Ecuador expedition with Emerson teacher is part adventure, part humanitarian mission
Morton Grove resident and Niles teacher Abigail Sloan holds up a map of Ecuador at a table covered with items from her trip on July 30 in Morton Grove. | Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 1, 2012 1:30AM
When Abigail Sloan sees the smiles on the faces of the boys and girls in Ecuador, she is reminded that she is on much more than a vacation.
The Emerson Middle School teacher is the owner of Pumamaki Expeditions, an adventure-travel company.
Each year she takes a group of 10 to 15 people to places in South America, such as Ecuador, to experience another part of the world — but also to lend a helping hand.
This summer Sloan took two other Emerson teachers on the trip: Tricia Warneke and Kara Pottinger.
Eric Jensen, a teacher from Hinsdale Central High School, also went along for the adventure, as did families and Hinsdale Central students.
A significant part of Sloan’s business involves Global Giving, in which participants take an extra suitcase of items to give to people in impoverished parts of the world.
Sloan said her students at Emerson Middle School brought along various dental supplies to donate to a traveling dental clinic in Ecuador and children in need.
Other community members and dentists also contributed dental supplies. Sloan said more than 700 tubes of toothpaste were donated.
Volunteers handed the toothpaste and toothbrushes to the youngsters, and dentists showed them how to brush their teeth. Various items of clothing were also donated to infants, children and teenagers at a local school.
“It was just wonderful,” Sloan said. “These people were absolutely grateful. It was such a heartwarming experience.”
In addition to helping many people, the group participated in varied adventures such as hiking in the Amazon, white-water rafting, zip-lining, horseback riding and a visit to a butterfly farm.
“The trip was amazing,” Warneke said. “It was very adventurous. There was a lot to do every single day.”
Warneke said travelers enjoyed seeing every aspect of the country: the mountains, villages, rivers and jungles.
“We all got along and had a great time,” Warneke said, describing the residents of the town in Ecuador as very kind, good people.
Kirsten Arnason brought her three children with her on the momentous trip. She said her 9 year-old son, her daughter who attends Hinsdale Central High School and her 18-year-old daughter had a wonderful time on the trip and learned first-hand about the importance of giving.
“I think it’s great for the children to see,” Arnason said. “It makes them appreciate what they have.”
Arnason said that when children grow up in neighborhoods where people drive fancy cars they sometimes don’t truly understand what’s happening elsewhere in the world. She said the trip was a life-changing experience for her three children and she plans to go back to Ecuador in the future. She said that the people who live in the village they visited were kind and appreciative.
“I absolutely loved it,” said Taylor Arnason, who will be a sophomore at Hinsdale Central High School in the fall. “It was very eye-opening.”
Taylor said she loved the people in Ecuador and she would certainly go back. Arnason said her daughter has even made friends with some of the children and communicates with them on Facebook.
Sloan has been on the Global Giving journeys eight times in the past and has made a strong connection with a volunteer organization in Ecuador. She plans to talk to her students at Emerson Middle School about what a difference their donations truly made.
“They’re just so receptive,” said Sloan, noting that the residents don’t expect anything and are grateful for the donations.
Pumamaki Expeditions started several years ago after Sloan traveled during the summer to South America and fell in love with the culture and people of various places there.