Week Three: Impacto in Loja

27 07 2011

mpossible 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)





Week Four: Adventures in Yantzaza

25 07 2011

Week four, what adventures we have had.

On Monday we all piled onto a public bus in late morning in Loja, because yes, team IMPACTO was headed for the Oriente!.  We were all sad to say goodbye to our wonderful hostel, but we all have to move on at some point.  I think I speak for the whole group when I say that we were all beyond excited for a change of atmosphere, literally.  For the first two weeks we were in the mountains in Cuenca, pretty chilly in the morning, and if the sun was out in the afternoon it was very warm, but you were always wearing pants and sweaters.  Then Loja we were told would be warm and sunny, but something we have come to realize is that our group really attracts the rain! Loja was still a very cool city to explore and the places we travelled to around it were stunningly beautiful.  Even with the beauty, we were all so excited for the Amazonian heat that we boarded the bus in our shorts and t-shirts, prepared to sweat, and man did we get what we expected! Yantzaza was steamy!

Loja had been a pretty crazy workweek for us, and we were excited to hear that the week in Yantzaza wouldn’t be QUITE as hectic, but it was still very busy.  We spent most of Monday settling in and exploring the town. Yantzaza is a pretty small place, and there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to restaurants.  Our group spent a large chunk of time on Monday night wandering aimlessly around Yantzaza looking for somewhere to eat.  We finally stumbled across this little place that I think had four tables and no names.  The woman who was cooking dinner was cooking out of her family’s kitchen, the restaurant had no name, and if you had to use the bathroom, you walked into the back, through the kitchen where her whole family was eating, and out into the back where there were Guinea Pigs running wild around the back yard… Only in Ecuador!

Day two in Yantzaza mainly consisted of our marketing campaign and preparation for our consulting APF’s.  We went as a group in the back of a pick up truck to a small town called Chicaña. We split into groups with Brad, Luz and our two assessoras and took the very sleepy town by storm handing out flyers and telling people they should come to our campaign the following weekend.  We are coming to realize that every marketing and campaign goes differently, and every time we learn better ways to do it. Chicaña was much more calm, and a lot easier than Gualel because we are all building our confidence in speaking with people and explaining who we are and what we do, in Spanish! After a rainy morning of marketing we made our way back to Yantzaza in the pickup and began working on our Assessor Por Favor consulting that we had to do the next day.

The next two days consisted of a lot of community engagement. Wednesday we finally got our Jungle boots!!  We strapped on our boots and climbed into the back of a pickup truck and travelled to a Shuar community for one of our APF Charla’s. It was a very interesting experience because the community was very excited to have us, and even MORE excited to talk about their lives.  Something that we have learned here in Ecuador is that people like to talk, a lot.  We have learned that when you ask a group of people to stand up and say what their name is and what they do, it normally turns into a ten minute schpeel about their lives and their families and many other random facts. Our day consisted of giving charlas, having lunch, and enjoying exploring the Amazon.  The next day was dedicated to Good Stuff Good Works. WE traveled, in the back of a pick up truck of course, to a small pueblo called Guadalupe.  Aside: We have all been in Ecuador now for about four weeks, and we have all grown accustomed to rarely know what the people around us are talking about, and that is why the beginning of our adventure in Guadalupe was so entertaining. We were then approached by a gringo-looking woman, and all of the sudden she started speaking English. Several of us stopped and looked at each other to make sure that we were all hearing the same thing… we were, she was American.  She has been a nurse in South America for over 20 years, and getting to know her throughout the day and her experiences in the town were very interesting and useful to all of us.  We spent the day learning about the peoples’ lives in Guadalupe and purchasing beautiful handicrafts from their homes where we were given treats and greeted as family.

There was a lot of work done on our Stove and Agro Drip projects this week, and when we weren’t out in the field or working on our projects, we were watching movies on Maria Luz’s projector, all 9 of us crammed onto two beds, or breaking into the kitchen because we just NEEDED some vegetables in our systems. Throughout the entire week we all had numerous chances, whether it be in the back of pickup trucks, or the balcony of our hostel, to have some pretty awesome heart-to-hearts.  Week four Yantzaza was definitely the place where our friendships took the step from new friends, to people who can talk to each other about anything.  It was a great week for learning and bonding, and we were all sad to see it come to an end.  However, the end meant we would again be reunited with all of our friends in Oportunidad! The drive home was a very long one with our anticipation growing every passing hour!  Driving into Cuenca, it just so happened that the other bus was driving in at the exact same time.  We were all hanging out the windows trying to catch a glimpse of our friends, and so began our week of reminiscing and reuniting in Cuenca.

(Madison Reiser)





The Bloody Nose That Changed Me

25 07 2011

As I was running down the sidewalks of Riobamba a women and her child walked out of a store so I quickly dodged them, my foot hit a piece of pipe/metal sticking out from the cement sidewalk, and I went soaring through the air landing, limbs sprawled, on the sidewalk.  An adorable Ecuadorian women standing nearby immediately helped me up and brushed the dirt off of my bloody knees.  I thanked her and hobbled back to our hostel.  As I walked back I turned and looked in the window of a store to see the reflection of the huge smile stretched across my face.  I was almost taken aback by its size and genuine quality.  As I continued to limp down the street and laugh at myself, I felt so alive in such a real way.  I had an inclination that that day might have something in store for me.

That day we traveled to a small, breath-taking, beautiful town that sits at the foot of Chimborazo.  We had lunch, were paired up with families for a “cultural exchange experience,” and then presented our sales strategies charla to the women artisans’ organization in the community.  The idea was that we pay an organization called Cordutch to travel to this community to learn about their culture, experience their lifestyle, meet the women artisans and learn about their organization and give a charla for them about business strategies.  The idea of this day and so much of what SEC does emphasizes a mutual exchange of knowledge and culture.  I met my family and we began walking towards the fields engrossed in conversation.  For a while the conversation was very stimulating as we asked one another lots of questions and mutually learned about the similarities and differences between our lives.  They asked me why I wasn’t married with kids, if the rest of my family is as tall as me, and if I have cows in my backyard.  But within time, my day took a very interesting turn.  I was standing in the field with the little boy and his father while the little boy was teasing the lambs near by.  Something happened with the rambunctious lamb and he got a bloody nose.  The little boy realized that there was blood streaming from his nose and walked up to his father who yelled at him and walked up the hill to deal with the rest of the cows.  Next the little boy began picking grass and putting it up to his nose in attempts to stop the flow of blood.  At first I couldn’t move, I was just watching in a sort of shock like state.  Then I quickly realized that I had a napkin in my bag, got it out and helped him stop the blood flowing out of his nose.  I asked him if he was okay and he shook his head no.  I asked him if this happens a lot to him and he said no.  Then I had no more words.  I was sitting there in the greenest field in the most picturesque town as Chimborazo’s peak was towering behind me feeling so sad, helpless and angry and didn’t know why.  Shortly after his parents returned, the mother wiped some of the crusty blood from his face and we went to milk cows.  During the rest of the afternoon I spent with them I could hardly get myself to speak, I felt overwhelmed with confusion and sadness.  When it was time we walked back up to the center of town and said our goodbyes.  We gave our charla to the artisan organization and then got on the bus.

My friends asked me how my day was and as I began to speak I started to cry.  I kept stumbling on my words in a failure to articulate myself.  My friends remarked that all of my confusion is just me learning from this beautiful experience.  As we continued to talk things out I was explaining to them the resentment I was feeling towards myself.  I tried to explain that it is so hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that my visiting this town matters as much as it does, my money, my opinion, and my presence has such influence and significance without doing anything to deserve that.  I told them that I do not understand why I was born into such a fortunate comfortable life (in the USA) in which I will always have loving friends and family supporting me.  Next my dear friends Cate and Sara responded with some of the most amazing advice I have ever received in my life.  Cate told me that resenting myself for being who I am would only put me into a state of paralysis.  That resentment will only hinder me from being proactive, just as it did that afternoon.  This entire trip has given me the chance to form new values and dreams about the person I want to be and what I want to do with my life.  And I realized that resenting myself would never allow me to chase those dreams and live everyday with those new values in mind.  Next, my wonderful friend Sara hypothesized that it is the struggle between sympathy and empathy.  Wishing that you could empathize and knowing that you will never be able to is such a frustrating and confusing feeling.  After listening to my friends I returned to my seat and turned Tom Petty on my iPod.  I sat there and starred at the stars out the bus window.  I was comparing what I think my parent’s reaction to a bloody nose would be to his parents’ reaction.  As I pondered I realized that that very comparison is what learning, traveling, and culture is all about.  Every culture is different and beautiful because of it.  This little boy might grow up to be a wonderful person because of the tough love his parents gave him.  Maybe that tough love will be the only way he is able to survive.  Next I began to think about my personal feelings while I was sitting there with that boy.  I came to the conclusion that his bloody nose might be one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had.  Never have I felt so small in such a large world.  I was staring my own egoism in the face.  That day taught me, in such a real way, that no matter what environment I am in, it is always important to see myself as only a piece of the puzzle.  Conversely, that bloody nose opened my eyes to the power one person has.  That little boy and I are just two people living on this earth, and we were just sitting in one field, in one country on planet Earth, but he changed my life.  Thus, this humbling experience encouraged me to use my influence and power to strive towards achieving the big world-changing dreams I have developed over the past two months.  It taught me to always embrace every second of now that you have, and to not let the potential beautiful moments slip away because you are too tired or angry or not in the mood.  And finally it taught me to always learn about and learn from people unlike me, because at the end of the day, that little boy and I might live totally different lives on different continents, but we both have the power to change and influence people.  I might only have the power to influence just one person, but after meeting that precious boy I can only dream of affecting one person the way he affected me.  I zoomed out and saw myself sitting on a bus, listening to Tom Petty, thinking the thoughts I was thinking, and realized that I had never thought those things before and that my life was changing.

(Margaret Miller)





Week Six: ¡Al Campo! Otra Vez

14 07 2011
10 July, 2011
Hostal América, Loja
This week we returned to the field, but this time with Teams Impacto and Oportunidad switched: Team Impacto was in Riobamba enjoying Chimborazo, and we hope that pizza restaurant we in Team Oportunidad all loved so much while we’re there, while we’re in Loja, with what Team Impacto promised us would be the most hectic week yet.  Loja is a city of 125,000 inhabitants located about 205 km south of Cuenca in a province named after itself.  It’s still in the Sierra, though a bit lower than Cuenca, at an altitude of about  6724, making it slightly warmer than Cuenca, though the rain we had much of this week certainly cooled it off some.  Many of Ecuador’s most famous musicians come from here, but I think what most of us were most excited about was the coffee–reputed to be the best in all of Ecaudor.
We got off the bus to a start of the week that was as hectice as promised–after a quick lunch at a Mexican restaurant and a brief orientation, we spent the rest of our 4th of July planning our APF Consultations (or Charlas) for the next week (Fortunately, we were able to spend the 4th of July working in América: conveniently the name of our Hostal).  Our next Charla was Tuesday with a group of women weavers from a community about 2 hours away from Loja in La Era covering Estrategias de Publicidad y Marketing, and Comptabiliad Básica   While we were able to largely adapt a similar Charla from the previous week´s Marketing Strategies Charla for the first half of the content, all of us were suprised about how complicated it is to make Accounting basic; not only did we spend the rest of the day creating an appropriate accounting system for our friends at La Era, but work continued the next morning, bright and early, and some of us were even making the final copies of our handouts after lunch while others were at the Bus station buying the tickets.  On the plus side, it went rather well, and I think we can say with confidence that it was probably our most successful APFpresentation yet–the practice activity with fake money à la Monopoly was especially popular.
We were ready to go Wednesday morning to catch a bus San Pedro de Vilcabamba for a marketing campaign in preparation for our PSB Campaña Saturday.  San Pedro de Vilcabamba is a smaller pueblo about a 10 minute taxi ride from the tourist hotspot of Vilcabamba.  We waited for and then split up going door to door, making do with our sometimes-limited Spanish, and explaining who we were and what work we’d be doing on Saturday.  After our Marketing was completed, we met with a lady from the Asociaciòn 23 de Junio, a group of women who make various products with beautiful flower designs all from recycled paper to do research for GSGW.  We left not only with the knowledge of the remarkably lengthy process it takes to make their paper, but with our wallets quite a bit lighter and carrying an assortment of frames, journals, and scrapbook materials.  All in all, quite a popular stop.
The next day, we went to a branch of the famed Grameen bank to give a Charla to some of their members.  Half of our group did accounting again (though this time with a group of about 30 people), and the other half talked about client services.  Afterwards, the President of the branch treated us to to Empanadas and Coffee (which, even as a non-coffee drinker, I must admit was superb) while she spoke to us about the bank and their work, which despite all the negative press Grameen has been recently accumulating in the Eastern Hemisphere, was pretty impressive.
The next morning, Friday, we left at 6:40 am to take the bus to our last 2 charlas of the week in the nearby Zamora-Chichepe Province, but unfortunately when we got off the bus to Zamora, we found out that there had been a mix up and the organization we were supposed to be meeting was unaware that we were coming!  Of course, these types of mixups is so much the nature of this work and this country, though we were sad to miss out on a fun activity that was rumored to involve throwing sugar.  On the bright side, we made our own “fun activity” playing with monkeys at the Zamora Rescue Shelter, and saw everything from snapping turtles and parrots, to boa constrictors and owls.
After a successful PSB Campaña yesterday in San Pedro, we had the rest of the weekend for a well-deserved break, and walked the 25 minutes from San Pedro de Vilcabamba to Vilcabamba, a famed town which, to quote my enthusiastic guidebook, “is synomous with longevity throughout Ecuador,” especially after a Reader’s Digest special on its centarian residents.  While we didn’t see anyone who looked anywhere near 100, it certainly was a popular get-away location; I don’t think any of us had seen so many Gringos in one place since we left the States.  Saturday we went Ziplining and most of us stayed the night, waking up bright and early to eat at a wonderful breakfast place called Sugar and Spice before going on a horsback ride through the mountains and even fording a river.
Tomorrow, we leave for Yanzatza, in Zamora-Chinchipe Province, which is in the only part of Ecuador we haven’t visited : the Oriente.  While the rainforest promises to be beautiful, and we’re looking forward to the warmer weather, we’ve all been stocking up on bugspray.  Until next week!
(Shane Hunt)




Week Four: Palmar

29 06 2011

Day 23 – 20 June 2011

Today was a day of so many highs and new starts.  We drove from Riobamba through Guayaquil to get to Palmar in a private bus that seated 9 for the 12 of us.  We passed our luggage off into the hands of the driver who then piled it high on top of the bus and then secured it all down using a tarp and lots of rope.  Rita, Sarah, and Shane sat on the back seat that fit three.  Kate, Dan, and Wick squeezed on the middle seat that barely fit the three of them, and then Thailer, Anne, Carly, and I squeezed four across on the seat that faced the rest of the bus.  The seven of us in the front had to weave our legs together, put them on top of the other people (aka Carly and Dan), or stretch them out in any open space we could find like Thailer maneuvered with her long legs.  The first half of the trip was miserable and hysterical at the same time.  We made a brief stop at a gas station and filled up with typical road trip junk food like cookies and Doritos and then were back on the road.  The break rejuvenated us, and we were all much livelier in the bus afterward.  For lunch, we stopped in Guayaquil.  We drove by a McDonalds, and Dan and I were both sad that we weren’t going there for a taste of America’s greatest delicacy.  Little did we know that we were stopping at a mall instead, and this was no normal Latin American mall, but it truly was a glimpse of heaven, or at least of America.  When we made it to food court was when the celebrations actually began.  First, we saw a Cinnabon, then a to-go coffee shop called Sweet and Coffee that looked like Starbucks.  Then, we walked upstairs and were warmly greeted by the familiar signs of Subway, Burger King, sushi, China Wok, and Pizza Hut.  My jaw was on the floor for at least five minutes as I walked around and basked in the glory of American food.  I got a Whopper with cheese with fries, and it tasted just like America.  Wick and Dan got sushi and finally satisfied their cravings, and everyone else got Subway, pasta, or Chinese. When we finished, we walked around the mall before reentering into the clown car that was our bus for the remaining two hours.  Full, happy, and missing our siestas at our homes in Cuenca, most of us napped for about an hour until we reached the first small, coastal city that again reminded us of the American shores.  We finally made it there around 5:30 and parked in the center of town where we met Miguel and Marcelo, the two men who are guiding us throughout the week.  Miguel is an asesor with Soluciones Comunitarias, and Marcelo is in charge of the Neojuventud program for the youth in Palmar and runs the center, the gym, the internet café, and the panaderia that are all in the center of the town.  I can already tell they are both going to be pretty cool guys, and I am looking forward to hearing more about their life stories, their inspirations, and their visions for Palmar.  After meeting them, we walked everyone to their houses from the center.  We were a gringo parade for all of the town to see.  With our new families, Wick and Dan are brothers, Anne and Carly are sisters, and Sarah and I are sisters.  Rita and Thailer are next door neighbors, Kate has a great pad with a TV, computer, and balcony overlooking the beach, and Shane is Miguel’s brother for the week.  Thus, we are all close here in Palmar.  We live near each other, we are “brothers and sisters”, and we are close friends.  After the group dispersed to go to our new families for the night, Sarah and I ate dinner with our dad, Daisy, and her husband.  Our mom prepared fried fish called Trumpeto, or trumpet fish, along with rice (standard), fresh orange juice, and plantanos chips that are delicious.  Then, Sarah and I came upstairs to our room that is complete with two very comfortable twin beds (the most comfortable bed I’ve had in Ecuador—good job, Palmar!), mosquito nets, a TV and DVD player, and at least 100 DVDs.  We got ready for bed, brushing our teeth with bottled water to avoid getting sick.  Afterward, we tucked ourselves into our beds and mosquito nets and went to bed for our first night sleep in Palmar!

Day 24 – 21 June 2011

I woke up this morning after a great night sleep.  The mosquito net reminds me of being a little kid building a fort every night.  I haven’t really seen many bugs, and I don’t really know why we need mosquito nets, but maybe I haven’t seen them because they are working.  Sarah and I woke up, got ready, and ate breakfast of fresh orange juice (still so good—can’t get enough of it), instant coffee (aka hot water that I poured coffee grinds into with sugar), and crackers and jelly.  An interesting meal, but good nonetheless.  We walked to meet everyone for yoga but found that most people were running on their own, so we met with Kate and walked along the street and water for an hour until we met at 9:00 to start the day.  We first watched a video about Neojuventud and heard Marcelo talk briefly about its efforts in keeping children in Palmar out of trouble and away from drugs and alcohol by giving them a place to hang out and things to do like work or help the community.  He is a passionate, driven, and dedicated man who loves Palmar and children and wants to give them the best by giving them opportunities.  I can’t wait to learn more about him and his efforts here.   Then, we planned our charlas for the week, which are on client services, hygiene, and quality control.  This week, we used the internet for research a lot more and are planning to teach more and use posters with the information written for them to see in response to our last two charlas.  I think these will be even better now that we have experience and practice on our side.  In the afternoon, we were supposed to go to the mangroves, but with the tides being low, we ended up walking through a lot of mud to see some rather lame plants.  Dan and Wick both freaked out about the crabs in the mud which was hysterical, and then Miguel and Marcelo decided we would go back in a boat another day when the tide was higher.  Instead, we went on a barefoot (if you count feet coated in thick mud as barefoot) hike up a steep side of a mountain that ran into the ocean.  At the top, the trail flattened out, and we walked through dry dirt for a while, adding to the coat of mud still caked on our feet.  We eventually got to a road and walked passed bushes that looked dead except for one or two pink flowers in bloom and trees that smelled of peppermint.  We walked down a long flight of stairs made from rocks down the other side of the mountain and arrived at Playa Rosada which is a beautiful, calm beach with thicker pink sand.  Dan, Shane, Rita, Thailer, Anne, and I all swam in the ocean amid the qualms and warnings of the leaders and the Ecuadorians who said there were big under-currents and huge waves.  The waves were in fact huge, but that only lured us further out to meet them.  Dan flipped over waves while I screamed and ducked under most of them, but we had a blast, and I am so glad I went swimming instead of worrying about being wet on our walk back.  After I got out, Sarah and I started doing handstands on the water’s edge, and then Dan and Shane joined us.  When we were all tired, we walked back a shorter way which included a hand-made, wooden ladder that was somehow attached to the side of the mountain.   At the bottom, we were greeted not by sand but by the water due to the changing tide.  As we stood there, we were told to swim across if we could, so most of us followed instructions and did.  Suddenly, a boat appeared to rescue the rest of the group and take the across without getting wet.  Then, we all walked back to our houses for dinner.  At 9:00, we met with everyone to walk and sit on the beach until 10:30, and we just sat and talked while Rita acted as DJ over Wick’s iTunes.   Then, we walked home, washed our feet, and got ready for bed.  Now, I’m going to get under my fort/tent/mosquito net for another great night as I am sung to sleep by the rhythm of the waves and the serenity of the beach.

Day 25 – 22 June 2011

This morning, I woke up at 6:45, 15 minutes before my alarm, and lay in my bed, falling in and out of sleep until 7:00.  Then, Sarah and I walked to school to have another morning of preparation before our charla in the afternoon.  We made posters and finished writing, translating, and proofing our documents and scripts.  I sweated as we worked, a huge difference from the three layers I have been wearing in Cuenca.  We also brainstormed our ideas and game plan for the SMS messaging and the NutriButter product proposals.  I checked my email for the first time in a few days and emailed a few people the link to our SEC blog website because I am writing the blog entries for this week.  Then, Sarah and I walked home for lunch, and we ate ceveche which is a colder, soup-like dish with shrimp and vegetables like onions, peppers, and tomatoes in a citrus base of lemon and orange juices.  We ate it with rice, plantain chips, and orange juice, and it was a delicious meal.  We walked back to the center of town to prepare for our meeting, and we made a to-do list for our product research.  Before walking over, we saw an iguana across the street.  As Wick tried to trap it in a corner, a dog came bounding down the street which sent the iguana running for dear life, and right into Carly’s feet.  It ran into the internet café, and Miguel grabbed it by the tail, but then, out of defense, the tail broke off but continued to move.  It was absolutely disgusting and fascinating at the same time, and we all laughed as we passed around a moving tail.  Then, we walked to the beach store behind NeoJunventud where members of the community were waiting to hear our charla about hygiene, customer service, and quality control.  We had one of our biggest and most enthusiastic groups yet, and the presentations thus went very smoothly.  From the glitter game to demonstrate the spread of germs to the sociodramas with audience participation, the community members learned and retained so much information and were so appreciative at the end, offering their thanks and praises to us.  Many told us of their visions for Palmar to become a beach that tourists love more than just another fishing port, and it was inspiring to witness so many people who were acting passionately for others and their community.  After a big group picture with small Ecuadorian women, kind men, and the gringos, we hustled out to the beach to play and catch a few rays of sun before it began to set.  We played Frisbee and soccer, talked on the shore, and played in the ocean (at least, Dan, Rita, Anne, and Thailer swam), and then went home for dinner.  Then, we all headed to the beach.  Wick and Dan made a fire pit, and we all worked together to start a fire that turned out to be a great success.  As we sat around the fire (Shane was the only one missing because he was studying Spanish), we talked about who we missed and what we would be doing during a normal day if we were not in Ecuador.  As Dan and I were collecting fire wood, Alex, the man in charge of our charla, brought us papas, fried plantains, lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and a roasted chicken.  We called Sarahita who then came and joined us to dine on the food offerings, and then the conversation died down alongside the fire.  We all walked back home, and now I am so excited to get under my canopy for another great night sleep.

Day 26 – 23 June 2011

We did research this morning for the SMS technology and NutriButter, and I worked on texting research that was actually very interesting.  After our lunch break, we walked back to the center to go on our first marketing campaign since we did not do one in Riobamba.  We rode on two buses to get there that were very hot and rather dark on the inside, and they looked like they belonged in the seventies.  We met by the church in the small town about thirty minutes away from Palmar.  We all filled out brochures and handouts for the town and then broke off into groups to walk around the town to talk to everyone about the campaign on Sunday.  We walked from house to house, passing papers through metal guards around windows and trying to convey the message that we are having a campaign on Sunday.  When they gave us blank stares because they could not understand our American Spanish accents, our leaders would step in and say everything again.  As we went on, it was cool to see our progress, and by the end, I think they actually understood us completely by the end.  Some highlights from marketing: pigs everywhere, goats eating leaves from trees, huts on stilts for houses, tiendas in every other house, and petting a deer.  We finished the campaign, and Carly, Kate, Liz, and I celebrated with Magnum almond and chocolate ice cream bars.  As we talked to the tienda lady, we found out that there were no buses back to Palmar.  Ellie (an ascesora who is also Anne and Carly’s sister) talked to a shirtless man on the side of the road and rigged us a truck back to Palmar, so we rode the thirty minutes back in the bed of the pickup truck.  As we sat on the edge of the truck bed, Liz talked about her thoughts about life after this summer, and Rita, Dan, Shane, Sarah, and I talked about what we were thinking about doing after we graduated.  We all went back home for dinner, and Sarah and I had fresh, crisp, and delicious fried shrimp that our mom cooked and took directly off the stove and onto our plates.  After dinner, we all walked to Liz and Sarahita’s house to hang out with everyone briefly.  We also were able to see Thailer, who had an IV in her arm after going to a clinic two blocks into town for dehydration.  We talked to Liz’s brothers for a little while, walked to a tienda to satisfy her “ganas de chocolate”, and then walked home.  Today was a fruitful and filled day.  Tomorrow morning, we are getting up early to drive to another beach to go whale watching.  A girl we met tonight outside of NeoJunventud who has been in Palmar for two years working as a Peace Corps volunteer said that whale watching was incredible, so I am so excited to go.

Day 27 – 24 June 2011

Today was a good, annoying, ridiculous, incredible, hysterical day.  The good—we woke up this morning to take a two hour bus ride to Puerta Lopez to go whale watching.  The annoying—we got there at 9:00 for our 10:00 tour that didn’t start until 11:30.  We went to a restaurant for the first hour where Rita, Dan, and Wick ordered the “Big Burger”, which first came out without any hamburger meat, at 9:45 in the morning, and then we walked up and down the gringo-filled streets with beach cabanas on one side and artisan tiendas on the other.  The ridiculous—we stood on the beach next to our boat for twenty minutes listening to him talk about whales.  Who cared?  No one.  We just wanted to see them dive and jump which we could not do from the beach.  After waiting two hours until they had more people to make business off of, thirty minutes of which were spent on the boat with smelly, mildewed lifejackets on as the waves sent us back into the sand over and over again, we finally took off.  Liz quickly got sea sick (but didn’t throw up!), and Shane took a nap during part of it, but once we got out to see, we all were in better spirits.  Speeding over waves that like roller coasters in the middle of the ocean, we slowed down when we spotted a spray of water out the window.  Rita, Dan, and Anne went to the front of the boat (where Dan napped for fifteen minutes before engaging in the whales), Kate, Carly, Wick, and I went to the top, and Shane, Liz, and Sarah stayed underneath where they felt safer but also sicker.  We had a couple join us up top who had a video camera recording the entire time, and they ensured that the group of gringos made it into their home videos.  The woman also took a picture of every movement in the ocean and thus missed pretty much all of the whales themselves.  We were also joined by a woman who was sunburned and seasick, a deadly combination  The incredible—we watched countless whales who had migrated from Antarctica to Ecuador for three months to mate (thanks to Don Cherry for that info) as they jumped and dove through the ocean.  We saw one that jumped out of the water completely and many others that revealed their bodies and tails.  Most traveled in groups of two or three.  They were enormous yet graceful at the same time, a masterful feat.  After the whales, we went to an island where some people, including Kate, went snorkeling while the rest of us sat on the front of the boat chatting, except that Shane was still napping.  We headed back to shore and ate at a great Colombian restaurant that was decorated and designed for tourists yet fresh and authentic in their cuisine—our favorite balance.  The hysterical—we made it on and off the bus that took us outside of Palmar but then could not find the bus to get to Palmar.  Instead of walking in the dark, we asked a man driving a van if he could take us.  When we got in the car, we fake-called someone and read the license plate number aloud with a description of the car so that we would not get kidnapped.  We planned to meet at 9:00 for another beach fire but instead met at Liz’s house and then came to my house with our cousin, Ellie, who is also an asesora.  Wick, Shane, Anne, Kate, Sarah, Carly, and I all came over (Sarahita and Liz were lame and decided not to come, and Dan, Thailer, and Rita were all already home for the night), and we sang karaoke until midnight.  Some of the highlights, which were either the very best or very worst songs we sang, were Barbie Girl, Hit Me Baby One More Time, Hotel California, My Heart Will Go On, As Long As You Love Me, and Gasolina (our final choice which was our worst song in terms of performance but the best grade of the night).  In all, today was relaxing, exciting, adventurous, and simply fun—a perfect day off.

Day 28 – 25 June 2011

This morning, we met to go to the mangroves which are essentially trees growing in the salt water.  We walked through the fishermen coming in from the night of fishing, and then we boarded a blue boat and sat on the sides as we rode through the trees/bushes.  The trip only lasted twenty minutes at the most, but instead of getting out, Miguel took us out to sea to see what we interpreted as ostriches.  We were surprised when he pulled up a trap of oysters (a dumb mistake on our part, obviously).  Rita, Anne, Dan, Carly, Liz, and I all slid the fresh, out-of-the-ocean sea creatures off the shells and down our throats, and they actually did not taste like much more than sea water.  Rita, Shane, Anne, and I all jumped off the boat in the middle of the ocean and went swimming, and then we reboarded the boat by climbing up the propeller and rode to Playa Rosada just to look at it and to ride in the boat longer, and then we came back to Palmar.  Because the sun was out for the first time all week, we laid out on the beach for an hour or two before lunch.  We all met up again for our second charla of the week at a restaurant/tourist hang-out that a group is building.  We had around twelve people join us, and we again presented on hygiene, quality control, client services, and nutrition.  After the charla, we gave surveys to about six people and let them try the NutriButter product (which they all liked!).  We all went home to chill and eat dinner.  At 8:30, we met at Liz and Sarahita’s house to go to their 17 year old sister’s birthday party, which their mom said was also our going away party—she is the sweetest, and they are definitely the best family in Palmar.  It was a “White Party” so we came in style (everyone except for Dan and Shane who “didn’t have anything white”), and Wick came in a white shirt, shorts, socks, and tennis shoes.  They had a DJ, colored disco lights, chairs all around the outside, and a great food table with lights and candles for decoration.  It was awesome—definitely one of the coolest parties I’ve ever seen.  We were the only guests for the first twenty minutes.  Then, three of the birthday girl’s friends came and immediately broke out into a choreographed dance that two of them knew, complete with swing moves, salsa steps, sliding on the ground, a handstand into a flip over the guy, and a full backflip in the air over the guy’s arm.  Needless to say, we all circled around them by the end to watch with our jaws on the floor.  Shane rotated through the girls, teaching everyone how to swing dance and salsa, and the rest of us made the classic dance circles, bopping while each of us took turns being in the middle—so junior high.  Sarah and I left at 11 which was apparently early for an Ecuador party, and after we left, they had fireworks.  For the second night in a row, the bar next door to our house was blasting music so I again slept with earplugs in, but the music appeared to be no problem as I went straight to sleep.

Day 29 – 26 June 2011

Today was our last full day in Palmar.  We met at 7:30 at NeoJuventud to go to the campaign.  We were pumped to have our own private transportation so that we wouldn’t have to take the public buses when an old, Carolina blue pickup truck pulled up, and we were quickly reminded of the different standards here in Ecuador.  We were packed in the bed of the truck while Thailer had the front seat all to herself.  We talked about camp songs for most of the way to entertain ourselves, and between Rita, Kate, Carly, Anne, and me, we had almost all of them covered.  We arrived in the town, set up the tent and products, and blew up balloons for decoration.  We worked with the four asesores from Palmar—Miguel, Ellie, a younger guy, and a younger girl.  We had a slower day compared to our first campaign.  Our most memorable customer was a man who was drunk from the night’s festivities, but Shane choose to look past his slurred Spanish phrases and stumbling steps and tried to give him an eye exam.  Some people helped with marketing again, others did surveys on SMS technology and NutriButter, and the rest stayed at the campaign to help.  When the pickup truck arrived again, we packed up the products and loaded back into the truck for the forty minute drive home.  We made it back in time for a later lunch, and Sarah and I had vegetable soup and then chicken and rice with mashed potatoes.  When we met back up later in the afternoon, we walked to the beach with Rita and Thailer and met with Dan and Wick.  Dan, Wick, and I threw the Frisbee while Rita and Thailer swam for one last time, and Sarah played in the sand.  When Kate joined us, we sat and talked while Dan, Rita, and Thailer went on an adventure to find coconuts.  We all raced over to the internet café to get the first open computers and found Shane working on our projects for SEC (all this time, Carly and Anne were busy taking a four hour nap from 2 until 6).  We all met at 8:30 to make a fire which ended up being 9:00 but were just in time in Ecuador.  By 10:00 and after many failed but persistent attempts, we had one last fire on the beach and talked until 11:30.  We all have really enjoyed Palmar and love the people, our families, NeoJuventud, Miguel and Marcelo, the fresh fish, the beach, the boats, Liz and Sarahita’s Peruvian brother and Ecuadorian brother and sister, the fires, and the sound of the ocean.  Everyone is so excited to meet back up with the other group and make our favorite stop at a mall in Guayaquil for lunch on the way.  Right now, I’m just excited for my last night under my tent in my comfy bed.

(Elizabeth Smith)





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)





Week Three: Field work y el campo en Riobamba, Salinas, Pulinguí y Shogol

21 06 2011

Kids and dogs are everywhere.  The street dogs break your heart. The children, though, are so cute you want to steal them and take them home.  Although, if I’m being honest, I’ve wanted to take home a fair number of dogs, too.  Work in the field can be tiring- waking up at 5 am for our first campaign made for a long day.  Salinas was a cute mountain town whose market makes it a hub for surrounding comunities.  We took advantage of the market to solicit our campaign and the work of the entrepreneurs: free eye exams and low cost goods focused on the betterment of the community.  Our goal, the last mile.  We were welcomed into town by a threesome of dogs playing, and we left in the afternoon after having been followed around all day by one of them.  The day, an overall success, was an amazing experience that stretched our abilities to speak Spanish and gave us a snapshot of life in rural Ecuador.  Throughout the day, there was a continuous game of volleyball on which the men who were playing had bet money (meaning we weren’t allowed to join in).  We topped the day off with chocolate, one of the things the town is known for.

Wednesday we spent preparing for our charlas.  We spoke to two towns about both SWOT (or FODA, in Spanish) Analysis and Client Services.  I spent my afternoon on our first day of charlas with a very kind man, who was about half my height, doing everyday work.  I hoed, fed and watered cows, searched for lost pigs (which we eventually found and fed), and fed grass to the guinea pigs (which are definitely not pets here).  When it came time to give the charlas, we found ourselves in a room with about 40 kids and no adults.  We played a few rounds of duck duck goose before diving into SWOT.  Friday, we visited our second town to deliver the charla on client services.  This time, we played futbol.  After interviewing the local artisans, we took a break outside to photograph Chimboraza (volcano).  The children imediately asked if we wanted to play, and since they had a ball, soccer ensued.  During a short break, I scratched out a small map in the dirt while trying to explain what exactly ‘Estados Unidos’ is.  I’m not sure they understood, but they sure were cute, asking a hundred and one questions.
This weekend, we visited Baños to relax some before heading out to Palmar next week.  We rode horses, got massages and pedicures, shopped, and ate food.  It was amazing, even though the hot springs were a slight disappointment (they were basically warm, overcrowded public pools. So, we passed).
(Anne Kolesnikoff)