Fifth graders from Stevens Elementary School lunched with the acting ambassdor of Ecuador last week and came away with baskets, azaleas and new friends.
Twenty youngsters, in party clothes and on good behavior, handled the international exchange at the ambassador's residence, 2320 Bancroft Place NW, like seasoned diplomats.
That is just what organizers of the "embassy adoption" program had hoped. The program, designed to expose public school students to other countries and cultures, is sponsored by the D.C. Public School's Two-W program and the Women's Committee for the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Under the plan, 24 embassies each adopt a city elementary school fifth or sixth grade class. The pupils study their adopting country and compete with each other in an essay contest. The embassy then hosts the class and the essay winner receives a small plague.
Last week's winner was Pamela Rolins, a self-possessed 10-year-old who sat primly in the front of the bus for the ride to the embassy.
As do all good diplomats, the students had done their homework and had rehearsed what they would say.
"Ecuador is near the equator," recited Pamela, fingering her kneesock. "That's how it got its name."
"I learned that Ecuador makes a whole lot of handicrafts," said her seatmate, Camilla Wilkerson, 11, adding, "they have bull fights down there."
The bus rounded a corner and dropped the children near the embassy residence. The stood quietly with teacher Linda M. Fields outside for a moment as an attendant raised the ecuadorian flag. Beverly Farmer, 10, practiced a curtsey.
Soon they were ushered into an elegant drawing room. The children silently took in their surroundings-crystal chandeliers, green tasseled drapes, gold and white grand piano, pre-Columbian art.
"I didn't hear anyone," marveled Elcira Sevilla-borja, wife of Horacio Sevilla-Borja, acting ambassador of Ecuador, when she came in to greet the children.
"In Ecuador, the speak Spanish. And they have hot food," volunteered Camilla.
"Yes, somtimes," admitted Sevilla-Borja.
"In Ecuador, they have wide bowls to put food in and carry it home on your head," said another girl.
"And they have bull fights," said a third.
"Yes, but that comes from Spain," said Savilla-Borja, correcting a potential international misunderstanding.
"Ecuador has many flora and fauna," announced Shari Evans, 10.
"Ecuador is near the equator; that's how it got its name," Pamela offered.
"Yes, and when your visit Ecuador, you can go to the line and put one foot on one side and the other foot on the othe side," said Sevilla-Borja, demonstrating.
Panama hats come from Ecuador, she said. Did the children know that? "They are made of straw so fine it is like silk. The straw is so fine the hats can be folded many many times and are sold small boxes . . . and when you open, it's perfect," she said.
Horacio Sevilla-Borja then gathered the children around him to honor the winning essayist.
"In this world today, we really need to know each other better. The thing we need is to have peace and the best way to have peace is to know each other better," he said. "Ecuador is a small country, but each country has a role to play."
Pamela then read her essay, in which she concluded, "I think Ecuador is a great place because of the climate. It is not too hot and not too cold. . ."
The children were then served a lunch of arroz con pollo, salad, tortilla chips and punch.
Sabrina and Maria Sevilla-borja, the ambassador's children, home early from school to help host the occasion, had hand-painted napkins and tiny baskets filled with candy as favors.
Differences quickly disappeared as the children romped in the garden after lunch and picked handfuls of pink azaleas to put in each other's hair.
"The gist of this programis that the world is our classroom," said Linda J. Johnson, coordinator of the federally funded Two-W program, which attempts to broaden the experiences of public school children. Embassy adoption, now in its fourth year, is one part of the program, which also includes special help for students in reading and mathematics, cultural enrichment programs and special teacher training.
Barbara Jordan, founder of the Women's Committee of the Washington Performing Arts Society, said the group arranges concerts for school children, but wants to further expand their opportunities."It adds an extra dimension to have this kind of experience. Children from all over the United States write to embassies for information, but these kids are right on the spot," she said.
"The food tasted like American food," said Erik Graham, 10, with some disappointment, as the children rode home on the bus.
"I liked the stairway to the rooms upstairs," said Ali Rad, 11. "It had a very nice pattern."
"I liked it because of the house and I liked the ambassador's daughter Maria." said Wendy Spalding, 10, clutching her basket, the azaleas and a styrofoam cup with Maria's home phone number scrawled on the side.
As the children left the bus, they recited the phone number out loud so they could all remember it. CAPTION: Picture, Acting ambassador Horacio Sevilla-Borja presents Pamela Rollinswith an award for her essay about Ecuador. Beside him are his wife, Elcira, and children Maria-Jose, 8, and Sabrina, 6. By Craig Herndon-The Washington Post