Jesilyn Robertson (left) poses with Tierney Worthen
(Gillette, Wyo.) It’s not every day that you hear of a 17-year-old high school student intending to embark on a humanitarian trip. Rarer still, is to hear of two 17-year-olds who both want to take an 18-day trip to the Republic of Ecuador so that they can contribute to the construction of an orphanage and are actively raising funds to be able to do so. But that is precisely what Jesilyn Robertson and Tierney Worthen, both 17, are trying to do.
It has been nearly a year and a half since the devastating 7.8 earthquake wreaked havoc on the small nation of Ecuador in 2016. The United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, reported earlier this year that the death toll was catastrophic, claiming the lives of more than 670 people and affected nearly 250,000 people, making the earthquake one of the largest emergencies Ecuador has seen in decades.
Despite massive ongoing humanitarian efforts to the region to help ease the impact of the 2016 earthquake, UNDP reports that there is still a lot of work to be done, including reducing poverty levels.
Robertson and Worthen will be among those doing their best to help, as part of the Humanitarian Experience for Youth Program, or HEFY, that works closely with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. HEFY has many programs, but the one that Robertson and Worthen chose is an 18-day trip to Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, where they will work as part of a construction team to build an orphanage that will primarily serve disabled and disadvantaged children.
Though, it must be said that the two 17-year-olds will not be expected to work every single day they are there and will have the opportunity to explore the country as well as nearby destinations, such as the Galapagos Islands.
Should everything play out in their favor, Robertson and Worthen will be departing for Ecuador in July of 2018.
The two 17-year-olds will not be going alone however, but as two members of a group comprised of 18-similarly aged individuals from across the U.S. and Canada. The group will be accompanied by several HEFY counselors who have the experience necessary, as well as parent chaperones, to make the trip a success.
For Worthen, she has never had the opportunity to go on a trip like this and when she heard that Robertson was interested in going, she decided she wanted to go too.
Worthen mentioned that she typically enjoys doing food drives and assisting the community in any way that she can. But this trip to Ecuador, she described it as being a few steps above her typical efforts to help those in need.
“I’m just really excited to give back and help out the people that can’t really help themselves right now,” Worthen expressed.
Robertson said that the reason she wanted to go to Ecuador was because she wants to make a difference in the lives of those in need. She wants to help too, but she also wants to work closely with the children of Ecuador, hence the decision to help build an orphanage, and build connections with them.
“But I have faith in Jesus Christ so, I’ll be good,”- Jesilyn Robertson
“I really want to build relationships. I’m a very big people person,” Robertson said. “I like meeting new people. I care about their experiences and what they’ve been through and what’s made them who they are.”
On their online site, HEFY states that there are many disadvantaged and disabled children living in Quito, the capital of Ecuador and the destination for Worthen and Robertson. According to SOS Children’s Villages, an international children’s charity, there are currently hundreds of thousands of orphans living throughout Ecuador.
Of the two of them, only Worthen says that she has had the opportunity to leave the country. She traveled with her family to Europe for vacation this past spring and feels comfortable being in a country where the primary language is not English. She said that she does not speak Spanish, the primary language used in Ecuador.
“Though I feel pretty confident in people around me to be able to communicate with me,” Worthen said.
She will be relying on the Spanish speaking skills of the HEFY leaders and possibly even Robertson, who has been taking college level Spanish courses to prepare for the trip.
Though Worthen expects that she will be kept too busy building the orphanage for the language gap to pose any sort of problem.
Neither of them have any real construction experience but, once again, they feel confident in the abilities of others around them to show them what to do and how to do it- when it comes to building the orphanage.
Though Worthen said that she believes the construction and labor will not be easy.
“Just having to wake up every day and just build all day long will be one of the challenges but it will also be one of the most exciting things that we’ll do there,” Worthen said.
The culture in Ecuador is incredibly different than anything the 17-year-olds have seen in the U.S., and both girls admitted to being slightly nervous about the trip.
“But I have faith in Jesus Christ so, I’ll be good,” Robertson said.
Worthen said that the culture was the only thing about the trip that unnerved her.
“This is very different from us and I think it will be pretty cool but, I’m also nervous,” she said.
Summer Robertson, Jesilyn Robertson’s mother, said that she too was a little nervous about her daughter going to Ecuador. But despite not having met any of the individuals who will be accompanying her daughter, having only communicated online with them, Summer did not seem overly worried about her daughter’s safety.
“She’s a responsible girl and it’s a good group that she’s going with so I think she’ll be safe,” Summer said.
To her, Summer said that the program appeared well organized and, after doing “a bunch” of research, decided it was a good idea.
“The people that go [with them] will have experience building things and what to buy and everything,” she said.
Worthen said her parents were also very supportive of her choice.
The trip costs nearly $3,000 per person, which includes the airline tickets to get Robertson and Worthen to Ecuador and will help to take care of them while they are there.
When she was last spoken to, Worthen said that she was just starting to plan out fundraisers and currently plans to shovel driveways given the fact that winter is nearly upon Gillette. She also said that she’ll also start selling cookies.
But Worthen hopes that the bulk of her funds will come from her position as a singer with her band, The Holdup, from concerts where all proceeds will go to the trip.
Robertson is currently doing her best to procure the funds by selling cookies in a jar and plans on doing more odd jobs, such as taking used Christmas trees to the dump after the holiday season is over.
As of now, Robertson said that she has raised nearly $1,000, a mere fraction of her end goal of $5,000. While the trip may only cost $3,000, the extra money will be used to purchase more supplies for the building of the orphanage. She said she feels optimistic about her being able to reach her goal.
The program was founded in 2011, by Glenn and Elisabeth Bingham after expanding their first LDS group to become what is known today as HEFY. The organization continues to be a thriving organization for teens between the ages of 16-19.
The organization has carried out expeditions in multiple countries around the world including: Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Fiji, and many others.
In 2017 alone, HEFY has carried out over 80 expeditions.
“Our challenge is to provide an opportunity for everyone who wants to participate,” says Glenn Bingham. “Over the years, we’ve had many builders come home and get right back in line to go again the following summer. If we can provide this type of experience, one that is really life-changing, we want to make it accessible to everyone.”- HEFY