Over three weeks ago, the Ecuadorian government declared war against criminal groups and arrested thousands of gang members, ultimately leading to a sharp increase in gang-related activity. The recent violence follows a trend of organized crime that began around 20 years ago, following changes in drug restriction laws in South America. 

Despite current headlines about violence between the government of Ecuador and criminal groups along the coast, Goshen College students currently on SST there still feel safe and welcomed in their day-to-day lives. 

The students are currently housed in Quito, around six hours away from Guayaquil, a city that has recently been troubled by ongoing violence and unrest. 

One student, Cormac Koop Liechty, wrote, “Overall, this conflict has not changed the kind, welcoming, everyday people in Quito. I have felt abundantly welcomed and have yet to meet someone who isn’t nice. I feel blessed that we have still been welcomed to Ecuador despite the ongoing conflict here.” 

Cristóbal Garza Gonzalez, one of the leaders of this semester’s SST group, described the current political situation. “Since the adoption of the US dollar in Ecuador,” he said, “the country has become a more attractive place for money laundering and other criminal activities, but the trend has been slow and does not compare to other countries in the region. 

“The violent events of early January did affect the mood of everyone involved, particularly students’ families and faculty at GC. The government has imposed a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and increased police and military presence in urban areas. Paradoxically, this measure has been helpful in making our students more aware of risks and the safety measures they must take.” 

Many students described their experiences in Ecuador thus far as “no different than any other SST group’s experience,” with the exception of the aforementioned curfew and a few schedule changes. 

The SST group will no longer be visiting the coast or the Amazon, but spirits remain high. Matthew Dyck, a current sophomore, expressed interest in learning more about the  country’s current situation. “I wish I knew more about the start of this conflict,” he said, “and what the government’s plans are for the future.” 

Naomi Klassen, a junior, said, “I would love to know more about the nuance of this issue and the government initiatives that are addressing it.”

In lieu of the disheartening headlines, Koop Liechty provides another perspective: “I think in some ways it’s easy to see a headline on the TV and assume the worst, but that only paints a small picture of what is really going on here in Ecuador. I am so happy with how it has been thus far on SST, and I’m so happy that our group has been able to make such great friends with each other so quickly.”

In addition to ensuring the safety of the students, the SST leaders, Garza Gonzalez alongside Tillie Yoder, shared a sentiment of hope for the students’ experience and the country’s well being. “There is a new president who has the goodwill of many Ecuadorians and seems to be sincere about his intentions to bring peace and security to the country,” they said.

“We also know that violent events have not reached our spheres of action and we have plans in place to ensure safety and to deal with risky situations. Perhaps the most important point in this regard is that the families who host our students are — besides genuinely caring — protective, knowledgeable and prudent. Violence exists, but it is not the only reality here. There is so much more we can share about our SST experience in Ecuador.”