to be an actress, I didn’t have a clue what I would do with a degree in Drama. I loved directing, teaching… anything that helped others achieve anything they wanted. But it wasn’t until my third year of university that I discovered Theatre for Development (TfD – theatre used as a developmental tool). I had finally found what I had been looking for, putting my passion for the Arts into helping others.


It was while searching for a way to combine my new found love with my old one – Theatre for Development and travel – when I stumbled upon Performing Arts Abroad, an amazing organisation offering study abroad programs, internships, and volunteer opportunities all over the world in the Performing Arts.

Skipping ahead a few months and I’m all set to head off to Ecuador! The team at PAA had made everything so easy. They had listened to everything I hoped to achieve during my time abroad and tailored a programme just for me. I was off to work in Sinamune, a school for disabled people with a focus on the Performing Arts. And although the school didn’t have drama lessons, they said I could start my own drama class. It seemed too good to be true!

As soon as I arrived in Quito I knew I was somewhere special. From the beautiful mountains and volcanos to the exquisite streets and parks, I had a feeling I was going to have an amazing two months. Arriving at Sinamune only confirmed that.

Sinamune is an amazing organisation founded by Edgar Palacios, Ecuador’s famous trumpet player. Starting as just music classes for a few disabled people, it has expanded to an amazing school with around 80 students studying music, dance and art, along with regular studies such as language skills and maths. From my second week, I was teaching 15 students drama (and 3 students Piano). It had its challenges of course, like the students having no previous drama experience and me having not too much skill with Spanish (the language I had to teach in). But with 6 hours of Spanish classes a week after school and the ever-growing confidence of my students, we very quickly got into the swing of things. And we had something to work towards! The school wanted the class to do a performance at the end of my 8 weeks in front of fellow students, the students’ families, and tourists. I remember feeling so much pride and love for every one of my students that day.

While doing some research for what to do with my drama class, I found the website for an amazing company in the UK doing a similar thing to Sinamune. The Orpheus Centre is an independent specialist college in Surrey that increases the confidence and skills of young disabled adults through the performing arts. I knew instantly I wanted to be a part of it, and there happened to be a job going in the fundraising department. I have always enjoyed fundraising and I knew it can be an invaluable way of ensuring the continuity of organisations like Orpheus and Sinamune. Although I was worried about my reasonable lack of experience, I applied. Not long after, I was having an interview over Skype. They were so interested to hear about the work I was doing at Sinamune and thought it gave me invaluable, transferable experience that I could bring to Orpheus. I was overjoyed when I got the job offer.

After a tearful leaving party, and an incredible trip through the Cloud Forest, Andes and Amazon with my dad, I was ready to head back home. I had a few days at home to say hi to the family, then I was back down South to start my next adventure. I truly believe my experience in Ecuador not only gave me life-long friends and memories, but it also gave me a much clearer picture of what I wanted to do and a huge boost into my career.

Worst thing about me was fixed in Ecuador, OLEY!

Hello, there! Yes yes yes, I made it all the way from a small old city Bethlehem, Palestine to Ecuador. Let me tell you first a little about myself. My name is Aleen Masoud, a 22-year-old Masters student in Arts, Business and Creativity at Newcastle University. I started playing the violin at the age of 10 at Edward Said National Conservatory for Music and at the age of 18, outside of my bathroom’s door, I started singing too. You can say I’m a traveler too, but never thought I’d travel to South America in my life. So, how did I end up there?

I decided that I wanted to do something special before the stress that I knew it’s coming in my life. So, I started googling; fun things to do before being a student, again. And guess what I got? NOTHING useful! So, after spending time thinking, I knew what I needed was a new cultural experience plus doing something fruitful to the society; Yup, that’s called volunteering. Back to googling, I read about Performing Arts Abroad (PAA) and that was exactly what I needed. I did a music internship for 4 weeks and not only that, I made friends, became part of a family, saw beauty itself and gained weight, Duh!

I was excited but more nervous. Especially that my mom was stressing me out more, thinking that I might get kidnapped (After watching a movie called Snatched), ill or worst-case scenario die. I took the risk because that what life is about so, on 16th June 2017, I arrived at Quito. I must tell you that every single thing with PAA is very organized. After 2 days of sight-seeing, it was time to meet my host family and start the program, where I did it at SINAMUNE institute.

Now we are getting into the point, worst thing about me is knowing directions, which I’m horrible at! I travelled around the world from UK, touring around the States, Europe and around the Middle East too. But the problem, I always used to depend on others when traveling. I was only a follower and I would always say, ‘I don’t know, you do it, you organize guys, if you depend on me we’d get lost’. And voilà, it was only me, myself and I on this trip. And to be honest, I never thought I’d manage. Guess what? I never even got lost! I have to admit that this experience made me know more about me, my abilities and the person I want to become in the future. And made me absolutely ready for my next step at Newcastle and knowing even if I get lost I can manage, I am INDEPENDENT!

Quick advices:

  • Don’t pack that much, you won’t need it.
  • Make sure to break your money into $1,5,10.
  • Learn some Spanish, por favor!
  • Always have an open mind and heart.
  • Drink enough water.
  • 4 weeks is not enough, go for a minimum of 8 weeks.
  • Don’t think about love there, just enjoy your moments.
  • Must dance Salsa with a local. Back to the previous point, it’s not love, you’re just dancing.
  • Be careful, same in any country you travel to.
  • If you care about your shape, lose weight before going there.
  • Have fun!

Dance Internship in Quito, Ecuador

zoeZoe Geiger is a Kinesiology and Dance student at Western Washington University.  She completed not one, but two PAA programs in 2016, and the Dance Internship in Quito, Ecuador program was the second one.

Within minutes of landing in Quito, I was warmly greeted by Franklin, the head of the Spanish school I would be attending during my internship in Quito. He would be taking me to my hostel and later to my homestay as well. Each person I met involved with the program upheld the high bar set by Franklin. Everyone was caring and enthusiastic about welcoming me and helping me become accustomed to Quito and its culture.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.46.15 PM copyPAA works along with Ecua Explora in Quito. Another volunteer arrived through Ecua Explora and we were placed together the first few nights in a hostel to get adjusted and explore. This was an excellent way to relax, adjust, and spend time with someone who was also new to the country. We were quick friends and traveled together on several weekends during our time there.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.46.31 PM copyMy family was not only welcoming but they were involved in my life in Quito, inviting me to their family dinners and festivities. I was grateful to live with such a wonderful family. As only

the older daughter spoke any English, my host family played a major role in the improvement of my Spanish.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.47.06 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.47.31 PM copyThroughout the 8 weeks of my internship, I attended one-on-one Spanish classes three days a week. While this made for long days after my internship, it was invaluable to my learning and understanding of Spanish.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.47.43 PM copyScreen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.47.52 PM copyAs an intern at SINAMUNE for two months, I truly felt I had made a positive difference in the lives of the people with whom I worked. This was my goal above all other goals in this adventure. I spent my days helping the Dance Instructor, Rosita, at the school for students with special needs. Without volunteers, Rosita teaches these dance classes, sometimes with 20 students or more, on her own. She works with the classes on movement and choreography.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.48.17 PM copyScreen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.48.29 PM copy Even with two instructors, this job is hard work. Classes include students of greatly varying ranges of abilities and needs. She was tremendously grateful for my help. Several times a week, the school would host performances for tourist groups to raise money for the program. Students participated in the Orchestra, led by the genius behind SINAMUNE, Edgar Palácios, and several performed choreography by Rosita. I spent most my time with these students helping prepare for the performances and change between dances. I was also given the opportunity to choreograph a solo ballet piece to be performed with the orchestra. Watching these students perform often brought me to tears, watching their joy and the happiness they brought their audiences.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.48.43 PM copyScreen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.48.55 PM copyWhile my days during the week were long, I managed to travel on almost every weekend. Diana, the head of Ecua Explora, had given Carlee (the other volunteer) and me several suggestions on places to travel. I made it to Otavalo, Baños, Ambato, Mindo, Montañita, Los Frailes, and parts of the Amazon near Tena and Puerto Napo. The bus system, although incredibly crowded, is both affordable and easy to navigate. While most of these travels were made with Carlee, a few were alone. Traveling alone through Ecuador, while I was alert, I felt safe and as though I could always find help from the kind people I met.Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.49.04 PM copyScreen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.49.13 PM copy

Zoe Geiger: Dispatches from Ecuador

Zoe - 1Zoe Geiger was a dance intern in Ecuador from January to March, 2017.  While there she kept a blog that is frankly one of the best we’ve ever seen from a participant.  If you want to know more about the program in Ecuador, Zoe’s blog is the perfect place to start:

Below is a sample of just one of her many fantastic posts:

Primer Día a la Sinamune

 Today was the first day of the internship at Sinamune!

Before Gaby met me at my host house, I had breakfast with my host mom, Martha. She made me a banana smoothie to go along with some bread, granola, and watermelon.

At 7:30, Gaby and I made our way to the bus stop to Sinamune. Thankfully this is a quick ride, about 15 minutes and is not too complicated. Sinamune is a truly wonderful program. There are several academic rooms, a therapy room, a few music rooms, and a large studio at the top for dance and orchestra. On the first floor there is also a shop with Ecuadorian crafts, clothes, purses and backpacks. The money from this goes directly to the program. I will be sure to buy something from there soon. The students range from 12 years old to about 47 or so.

geiger 3On several occasions throughout the month, tourist groups come to watch the orchestra and a few dancers perform. Today began with a group from the US. Before they arrived Gaby and I were led into the “green room”, so to speak, where three lovely ladies with special needs were getting ready for their performance with their instructor, Rosita. I helped them get dressed and then put on their eye shadow. I’ve only ever applied makeup to another person maybe twice, so this was interesting but I think they looked pretty alright.

Gaby and I then went out to the audience to watch the performance with the tourists. My face hurt from smiling. The orchestra was awesome with the students will special needs participating with tambourines and shakers on the side. The three ladies danced about four songs, changing into new dresses each time. A few of the boys who were playing instruments on the side, joined the ladies for a few dances. It was beautiful, and since this is happening about eight times while I am here I will be sure to take some pictures and videos soon.
geiger 1
After a short break for recess and lunch, the dance classes began. I am Rosita’s assistant for the next two months. Each day may be a little different but today there were three one-hour classes. For the first 20 minutes or so Rosita had me warm up the students. I was grateful to have Gaby as my translator and have already made a list of body parts and movement words in Spanish in my notebook. Rosita then taught the remainder of the class with me helping teach, and keep the students engaged. I do have some pictures of this 😉 Enjoy. I also have videos but can’t seem to get them to work on this blog 🙁
At 1 PM or 1300, I am done at Sinamune.

geiger 4On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I will then be heading to Spanish classes after Sinamune for class from 3-5. Today, Gaby took me anyway to learn the busses. This route is unfortunately much longer than the first…about an hour. The school is in the neighborhood where the hostel was, so it was familiar. Gaby and I stopped for lunch for her…(my host family is only supposed to include breakfast and dinner, but Martha is so sweet she made me a box lunch). So I enjoyed the best instant coffee I’ve had (it’s from Columbia) while Gaby ate. Then we took the bus back to my house…another hour trip. On the bus we had some great conversations about religion, specifically both of us sharing views of agnosticism. This was really interesting because most of Quito is Catholic. Also, I am the first Jewish person she has ever met. Naturally she had some questions about what the religion teaches, what a bat mitzvah is, etc. She understood and appreciated how I view Judaism as my culture and ethnicity more than my religion. Anyway, it was great to have her with me on the bus. I am a little anxious about taking the busses alone. But hopefully by next week or so I will feel much more confident.

geiger 2While waiting for dinner, I sat in the/my living room looking over the West of Quito reading Hotel New Hampshire. Martha got stuck in traffic so dinner was around 8 and I ate with Martha and my host dad, Marco. We had potatoes, salad, chicken and a naranjilla smoothie. I was able to chat a good amount with them about where we have traveled, what activities we each like to do, how long I’ve been dancing, etc. Martha told me a better, faster, bus to take home and drew me a nice map. Shout out to Naomi for the notebook! I have numbers, addresses, and tons of hand-drawn maps to help me find my way around Quito. I’ve spent about an hour on google maps trying to better understand the directions. Now my eyes are tired and I’m thinking about my 6 o’clock alarm.

Abrazos de Quito,

Reflections on Ecuador

Becky Ward was a Music intern in Ecuador from January to May of 2015

PinchinchaIt’s now been almost 4 months since I returned from my time in Ecuador earlier this year. Having done some volunteering abroad since then in Ghana, it is nice to be back in the UK for the time being, especially as my time in Ghana (with a non-PAA program) was much less enjoyable than my time in Ecuador. I’ve had some time to really think about my time in Ecuador and to begin to process what I learnt whilst I was there.

I have realised how much Spanish I actually managed to learn whilst I was out in Ecuador after conversing with a friend in Spanish and reading books in Spanish. I didn’t really think about how much of a skill this would be once I got home; I was only really concentrating on trying to understand what was being said around me and to me. I also found that I really enjoyed learning the language and getting progressively better as time went on.

IMG_0574 copyI have also really noticed the monotony of the English landscape since returning from Ecuador, where there are volcanoes everywhere as well as the rainforest and the Galapagos Islands. I miss walking out of the house in the morning to see the volcano Pichincha towering over me. It’s impossible to reach any higher than 1000m in the UK whereas in Ecuador I was living at 2800m. Big difference!

IMG_2270 copyOne of my favourite things about Ecuador is the range of fresh fruit and vegetables that is readily available. I really love drinking fruit juices and smoothies, and some of my favourite fruits are things that I tried in Ecuador that you just cannot buy in the UK. Some of the fruit is available at specialist markets but I miss being able to walk into a supermarket and buy Guanabana and Granadilla and dragon fruit and so, so much more.

IMG_2456 copyI have talked a lot about what I miss, and it is easy to forget that there were things that I missed a lot about the UK whilst I was in Ecuador. I can eat some of the foods I love most, like cheeses and chocolates and pasta and pizza which were very rare in Ecuador! It is nice to be in the same time zone as my family and friends again, and to be able to see them so much more easily!

IMG_0651 copyFor now, I have no plans to go back to Ecuador but I would really like to show friends and family what a beautiful country it is. Pictures are great but there’s no substitute for seeing Ecuador’s mountains, volcanoes, beaches, valleys, rainforests and cloud forests for yourself. I feel very lucky to have been able to go to such a great country and to be able to do something so worthwhile whilst I was there as well!

Being Adventurous and Interning In Quito, Ecuador

Hello! My name is Emma Lepore and I am an intern with Performing Arts Abroad in Ecuador.

Being in a Catholic country, I suspected that Easter would be a big deal. About a week before Hold Week, I learned that many people take advantage of their time off to leave the city and go on holiday, or visit relatives in a different province. Originally, I thought I would also take advantage of an extra day off and go to Baños; however, even the week before many of the hotels were full. Since going to Baños for Easter wasn’t going to happen, I started to look for things to do in the city.

After talking with a few people, I decided that Quito’s Good Friday procession was an event I should not miss. On Good Friday I headed to Old Town for La Procesión de Jesus del Gran Poder (The Procession of Jesus of Great Power). It is estimated that a quarter of a million people gather in the Plaza de San Francisco to observe and participate in the spectacle. The procession begins at noon, the hour Jesus was condemned to death, and lasts for three hours, which was the time Jesus was crucified. There are a few processions around Quito on Good Friday; however, Jesus del Gran Poder is the big event for Quitanos during holy week.

I watched the procession from the Plaza de Independencia, which was on the procession route and a few blocks away from the Plaza de San Francisco. There were a lot of people packed onto the sidewalk, trying to get a good view of the procession. Vendors were selling snacks, hats, bancos (stools), drinks, and everything else under the sun. The traffic police were making sure all the observers were staying on the sidewalk and out of the way of the participants.

Interning In Quito, EcuadorAt 11:00 am the procession passed through the street where I was located. There were many people dressed in purple robes that were similar to the robes of the Ku Klux Klan. Fortunately, the significance of this dress is very different than that of the Klan. The men are called Cucuruchos (meaning cone) and the women are called Veronicas (after the woman who offered Jesus her veil to wipe his face). The cone shaped head dresses are a sign of humility and the color purple represents penitence. Dispersed throughout the people dressed in purple robes are men carrying crosses, dressed in white robes with crowns of thorns. Some also have painted blood on their foreheads or wear chains on their feet. These men are representing Jesus Christ on his way to the cross.

To participate in this parade is a great honor and participants take a year to prepare for the procession.  These people process as an act of faith.

Interning In Quito, Ecuador

Being from the United States, I am not accustomed to such grand, public displays of faith. In the US religion is very important; however, it acts more as an undertone to our lives. I think that many people in the United States are afraid to display their faith and I admire the participants the La Procesión de Jesus del Gran Poder for being publicly proclaiming their faith. At the same time, I don’t believe that one faith is superior to another and it is important to respect the beliefs of all people. This event, which obviously encourages certain religious beliefs, was a little scary. Respecting others beliefs and decisions does not decentralize religion in my life, but it makes me aware that following God’s path for me and spreading God’s love does not have a denomination.

Later that afternoon I was invited to a party at Martha’s father’s house. Martha’s father lives in the valley about an hour outside of the city. It was very different from the city houses. The house only had one floor and it had a yard. At the party we ate the traditional Santo Viernes dish Fancesca. This soup takes four hours to prepare and two hours to cook, which is probably the reason why it is only eaten during holy week. This soup can have many ingredients including: fish, fava beans, chochos, corn, peas, porotos, rice, onions and garlic. Traditionally this dish contains seven different types of grains. It was excellent, but after one bowel I was full for the rest of the night.

Similar to a Lepore family tradition, after eating, we took a walk on a path built along the river. On this walk we also took the dogs. I am pretty sure that every family in Ecuador has dogs. We had to walk through a neighborhood before reaching the park, and as we passed every house a dog would start to bark. By the time we reached the end of the street, there was a chorus of dog barking.

When we finally returned home I was exhausted. It was a long day full of new, traditional Ecuradorian experiences. I went to bed knowing that Saturday would be an early morning.

On Saturday, I woke up early to catch a bus to Otavalo. Otavalo is a small town about two hours north of Quito. It has a large indigenous market and a waterfall!

Interning In Quito, EcuadorFirst, I made my way to the waterfall. After reaching the park, it was a short walk to the waterfall. The park also had a hot spring and a swinging bridge, so I explored the forest for a while. It was the perfect day for a walk and the scenery was simply spectacular.
A little later I ventured back into town to check out the indigenous market. The market spans over a few streets, because Otavalo is not that big, the market takes up a lot of the town. There are stands selling a variety of products from jewelry to plantains. There are also a lot of people shopping, haggling to get the best price for their treasurers. I knew I wanted to buy some alpargatas, which are traditional sandal shoes worn by the indigenous. I also bought some jewelry and gifts.

After shopping, I went to a restaurant and had a veggie burrito. Burritos are not typical Ecuadorian cuisine, but it tasted great! When I was finished I walked back to the bus station to return to Quito.

It was interesting to watch the Procession on Friday, but going to Otavalo on Saturday was the highlight of my weekend. It is nice to get out of the pollution and traffic on the weekends. The city is nice; however, I still feel that city living is just temporary for me.

During my trip I thought about how blessed I am to have technology. Not only could I talk with my family, I was also able to attend my Grandmother’s service via Skype. I am truly blessed with an incredible support system and an amazing role model watching over me.

Interning In Quito, Ecuador

Life in Quito and the Universal Language of Music

IMG_1588Nothing can quite prepare you for the feeling of stepping off the plane in a strange country that you’ve never been to before, knowing you’ve got to function in a different language and a different culture for the next 3 months. At the same time, there’s nothing quite like standing on the top of a volcano at 4000m and staring across the city of Quito, looking at the mountains and valleys, literally with your head in the clouds.

FullSizeRender (1)Doing an internship or a volunteer placement is so different to a holiday; yes you get the amazing opportunities to travel and to see wonderful places and things, but you also get to spend time in a new culture in a unique place where you’re not a tourist, but nor are you a resident. I’ve now been living in Quito for 6 weeks, working at a foundation for special needs students. I am working as a music assistant, so I help out in the orchestra as well as teaching some piano lessons. It’s been so wonderful to watch the students responding to music, and it makes me even more sure of the power of music. Another great thing about music is that it’s a universal language; I could go to almost any orchestra in the world and be able to play in our common language.

IMG_1770Culture shock is definitely a part of moving to another country, although it is different for each country and each person. For me, the altitude took a while to get used to! In England, where I’m from, the highest ‘mountain’ is only 978m high, whereas here I’m living at 2800m; quite a big difference! The other big shock for me was the lack of organisation and planning here. It is impossible to really plan anything because the information is just not there. As far as I can tell, there is no kind of bus timetable here; you just have to hope that the bus will show up! My Spanish tutor here told me that they don’t really use future tense because they don’t plan far enough ahead for that! For an English girl who likes to be extremely organised, this can be tough sometimes!

But after having been here for 6 weeks, I can say for sure that Ecuador is a wonderful country. The travel guides are right, Ecuador really does have everything! Although day to day life is tiring sometimes, I love working with the students and watching them develop, not just musically, but socially and emotionally too. Although I felt completely overwhelmed for the first week or so, now I know how things work here and I know what I’m doing (as much as you can in Ecuador!)Pinchincha

Rebecca Ward is a PAA Music Intern in Ecuador.  She studies at the University of Leeds in the UK.