Week Three: Loja

21 06 2011

Impossible to believe that our week in Loja has already come and gone. It started off quickly with preparation for our first “Asesor por favor” consulting effort in La Era. We were tasked with leading a “charla” or workshop on teamwork and organizational development for a small group of eight women who operate their textile business from their central post in the small rural village. The charla started off well with a fun icebreaker and introduction to the workshop materials. Unfortunately, we underestimated the amount of organizational development the group already had in place, and without a Plan B, we spent more time talking at the group than working with them. Thankfully we were able to summarize the materials well and speak individually with some of the organizational leaders after the charla, who expressed interest in basic accounting and marketing strategies for their next consultation. While they weren’t upset with the outcomes of the charla, I couldn’t help but feel that we had let them down in some way, and was determined to do a better job next time.

As a result, we learned a great deal from the women of La Era and were humbled by their feedback. With a new outlook, we dove into preparation for our next consultation at the Grameen Bank in Loja, organizing charlas on Customer Service, Marketing Strategies, and Basic Accounting. The workshops went much more smoothly, and we were able to engage two large groups of entrepreneurs, mostly women, who seemed eager and willing to digest the material. Of course there were some bumps in the roads, mostly errors with our Spanish vocabulary and grammar, which made things challenging. But again, we were strengthened through our challenges and relished the knowledge we gained from a mutual learning experience. My personal goal from this point forward is to strive to learn just as much (if not more) from the organizations as they learn from me.

Our final charlas of the week were the most successful, proving that time, preparation, and practice is the key to leading a good workshop. We traveled by bus and pickup truck to Timbara, a small village in the orient. The organization “Amor y Fortaleza” works hard to run their sugar cane business, creating a variety of products such as melcocha, jugo de caña, and raw sugar cane. Again we led workshops on Customer Service, Marketing Strategies, and Market Research and were enthused by the level of participation in our discussions and skits. The people of Timbara were so welcoming and thankful for our efforts there, and made us a delicious lunch of fried tilapia with rice and fresh avocado. Spending the day with them is one of my favorite experiences in the country so far. They taught us how to make melcocha, a traditional sugar cane candy that is pulled and flipped by hand like salt-water taffy. We each had our go at mixing the hard, sticky mixture, and gave the workers a good laugh as failed time and again to figure out the process. After lunch, they led us through their personal gardens, stopping to knock down some mandarin oranges for us to try. The day ended with an incredible climb up a waterfall, where we struggled to navigate the path as well as our guides…perhaps fearing for our lives at times as our shoes slipped on the wet rocks and nerves got the best of us from our high perch on the steep path down from the waterfall’s peak.

Our success in Timbara on Friday was matched by our success in Principal and another village outside of Zamora Chinchipe where our team split in two to assist with the “asesores” who work for Solocuiones Comunitarias. Both teams did a great job of administering eye exams for the first time, selling reading glasses and protective lenses, and other sustainable products like water purifiers and small packages of seeds. Each of the asesores did a great job of communicating with the communities the importance of their products and did well for themselves, averaging a day’s income of around $80.00 each. While the afternoon proved to be long and exhausting, it was well worth the work knowing that we gave some people the opportunity to read and work with their hands again, a shot at clean water for their families, and spent time investing in their lives and sharing stories.

It was certainly a busy week with our consulting efforts, marketing campaigns, and product exhibits, but we found some time to “disfrutar” or enjoy ourselves as well. Loja offered some delicious meals for great prices. We feasted on a variety of meats and seasonings at “El Fogon,” enjoyed some delicious Italian cuisine and wine at a local Pizzeria, got our sweet fix at our favorite ice-cream joint Tutto Freddo, and listened to some great live music at “La Cuña de las Artistas.” Some of us ventured out to a strange local zoo as well, where we encountered a very proud alpaca, a strange mixture between a pig and a porcupine, and an interesting island of monkeys. We’ve had a great time being together as a group in the hostel too, and have grown even closer than we thought possible…more family now than friends. I have certainly learned a lot from this group of people and am inspired and challenged everyday by their efforts and input. I know that we all look forward to the week ahead of us, which will present all new challenges and lessons in Yanzatza. But in the meantime, we have a 3 hour trip ahead of us, for which I am thankful and will enjoy a good nap! Hasta luego, friends and family.  🙂

(Sarah Jene Hollis)

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