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Published: April 25th 2010
We have had an interesting week. On Friday we travelled by bus an hour to Ambato and were met by Santiago Nunez of World Vision. Ambato is a city in the Andes that is cool, and very dry. He and the staff spent an hour with a powerpoint presentation on their work in the area. They have a foundation of 7 small villages which have combined into an organization called Unocant. WV has sponsors for 3000 children and supports 9000 people in one way or the other. The children are supported in health care, quality schooling which includes new methods of teaching, and protecting their rights. All of these are accomplished through direct contact, workshops for teachers, families and community leaders. We stopped at one school where the laborious process of checking the registered children, photographing them for their sponsors, and updating files was taking place. Each family received a small bag of food as they left.
Once the children have finished their education. WV has agreements with many of the universities in the area to keep seats for them, and reduce their tuition. Many of them work while at university, and achieve their goals successfully. Some come back and
work with World Vision.
Even the basics of going to school is a challenge. Schooling is free, but uniforms, books, shoes etc. cost money. And although theres a small school in the village, the schools in Ambato far below are better. The kids climb up onto any truck, pickup or bus and pay 15 cents each way for a long dusty drive standing up and holding on. Even some of the 5 year olds are in for these long days, coming home very tired and hungry. The family we visited have 3 children and she talked about the burden of the cost of this transport, because they have a very small income. More about Alex and his family later.
World Vision has another part to their work. They have agricultural experts who have educated the local farmers, and have now implemented modern methods at many family and community farms. The area is extremely dry, and any crops have been below standard. This year there is a drought, and many families lose their income. The project helps them build a water reservoir, install a pump and drip irrigation. This ensures water supply and reduces the need for irrigation.
The farm we visited had rows and rows of strawberry plants,. They were growing on heaps that were covered in plastic and the crop yield and size was much improved. They also had Mora bushes, which is a cross between raspberry and blackberry. World Vision continues their work by teaching them about marketing their products and lobbying for better prices. Eventually it may work at opening export markets. The long term plan (15 years from beginning to end) is to phase themselves out, and have everything run locally. They continue to offer some technical support, and workshops for local politicians and leaders.
The day was spent with the child the Kinnaird Park Youth group sponsors. His name is Alex, and he and his mother were with us all day. He was a very shy 13 year old. Eventually we were at his house, a cement building. We didn’t spend time in the house, but had a look at the animals his mother tends. She has the most healthy animals we've seen anywhere in Ecuador. She had rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs, 2 cows and a pig. Their pens were clean and adequate. His sisters came home from school, and we
were able to give the whole family their gifts, which included some clothing, a cooking pot, blanket, 2 soccer balls, toys, chocolate and other goodies.
We all went to lunch down in the city, and us Canadians finally got to try eating BBQ Guinea Pig. It is different from chicken. It has a stronger flavour and had a layer of fat. Now that I've eaten it once, I don’t need to do it again, but there wasn’t anything gross about it. We could have had BBQ rabbit at the same restaurant.
Certainly the day was full of thought provoking sights. Its like going back a hundred years in time. The options and choices people in these remote areas have are so limited. Every day must be a challenge to find a bit of money for the small expenses. Their faces are darkened and weather beatened. Its quite cold there at times. The long term prospects are unknown for many of them. They don’t have phones, books, newspapers or internet, so joining the modern world will be a challenge. And yet 30 minutes away in the city below them, everything modern is available. The contrast is enormous.
next day, Steven and Katrina decided to take a leap of faith and jump off a 100 meter bridge. Its not bungee jumping, but bridge swinging, where you end up swinging at the end of your free fall. We have some photos and video, though unfortunately, Steven went very quickly and we missed the best of his. I still don’t know how they found the courage to actually follow through and through themselves off that little platform. Really, parental supervision aint what it used to be!
That afternoon the library project we're involved in packed up books and we headed out to another remote town near Banos. Some of us could ride in the truck, but the rest rode in the back and weathered the rainstorm. The road is paved, but still quite dangerous, narrow, with splintering cliffs above on one side, and chasms on the other. As we went, we entered a cloud forest area, with different vegetation. The orchids were blooming, and the tropical plants looking healthy and well.
The town was doing nothing when we arrived. People stood in doorways and looked like they had been standing there all day, and would stand there the
rest of the day. The hall was locked, and no one responded to us standing there. Dave played his trumpet to announce our arrival, still no response. Apparently this is normal, noone arranges our visits even though they know were coming.
So we walked up and down the town calling to kids, got the key to the hall, and eventually we ended up with 50 kids! They loved the books, we read to them, they read to us, they read to each other. Then Dave and Steven led a wonderful singing session, and there was a story read aloud and they drew pictures. A much welcomed activity on a rainy day in a very slow town. When we left there were some men playing a game with metal balls in the street, a bit like bocce.
Today is Katrina's birthday, and we showered her with roses. 24 beautiful red roses, and we;ll go out for dinner. Last night we went out for ice cream, very fancy ones, thanks to Oma V. She's got a massage booked for 2:30 and we all enjoyed the cards and photos from her youth group at breakfast this morning, which was fresh croissants,
fruit salad and yogurt.
One more week at the library, and then off to Riobamba on the other side of the volcano. Theres a kids project there called the Ark and it serves many desperate children. www.arkchildrenshomes.com if you want to read about them. Actually we were lucky enough to meet 4 volunteers who are currently there. They work long days from 6:30am to 7:30 at night, so don't expect much news from us in the coming weeks!
Dave has been thoroughly enjoying his hikes and bike rides. Last Sunday we all got on bikes and rode down the highway past chasms, waterfalls, tarabitas (cable cars) a good day, if a little nerve racking because of the traffic.
Well, life is colourful here, and lots to think about. The rich, the poor, the culture, so many differences, many similarities. The volcano will be a big part of their fortune always, as will the raging rivers, and challenges to the environment. Ecuador is an amazing country!
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