How much Spanish do I really have to know before coming to Cosanga?

Okay, so if you’ve already checked out our volunteer section then you’ll have seen that the Spanish requirements for working here are like this: long-term volunteers should have an ‘intermediate’ level, while short-term volunteers don’t need to know any. In my opinion, the main thing you should take away from this is that having a knowledge of the language isn’t so important, but being willing to learn really is. I can’t stress that enough.

I’m going to go ahead and use myself as an example. I study languages (French and Spanish) at university in England, so I already had some knowledge as I’d been studying Spanish for about 2 years. I could tell you how to conjugate a bunch of different verbs, how to structure a Spanish CV, which Spanish phrases are followed by the subjunctive…

You know what I couldn’t do? Hold a casual conversation.

It sounds ridiculous, but this just wasn’t something I’d been taught. Furthermore, I’d never lived in a Spanish-speaking country before so I’d never learned. For anyone who may have lived in Spain before, be prepared to learn a bunch of new vocab.

I’m not going to lie, it was tough at first. Being in a big group of people who were all talking Spanish…that was pretty overwhelming. Especially when someone actually asked me a question and I had to ask them to repeat 3 times.

However, here’s the good news: it’s been almost a month now, and I already feel like I’ve made so much progress. It’s true that immersing yourself in a language is the best way to learn. Oh, and making mistakes. Lots of mistakes.

My point is, for anyone thinking of coming here as a short-term volunteer, it’s true that you don’t really need to know any Spanish. If you’re willing to dive in and make the effort, you’ll learn so much so quickly and it will enhance the experience beyond measure. Ecuadorians are so friendly and love to chat, so you’ll have no trouble finding someone to practice with.

Of course, it can’t hurt to try and learn a little before coming here. I always recommend Duolingo and Memrise as they’re a useful way to practice a little bit every day. And of course there are plenty of other resources out there (the Internet is a beautiful thing).

A brief list to get you started:

• Chevere – cool
• Wawa/guagua – very young kid
• Chuchaqui – hungover/hangover (not that you’ll need this one…ahem)
• ¿Cachas? – Got it/do you understand?
• Simón – yes/sure thing
• Farra – party

¡Buena suerte!

Posted by ryanlynch

Watch this space…

So today marks about 3 weeks since I arrived here in Cosanga to begin my work as social media intern for Sustainable Roots.

One of my jobs during my time here will be to provide regular updates on all the goings on here, as well as updating our other social medias. (Did you know we have Facebook and Instagram? You should check them out by clicking those handy little icons at the top of the screen).

Within these blog posts, I’ll also attempt to answer any questions that potential volunteers/visitors will have about things such as the organisation, the area in which we work, what the culture is like etc. The people here could not be more welcoming or helpful, but if you’re coming from far afield like I did, you can never be too prepared. Of course, we also have our FAQ in which there is already a bunch of info on what to expect, so make sure to check that out as well.

In the meantime, this website is currently undergoing some construction so watch this space for updates! And remember that you can send any questions our way here 🙂


Posted by ryanlynch


               Why do
we learn grammar? I am trying to find a good answer for the students in our
English Curso. While learning what technical categories words are grouped in
(adverb, preposition, conjunction, etc.) may seems like a pointless waste of
time, I maintain that a strong understanding of grammar is important for more
than passing high school exams.

               A crazy professor once told me that
grammar is the essence of being. While the statement may seem absurd at first,
our words and consequently our thoughts (at least to a certain extent) are
regulated by the grammatical structures which allow for their combination in
particular ways. Once we begin to think about how these structures are
organized, an endless number of questions may arise: what is the function of
the verb “to be” (what do we mean when we say “the tree is pretty”), why in Spanish do we say, for instance, “the cup fell
to me” (se me cayó), where in English we say “I dropped the cup,” why in
Spanish do we possess age, “I have x years” (tengo x años), where in English we
“are” age, “I am x years old,” why is it that when we translate from one
language to another, no matter how precise we try to be, something always seems
to change in the “meaning,” in the thought? It would seem that our grammar and syntax, the
way we arrange and relate words to each other, can affect the way we think and,
therefore to some extent, the way we “are.” So could it be that the crazy
professor was not as crazy as she first appeared? We’ll see what our students
have to say about it.

N. N. – Sustainable Roots Volunteer

Posted by ryanlynch

Growing up most of my life in New York City, I never gave much thought to “extreme” sports such as rock climbing. However, one of the things I’m most grateful for hear at Sustainable Roots is that my boss Toni is an avid climber. We just took ten Cosanga kids from curso to climb the Wednesday before New Years. They were all very excited and a few seemed to be natural climbers. Toni set up three routes and everyone who wanted got to try each one.

It should be no surprise that rock climbing comes with a hefty price tag. The ropes, harnesses, and other equipment total hundreds or thousands of dollars. No wonder then that the first experience climbing for nearly all the Cosanga kids was through Sustainable Roots with Toni. In rural Ecuador, monthly incomes per household are usually a few hundred dollars. The Kevlar ropes used for climbing come in at about two hundred dollars each, generally out of reach except for a few wealthy quiteños. Many of the children and adults who live in Cuyuja, with its hundred or so routes up an impressive cliff face, stare blankly at us when we tell them we’re coming to climb (escalar). A sport that happens practically in their backyards remains alien and inaccessible to them. Hopefully we will have a chance to take some of them as well.

I had a great time rock climbing with the students from Cosanga. First there was shear exhilaration of the sport. But the trip also made me think about all the incredible resources in Ecuador that are often only accessible to small parts of the population. Why is it that most of the excellent cacao and coffee grown here is never seen in the local stores and restaurants? Why do some children suffer from malnutrition in this fruit-and-vegetable paradise? Such questions carry economic and political implications on a national and global level. Something as seemingly neutral and apolitical as rock climbing should therefore also enter into discussions about the distribution of resources and the opportunity to access them.  

N.N. Sustainable Roots Volunteer

Posted by ryanlynch

Christmas here in Cosanga was beautiful.  For the 9 days leading up to Christmas, there was a Novena in a different person’s house every night.  The whole town went for songs and prayers around the nativity scene that the family made, and then everyone was served dinner.  It was a calm and happy atmosphere, a place for everyone to go and hang out and be happy together.

On Christmas Eve, I went to a party with Henry’s family where there was a band playing awesome traditional music that everyone was obviously dancing too, and they served us food (of course).  After that, Henry, Alex, and I went to the soccer field where basically everyone from Cosanga was gathered for a huge town party.  There was a fire, a DJ, fireworks (and of course lots of trago).  I left around 5 am, and there were plentyyyy of people still going strong when I left.

On Christmas Day, everyone was just hanging around Cosanga, everyone in good moods.  The best thing about here is that it isn’t about all the presents (no crazy Christmas shopping, no worrying about what to get for everyone)–it’s about being with your family and friends and having a good time together.  Most of the kids are gifted a bag of cookies and candies, but not much else.  They do Christmas way better here in my opinion (no offense, Americans :))!

And as a bonus, the kids ASKED for curso over Christmas break!  We were gonna cancel it, because well it’s vacation.  But that in itself made my Christmas.  🙂  Merry Christmas everyone!


Posted by ryanlynch

Coming from a secular Jewish household in which we light candles and sing a few songs every Friday night before eating dinner with family, I have a soft spot in my heart for symbolic ritual. These last few days, I have been lucky enough to experience a ritual, both similar and different, in the rural Ecuadorian village of Cosanga. It’s called the Novena. Every year, for the nine nights before Christmas, one household hosts the rest of the pueblo for prayers and a meal. Helping to cook food for one of the nights reminded me of Friday nights at home, scaled up by a factor of ten or twenty. The whole family is expected to help in whatever capacity they can, cooking, cleaning, moving furniture and so on. You might even recruit some friends and acquaintances for extra assistance. The night seems to be as much about reinforcing the bonds of responsibility between family members and neighbors as it is about religious devotion. Grownups chat and kids play. Everyone eats.

I remember being dogmatically opposed to any form of organized religion for many years and I remain extremely critical of the way institutional religion (particularly the Catholic Church) is often used to concentrate power in the hands of an elite and serve as a tool for social control. Nonetheless, the Novena and other rituals offer a connection to people around us that seems utterly lacking in much of our modern secular world, a sense of something larger than ourselves that is not only mystical, but socioeconomic and even political. I don’t know if it’s possible to retain something like this connection while discarding the oppressive elements of religion. Like Friday-night-dinners, I find the experience of the Novena to be bitter sweet. Christianity took hold in Ecuador, as it did throughout the New World, with incredible violence, destroying what existed before. There is no way to justify such horror. It would be obscene to try. Yet, fully conscious of this impossibility, I look at and listen to the people and Novena around me. It is difficult to wish that the novenas did not exist.

Feliz navidad. 

N.N.–Sustainable Roots Volunteer        

Posted by ryanlynch

This morning I wrote to Fernando, who is now in his second year of university. Told him how much I love him.  He wrote back “I love you me too.”  

For the first few years we knew each other he would respond this way.  I couldn’t bring myself to correct him because it just warmed my heart.  He found out the correct way to say it.  For me, I will always prefer, “I love you me too.” 

Posted by ryanlynch

     Want to know how great my life is??

     Let me tell you a little story about my two friends Bryan and Melani. This mischievous brother and sister pair come over and bargain with us for as much fruit as they can, as often as possible. They come and listen to Steve explain gardening to them, even though they don’t understand a word he says in English. They stand out front of the gate sometimes, just curious. They laugh, they play, they pretend, they imagine, they learn, they love. They don’t come from the best of circumstances at home, but they still manage to be one of the brightest lights in my day. They make others laugh and smile. They have big hearts – even bigger than their appetites for fruit – which is impressive! I love these two SO SOOO much and am so happy that I have the opportunity to spend time with them!  Makes me never want to leave!

     I am telling you folks, it does not get better than this!


Posted by ryanlynch

When I Grow Up

3:00 curso is an opportunity for our younger students to have a place to do their homework and then to partake in activities that encourage them to explore their creativity.  Last week one of the activities was to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up.  We pushed them beyond the standard answers of police officer, military and dairy farmer to which many students feel limited.  Below is a photo of the pictures they created, ranging from a dentist to a dragon slayer 🙂


Posted by ryanlynch