Goodbye, Ñamarin!

We’ve been in Ñamarin, a small 80-family mountain village in the southern Loja region, for the past week now, and today we’re heading to Timbara, another southern town in the Zamora area. Obviously I’d have liked to have posted these earlier in the week, but we can make do with them now as a farewell to Ñamarin.

My host family consisted of Delfina (the mother), Marcelo (the father), their four children Gabriela, Samuel, Gladys and Genesis, and a family friend Nina who is living with them while she goes to school nearby. In addition to farming, Marcelo is a carpenter and made all of the muebles (furniture) in our room, including the full-size bed, the bunk bed, the dresser, two tables, and two chairs. The family is such a sweet group of people (and Delfina is an amazing cook) and we really enjoyed our time with them. 

Our homestay house. We're really roughing it out here...

Delfina in the kitchen

Maize, mote, choclo--whatever form it's in, corn is a major meal staple in Ecuador. 

Walking through Ñamarin

Our little troop meeting up before we set out on our publicidad on Wednesday.

Natalia with our host sister Gladys and their family friend Nina.

Next stop, Timbara!

Our First Campaign

A week from yesterday we went to Sig Sig to have the first campaign of many while we’re on this trip. A couple days before we had all gone out on a publicidad, where we canvas the town in which we’ll be having the campaign to let everyone know that we’re having eye exams — “totalmente gratis” — as well as selling reading glasses and other products they might need. On the actual day of the campaign we conducted distance and close vision tests for all who came, though we’re not allowed to sell distance glasses or any lenses to children because of governmental restrictions (which makes sense). We sell reading glasses where possible, and in all other cases we give people references to see a nearby optometrist/ophthalmologist at a discount. We also sell people water purifiers for their homes, seeds for personal gardens, sunglasses, energy-efficient lightbulbs, small solar panels and more.

At most campaigns we’re assisted by a local businessperson who has become a partner with Soluciones Comunitarias, as we’re known out in the field. Soluciones Comunitarias gets just enough of the income to cover the cost of all products sold, and the local partner gets the rest. This is the part of the micro-consignment model that aims to create long-term impact by empowering local business owners to gain enough business skills to eventually work independently. Lots of times we partner with women, and it's incredibly satisfying to see just how much their work means to them and their families.

Naomi giving a long distance vision test to a citizen of Sig Sig.

Erin getting info from one of our younger clients.

Team Ecuador!

Aidan explaining a close vision test to a client.

Haley conducting a close vision test with one of the women of Sig Sig.

Elsa taking a quick break during a lull in the stream of people.

It's always fun talking to kids here, they are either super curious about us or super chatty about their lives (or both).

What is Social Entrepreneur Corps Anyway?

I realized I haven’t actually given an explanation for why exactly I’m here in Ecuador for the summer. I’m interning with the Social Entrepreneur Corps to consult with and support local businesses that are mostly located in the rural areas of the country. We have 21 interns who are split into four different project teams:

Water filters

Financial literacy

Wood stoves

Vision testing

One of our main responsibilities is to be developing distribution and application models for these services and products to ensure that the people who most need them are able to access them. I’m on the wood stoves team, so we’re trying to figure out the best way to get better ventilated and more efficient wood-burning stoves to the people out in the country who need them. In addition to our ongoing 2-month projects, all the interns are engaging in rapid grassroots consulting in the different regions we visit. We’ve been split in 2 for the fieldwork, and my half of the intern group is currently in Loja, in the southern region of Ecuador. This week we’ve been refining an inventory system for a women’s artisan crafts group and developing better hygiene practices with a local cheese factory. We’ll continue to work on short-term regional projects as we move through the country.

It’s been an eye-opening first three weeks. Here’s to five more!

Our team of 21 interns (minus me) with all of our regional coordinators and the country director for Ecuador.

And then me (looking a bit like a drowned rat from our Cajas hike) (photocred to Aidan on this one)

First Two Weeks: Recap

Finally FINALLY getting photos up from the first segment of our time here in Ecuador. It was a great first two weeks in Cuenca as the twenty-one interns prepped for our field work and explored the city. This post will be a long one to make up for my lack of posting thus far. Right now we're in the south to do fieldwork for two weeks in Saraguro and Zamora. I'll try to get timely photos up from our stint here, but wifi is limited, so posts are too.

Corpus Christi & Cuenca | The Latin festival celebrating the belief and faith in Jesus Christ and the Eucharist, or holy communion. It lasts a week and I went to the celebrations every single night. The streets are lined with vendors selling sweets (50 cents for a donut) and there are fireworks and street performers out and about. Over the night they also light up the castillos, which are tall structures with pinwheels of fireworks and whistles. There was a procession the first night that ended at the cathedral in the park square.

So. Many. Sweets.

The first night processional.

The castillos were one of my favorite parts of the nights.

Cuenca is a beautiful nighttime (and daytime) city.

A couple of us have been up to the lookout at Turi, a hill with a church high up overlooking the city. The 400-some steps up to the church lookout are numbered backwards, so you know exactly how many more you have to drag yourself past before you collapse gasping in the thin high-altitude air. 

There are mountains arching up over those city lights, you just can’t see them at night.

Principal Site Visit | Principal is a small mountain village we visited to learn about a basket making business run by a large group of local women. About ten women contribute to the woven baskets, hats, bowls, and other containers that are sold there and in other cities. As the women in the campo (country) have many responsibilities taking care of their families and working in the fields and mountains, they don’t each have time to devote themselves to the business full-time, so they weave pieces here and there as they have the time, sending pieces off to a third party for final finishings and seams before they sell them.

After hearing about their model — and having plenty of time to shop — we headed to a place further out in the village where they prepared food for us. I tried cuy (guinea pig), which is a delicacy here. It’s very salty, and doesn’t quite taste like chicken.

Our last stop for Principal was a cooperative jam factory for the village. They’re currently in the process of getting the correct labels for their jam approved (their old labels had the wrong amounts printed), but we were still able to buy plenty of jam from them at the end of our stop!

Stray dogs are everywhere in Ecuador.

Aidan and Matt try on some handmade straw hats. 

On our way to try cuy.

El Cajas Hike | Sunday was our free day, so a group of us traveled to El Cajas National Park to hike the mountains. It was cloudy at first, but the mist lifted about an hour into the hike. We asked our guides if we could go farther than the usual route, which normally stops at a large lagoon, so our hike lasted about 4 hours. Despite the small amounts of rain and not-so-small amounts of mud, the mountains were absolutely gorgeous. Excellent way to spend a free day.

Elsa trekking through Cajas.

Aidan and Christina hit the whip at 12,000ft above sea level. 

San Bartolomé Site Visit | On Tuesday we traveled to San Bartolomé, where we visited a mountain reservoir that the villagers use for drinking, despite the fact that the reservoir was built on top of an old mine and is now being poisoned by mercury. Our four projects aren’t focusing on this particular situation, but the water filter team had the opportunity to talk to the health director afterward. We went back down to the village afterward to begin surveying for our various projects, and the teams spent several hours canvassing the town and speaking to citizens and storeowners. Afterward, we traveled (in the backs of pickup trucks) down the road to a guitar association that sells beautiful handmade guitars. We toured their business and then the vision team conducted eye exams for the townspeople while the rest of the teams surveyed the people waiting.

I’d accidentally left my SD card in my laptop back in Cuenca, so I have no pictures from this day. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a pretty little town.

Laguan Site Visit | On Thursday, we traveled to a school in Laguan. Our main goals were for our water filter and financial literacy teams to deliver charlas — discussions or talks — to the school children on 1) the importance and use of water filters to clean their drinking water and 2) financial literacy, so they were oriented toward creating savings for themselves and understanding investments. I was with the financial literacy group, so we delivered the lesson plans we’d created for children in grades 6-7 and then 2-3.

I have to say that this was one of my most favorite visits of the trip so far. As exciting as it may not sound, the children actually had a great time classifying “wants” versus “needs,” decorating piggy banks (“chanchitos”) made of envelopes, and playing drawing games of things they would like to save up for. Some of them asked us if we’re coming back, and I really wanted to say yes; I have to put another check mark in the column for teaching English abroad after graduation.

Erin helping the kids with their chanchitos. The woman in blue talking to Aracely is our SE Corps country director Justina! 

That's all for now. I'll try to schedule some blogs to post even if I can't get to my computer, so stay tuned!

Fun Culture Facts #1

A little something until I can post more photos:

  1. Not really a culture fact, but you yawn a lot more in higher altitude, or at least I have been (Cuenca is 8,000ft above sea level. The highest point in Washington DC is 410ft above sea level).
  2. Ecuadorians eat a small breakfast (usually some sort of bread and fruit) and dinner (rice with meat is common), and a large lunch. They drink juice all the time, from all kinds of different fruits.
  3. There's a rule called "pico y placa" ("peak and plate", meaning license plate) in the major cities of Quito and Guayaquil, where cars with license plates ending in certain numbers aren't allowed to drive on certain days of the week; so if your plate ends in 9012, for example, you can't drive on Tuesdays between 6am and 8pm. It's meant to alleviate traffic congestion by taking cars off the road. This can be a hassle for families who need to get to work, so richer families usually end up buying two different cars to use on different days.
  4. Forget voter apathy in Ecuador! They have compulsory voting. The way I understand it, if you don't vote in an election, you'll have problems buying a house, getting married, getting loans or doing other logistical things that require legal papers. They'll ask for proof of voting in the most recent election when you apply for these things and they can refuse you if you don't have it.

Welcome to Cuenca!

Finally getting some photos up from our travel and settling in to Cuenca yesterday! It was almost a four hour bus ride from Guayaquil to Cuenca, with more than half of it through the mountains. 

One of the last buildings we saw before heading into the mountains.

This was only about half an hour into the three-hour mountain leg of the drive. We got much, much higher above the clouds than this. 

Various smaller settlements were scattered throughout the mountains.

And every once in a while you'd see a lone little house up on the mountainside.

We got to Cuenca around 4pm and went to the Amauta Spanish School, where they had PIZZA waiting for us. After pizza and a couple of hours meeting each other and discussing expectations and advice for the program, we split off to meet our host families and settle in at our home away from home (and that's a whole separate post for later). 

PIZZA. I believe it was from a place called Fabiano's. 10/10 would eat again, even if it weren't free.

Tyler likes pizza.

Getting ready for our first discussion of many.

And then, as if free pizza and a beautiful three-story school building (which you will see in more depth later) weren't enough, we can walk out onto the balcony and see...


You can see the top of one of Cuenca's 52 churches to the left.

This ain't so bad.