By Kameeka Shirley Our first stop in Ecuador was the little town of Daule.
Daule is a town about an hour outside of Guayaquil, the beating commercial heart of Ecuador. After a couple of initial unsuccessful attempts to share the dolls, we headed to the town playground, where we saw a Mom with her son and daughter, interestedly staring at my friend and I clutching the dolls. We approached the woman and explained to her that these dolls were from an organization in the US where children decorate the dolls, which then travel to kids around the world. We explained that part of the mission of the organization was to teach generosity and the joy of sharing with other children. We encouraged them to give the doll to another child when they got older, so the dolls could continue to spread joy to others.
The two children stared intently at us holding the dolls, just waiting for acknowledgement from their mother that it would be ok.
“Would you like for them to choose a doll?” we asked the mother.
She glanced down at her children eagerly awaiting permission and then asked us, “How much?”
When we told her it was free she gladly approved and each of her children joyously selected a doll.
Before we left Daule to continue on our Ecuadorian adventure, we decided to give one last doll to our little host. Christian is my friend’s 8-year-old cousin. He was the perfect gentleman and host during our stay and we thought it was only right that he also receive a gift for his hospitality. He accepted his new friend with open arms and the both of them stood at the corner to say good bye before we continued on our journey.
The HappyDolls continued on their journey to the famous Otavalo market, about an hour outside the nation’s capital of Quito. Otavalo is one of the most lively traditional markets in all the Americas where natives would come from the surrounding villages to sell gorgeously colored hand-woven fabrics, ornate wooden carvings and original Panama hats worn ubiquitously by the indigenous people of the region.
Our first HappyDoll in Otavalo went to a young school girl who sat outside eating her lunch while her mother chat with a friend. She shyly accepted her new friend and sat him on her lap as she continued with her meal.
As her mother chat with a friend, a little boy walked up to the friend’s side and saw the young girl with a HappyDoll. We explained to his mother the mission of HappyDoll as we handed the little boy his new friend. Before the mother and son and continued on their way, the mother pointed across the street to a woman selling strawberries on the corner with her baby strapped to her back in local tradition. She told us that the woman and her baby would really appreciate a doll as well.
The woman across the street watched as we approached. We greet her while explaining the mission of HappyDoll and offering one for her son. She nodded in approval and turned slightly so the baby on her back could see us and the dolls. The mother selected a doll for the child and passed it back to him as the baby excitedly grasped the doll from his mother’s hands and held it close.
By this time, we were becoming pretty popular. As we walked through the market clutching the dolls, the kids weaving in and out of the stalls waiting for their parents to close up shop would give us a quick glance as they darted back away playing little games amongst themselves. We saw a little girl sitting peacefully next to her mother, watching the tourists pass by the various stalls. We stopped and again explained the mission of HappyDoll while handing the little girl the last HappyDoll I had in my purse. She looked at her mother, looked at us, and then back at her mother as her mother nodded in approval. The little girl grabbed the doll with excitement, looking down and beaming. The little girl wouldn’t stop looking at the doll and smiling until her Mom had to remind her about the picture part of the deal.
We had noticed, giving the last doll, that there were two little boys playing in the stall behind the last little girl. We saw them watch us as we handed out the last doll I had carried with me. We were about to leave the market, having handed out all our dolls, when we were approached by another woman with the same two little boys peering out from behind her. The woman kindly asked if we had another doll for the two boys. I had given out all the dolls I brought with me, but I knew I had three more in the car parked 10 blocks away. We told them that if they could wait for me to come back from the car, we could bring two more dolls for them. I rushed to the car and brought the remaining dolls in my bag and raced back to the market. As I approached, I saw the two boys sitting patiently, cross-legged on the floor where I had left them. When they saw me, they jumped up and waited as I pulled two dolls from my bag. They quickly snatched the dolls and stood ready for their picture before they eagerly ran off to play with their new friends.
Our very last doll was a US soldier. This doll was particularly special to our group (not only because I had personally stuffed that doll ;) but also because we had a US Army soldier in our group who got special leave to join us on the trip. After Otavalo market, we headed to the small town of Banos, which is most famously known for its local geothermal springs. As we were headed to the springs, we stopped to look at some of the artesanias in one of the stalls. There was a little girl standing at the stall with her Mom, playing with the bracelets and other goods her Mom had for sale. The Army soldier with us suggested we give this last doll to the girl so she could have something to play with as she sat with her Mom throughout the day. After explaining the HappyDoll mission to her mother, the little girl coyly accepted the doll and gave him a kiss on his head.