April 20, 2016
SMU Alumna Lisa Walters and a child she worked with in Ecuador while she was with UBECI non-profit organization.
DALLAS (SMU) – Everything Lisa Walters learned from earning recent SMU degrees in human rights and Spanish is being put to the ultimate test in Ecuador. She was about to board a plane back to her home in the South American country Saturday, April 16, when she learned Ecuador had been struck by a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake.
Lisa, the daughter of SMU Assistant Chief of Police Jim Walters, moved to Ecuador a week after her May 2014 graduation and now works as a team leader for the educational nonprofit group Global Citizen Year (GCY), a program that provides study abroad opportunities for young men and women in their “gap” or “bridge” year between high school and college. She was changing planes in Houston, on her way back to Quito after escorting a group of GCY students to California, when she learned the quake had killed hundreds, injured thousands, and left some 40,000 people searching for shelter, food and family members.
At the time, her usually unruffled police officer father was, “to be honest, frantic,” he says.
Since he and his daughter are close, they communicate almost daily by email or via the international–calling WhatsApp service. Chief Walters worried about her heading to Quito, which had closed its airport to allow in only flights carrying relief supplies.
After the duo connected during Lisa’s delay in Houston, she checked in as “safe” on Facebook –
much to the relief of her 687 friends on the social media network and her Ecuadorean husband of less than three months. Meanwhile, countless people were contacting Chief Walters to inquire about his and Lisa’s wellbeing.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling to hear from so many people, especially at SMU, who showed just how much they care about us,” he says. “It was heartwarming to say the least.”
As Lisa and her father connected with family members and friends during a multi-hour delay in Houston, her flight was finally cleared to return to Quito. But once there, she would spend nearly another full day trying to get a seat on a bus to take her to her home, three hours away in the Imbabura province that borders hard-hit Esmeraldes.
“While some young people might complain about such a trying situation, all Lisa could think about was finding out about the safety of others, especially her family and co-workers,” Chief Walters says. She learned her husband’s family home was damaged but still livable, but that her brother-in-law’s home was completely destroyed. Then came a swirl of unconfirmed reports about friends and colleagues that fostered a frenzy of emotions, from alarm to relief to concern. But as the daughter of a seasoned police detective, Lisa has learned to approach chaos with a level head and outstretched hand.
“The very first thing she did was to start thinking about what she could do to assist, which didn’t surprise me, knowing that’s just her nature,” Chief Walters says. “What did surprise me was the measured approach she and GCY took in handling the crisis.”
As Lisa tells it, “many well-meaning volunteers assumed they needed to travel directly into the fray, but wound up only impeding relief efforts because of their lack of skill and organization,” she says. “Our team decided to use the sources we already had in the badly affected areas to communicate the most important needs.”
“We’re all in a state of limbo,” but not a static one, says Lisa, who’s helping whenever and wherever she can. She’s especially in demand as a translator for English-speaking tourists needing information about navigating the damaged terrain, assisting with relief operations or getting out of the country.
On a personal note, “I’m starting by donating urgently needed items in Quito,” Lisa says. “I’ve signed up to join a relief/building crew with TECHO Ecuador within a few days.”
Her father couldn’t be more proud.
“Thanks in large part to the human rights and Spanish-language training she received at SMU, Lisa is able to carry out her work in a tremendously meaningful way – making her own personal comfort and safety secondary as she helps others,” he says. “That would make any parent proud. It’s certainly the case for me.”
GCY offers gap-year students the chance to study in Ecuador, Brazil, India and Senegal “to build self-awareness, global skills and grit.” Those were traits Lisa herself vowed to pursue after her first SMU Study Abroad trip in 2010 to Ecuador, where she fell in love with “both the beautiful people and country,” she says.
“Being from the U.S. is a huge privilege, and I don’t want to let the connections I have there go to waste during this extremely trying time,” Lisa adds. “Ecuador needs long-term commitment in the form of monetary and material goods to allow this country’s hardworking people to begin the process of recovery. I now call this beautiful country home, so the very least I can do is try to make some small difference.”
For more on Lisa Walter’s time at SMU, and her dedication to following in her father’s social justice-footsteps, see the video features, “A Lifetime of Service: Jim and Lisa Walters” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72SN-7CsiXw and “Not All Super-Heroes Wear Capes”: http://www.smudailycampus.com/smu-tv/not-all-superheroes-wear-capes
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