Representatives from medical foundation Fundación Hogar del Ecuador visited Taylor on Nov. 20 to recognize the 15-year relationship between the school and the city of Cuenca, Ecuador.
“Taylor University is a practitioner of the principles of universal brotherhood,” the organization said in its letter of recognition. “(Taylor) has contributed to improve the quality of life of our brothers and sisters in Christ; propelling the productive, intellectual, and cultural development of those who are in greatest need.”
The program — operated through the Spencer Centre for Global Engagement — was inspired in 2003 by Diego Palacios, a former foreign exchange student through his interactions with John Moore, professor of biology.
As a result, Moore began looking into opportunities for Taylor students to serve in Palacios’ homeland.
“(My wife and I) discovered we had fallen in love with Diego when he finished his time here at Taylor, so when he left we asked if he could talk with his dad and see if Taylor students could be taken down to Cuenca,” Moore said.
Moore led a group of students to Cuenca as a Lighthouse trip in January 2005. The goal was to explore health opportunities for students and to participate with Fundación Hogar del Ecuador and Verbo, a local church through which Taylor students served as part of the medical brigade.
After the initial success of the trip, Moore said President Emeritus Eugene Habecker asked for an educational center be put in Latin America. Moore discussed with the provost what could be done about Cuenca.
In January 2006, the Lighthouse trip to Cuenca accommodated 24 individuals. Six were faculty members scoping out the area for a potential location. Afterward, it was decided that a center would be placed in Cuenca. Moore was appointed to develop a semester-long program to Ecuador, which began in the Spring 2007 semester.
Students who have been a part of the semester-long program were given opportunities to gain firsthand medical experience shadowing healthcare professionals. This has included preparing prescriptions, training alongside physical therapists and assisting with dental procedures.
Charlie Brainer, dean of international programs, said that it is hard to put a price on the relationships that have formed between two different cultures.
The same study abroad opportunities that Taylor students receive are extended to students from University of Azuay. From mid-February to mid-March, six to seven exchange students come experience life in the dorms, standard English classes and all the extracurricular activities that the community has to offer.
“Taylor has really benefited in so many ways from our association in (Ecuador),” Brainer said. “They have been really warm and welcoming of us.”
According to Interim President Paige Cunningham, Taylor has always had the desire for students to be globally engaged and to become aware of how international experiences shape them.
For students, this extends beyond a passport and a cool trip, Cunningham said.
“It's more about understanding at least another part of God's kingdom here on Earth and other perspectives,” Cunningham said. “It's to broaden us to see that our area of influence or service might be some place that we haven't presently thought of.”
Brainer said that the program is a very culturally rich experience that students have benefited from regardless of their career choice.
The center is actively looking to expand the semester program to other majors, with the introduction of a Spanish major option opening in the spring of 2020. Students will have the opportunity to travel to Ecuador and continue their coursework at the University of Azuay in Cuenca.
After the recognition of 15 successful years with relations to Ecuador the program looks forward to continuing its growth through expansion of majors, beyond just science and Spanish.
“This has been a humbling year and I will say this all the time: this is not my program,” Moore said. “I had no passion for Latin America. The Lord had to send me a boy named Diego Palacios to change my heart and my heart got changed.”