Oregonians in Ecuador

A group of eleven members from the Oregon Disciples of Christ churches came to Ecuador to work with FEDICE for ten days. Many of them have been to Ecuador before and have fallen in love with the country and its people. They love the work of FEDICE and are one of the organization’s major fundraisers and supporters.

The Oregon group.

The Oregon group.

This week, the group worked in a small indigenous community called Cachiviro located in the Otavalo region. Every member of this community speaks Kichwa, Ecuadorian’s indigenous language. Most of the men speak Spanish and the majority of the women understand Spanish but don’t speak it. However, all the kids speak both languages.

A beautiful Cachiviro woman with her traditional indigenous gold necklace and earrings.

A beautiful Cachiviro woman with her traditional indigenous gold necklace and earrings.

On the first day, we attended the local church with the community members. They sang upbeat worship songs in both Kichwa and Spanish with lots of clapping and dancing. All the church members wore their traditional Otavaleno indigenous clothing.  It was a beautiful and spirit-filled church service. One of the pastors from Oregon preached a beautiful message of “two peoples and cultures coming together and even though we can’t speak the same language, we are one in God.” Then the Oregon group sang a song in both Spanish and English called “Somos Uno/We Are One.” It was a wonderful way to start off the week; praying for each other in our own languages (English, Spanish, and Kichwa) and asking God to bless the week ahead.

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The project of the week was to help construct a community center. Obviously the Oregon group did not have enough time to finish the building, but a lot of progress was made. We sanded and scraped the brick inside and outside of the top story of the building. Then we painted the columns white and lacquered the bricks. On the last day, we put cement flooring on the second story.

Prayer circle before the work began.

Prayer circle before the work began.

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Let the sanding and scraping begin!

Let the sanding and scraping begin!

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Then apply the "laca" on the bricks!

Then apply the “laca” on the bricks!

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Shoveling the dirt into bags to transport to the second story.

Shoveling the dirt into bags to transport to the second story.

Carrying the dirt up to the second story.

Carrying the dirt up to the second story.

Mixing dirt and cement powder to the right consistency by shoveling the mounds back and forth three times.

Making cement by shoveling mounds of dirt and cement powder back and forth.

Laying down the cement.

Laying down the cement.

Floor is lookin' good!

Floor is lookin’ good!

One thing I love about this community is that each member is very dedicated to improving the well-being of his and her own community and people. Every day, there were at least 30 community members helping with the construction. No one was getting paid and the only benefit was the hope of receiving a new community center. The construction process has been slow because the community doesn’t hire outside construction workers to build their building; they build it themselves. This is somewhat of a foreign concept to me, yet it’s a very beautiful picture of collaboration.

I have seen this in other small Ecuadorian communities as well and I think this concept of “willing and selfless collaboration” is something very unique and special to Ecuador. When there is a community project, everyone sacrifices a day (or two or three) of their own work to help with the project. Their volunteer work is not self-motivated and has nothing to do with “feeling good” after helping. It’s from the simple intention of “I want my community to improve and I want to improve the well-being of it’s members.”

Women getting ready to work.

Cachiviro women getting ready to work.

Cachiviro women waiting to be assigned a job on the work site.

Cachiviro women waiting to be assigned a job on the work site.

In the afternoons, we had a vacation bible school for all the children in the community. There were about 100 children at VBS each day. They spent the afternoon in VBS rotations: arts and crafts, coloring, playing games, and listening to bible stories. I was in charge of reading bible stories and helping the kids put on skits of the stories they heard.

Giant game of "pato pato ganzo" before VBS started!

Giant game of “pato pato ganzo” before VBS started!

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Bible story skits!

Bible story skits!

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While the kids were at VBS, one of the Oregon members, Berniece, led a workshop on Self-Esteem and Motivation for the women of the community. There were about 30 women who attended the workshop each day.

The proud women with their certificates of completing the workshop.

The proud women with their certificates for completing the workshop.

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On Friday, we had a big celebration with the Cachiviro community. They organized a large presentation to honor the Oregon group for coming to help their community. The program started by taking our group on a boat ride on lake San Pablo, which is surrounded by four volcanos.

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Imbabura Volcano.

Imbabura Volcano.

The entire community came to the celebration. I translated for some of the program, which was nerve-racking! At the end of the program, they gave each of us presents. Each Oregonian received a wool hat and an Ecuadorian textile scarf. I was overwhelmed with the showering of gifts. I know that the people of the community do not make much money and it was somewhat hard for me to accept such an expensive gift from them. However, this is one of the lessons that I have been learning during my time in Ecuador. Letting someone else serve and bless you could be one of the best gifts you could give them. It’s a testament that giving is better than receiving.

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At the end of the ceremony, the community members laid down tarps in the middle of the field. Each of the families had brought homemade beans, rice, potatoes and corn tostados. Everyone poured out all of their food on the tarps and when the jefe said “Go,” they all ran to the tarps to fill their bowls with food. And of course, no one used silverware to eat. Although not very sanitary, if you ask me, this is a great way to do a potluck!

Running to get their share of food!

Running to get their share of food!

Overall, we had a wonderful time working with the people of Cachiviro. May they be blessed in all ways!

Somos Uno en Cristo, Somos Uno, Somos Uno, Uno solo. Somos Uno en Christo Somos Uno, Somos Uno, Uno solo. Un solo Dios, un solo Senor, una sola Fe, un solo amor, un solo bautismo, un solo Espiritu, y ese es el Consolador.

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San Francisco

We spent 3 weeks in a town called San Francisco, which is a small suburb of Latacunga. I really enjoyed living in this town because we had more access to civilization, compared to Romerillos, where we were living in “el campo.” There were several days we took a bus to the city of Latacunga just to go to the mall that felt “American.” They had nice stores, fast food, and coffee shops. A coffee shop with a real espresso machine is very difficult to find here (especially in the small towns)! So it was nice to “escape” for a little bit. The mall also had a giant big screen tv and we watched several of the World Cup games there. Of course we were the only fans watching the US games, but when Ecuador played, the mall was packed. It was fun to watch the game and cheer for Ecuador with a mall full of fútbol-loving, patriotic Ecuadorian fans.

We stayed with a lovely host family in one of the nicest houses I have seen in Ecuador. It was really nice to have a hot shower every day. However, we had to get used to life without a toilet seat. Apparently toilet seats are a luxury item here in Ecuador. But I’ll definitely never take for granted a toilet seat again!

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Digna, our host mom, is the president of the FEDICE group of women in San Francisco. She raises and sells chickens for an income. She also has a pig, which will sell for about $400.00 when it’s fat enough. She has guinea pigs and rabbits to sell for food as well.

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Each day, we taught English in the preschool. FEDICE supports this particular preschool and has a great relationship with them. The Oregon Disciples of Christ churches also have fundraised and supported this particular preschool center for years.

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I enjoyed teaching English, but teaching kids who can’t read or write was a new challenge. It was very difficult for me to come up with activities for the 2-year-old class, especially because some of them are not yet talking. We had three classes each morning, a half an hour for each one. I loved the four-year old class and I was so proud that they learned all their colors and the names of family members.

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In the afternoon, I taught an after-school English class for older students. There were about 8 students and they were all very excited to learn English. We played lots of games and they all really enjoyed coming to class each afternoon. I had a great time with them.

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Overall, we had a great time in San Francisco. I’m thankful for getting to know Digna and her family, the women of the community, and the children and teachers of the preschool. Yesterday, July 19th, we returned to San Francisco where we celebrated the 20th year anniversary of FEDICE. It was wonderful to see all the women and children of the community again. The women worked extremely hard to cook a meal for 125 people for the celebration and they did a fabulous job!

FEDICE in San Francisco

FEDICE has worked with this small community called “San Francisco” for 12 years. The main project in San Francisco is raising chickens, but many of the women raise other small animals as well. FEDICE has helped dozens of women to start their own agricultural and animal projects and with FEDICE’s help, the women of San Francisco have been very successful.

San Francisco

San Francisco

It takes about 8 weeks for the chickens to be fully grown and big enough to sell.

It takes about 8 weeks for the chickens to be fully grown and big enough to sell.

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Digna selling chickens.

Digna selling her chickens.

A pig is worth about $400.00 when it's fat enough to sell.

A pig is worth about $400.00 when it’s fat enough to sell.

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Alfalfa field to feed the guinea pigs.

Alfalfa field to feed the guinea pigs.

At the end of the year, the women have to pay back their loans to FEDICE, including a 1% interest rate per month. While we were in San Francisco, we attended all the FEDICE meetings. We were lucky enough to be in San Francisco when the women had to turn in their money and it was great to see how successful they were over the last year.

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Machu Picchu

On day four of our trek, we had hiked around the base of Machu Picchu mountain and we could see the beautiful stone city from hundreds of feet down. The anticipation of visiting the intricate, man-made-city-in-the-clouds was exasperating. At five in the morning, we began our trek up the steep Incan stone steps. The hike was exhilarating. The brisk air cooled our sweaty faces as we trekked quickly up the steep slope without stopping. As we entered the ruins, we watched the clouds lift as the hot sun rose in the East sky. We spent the day wandering the ruins, resting in the green grass overlooking the mountains, hiking along the ancient paths, and reading about the Incan empire in the cool shade of a stone wall. It was nonetheless fascinating to learn about this intelligently engineered city built by a great empire whose reign lasted less than 100 years. The incredibly creative and motivated Incan society left us with dazzling mystery and inspiration.

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Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

The first week of July, I embarked on one of the most incredible adventures of my life; a 5 day trek to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. The remote Salkantay trail led us by Incan canals, clear rivers, waterfalls, and jungle ferns. We trekked through luscious farming land, massive snow-capped mountains, dry valleys, and a beautifully unique sub-tropical forest. And on day 5 we reached our destination, the sacred city in the clouds, Machu Picchu.

Day 1

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Day 2

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Day 3

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Day 4

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Day 5

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*The National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine named the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu one of the 25 Best Treks in the World.