Saturday, September 27
Friday, September 26
Saturday, September 20
We live, conveniently, right across from the elementary school where we work everyday. At the school, we are working with Yanapuma and a group of volunteers from Engineers without Borders to construct six ecotoilets. The school´s current sanitary system was designed to accomodate 75 students when it was built ten years ago, but now, because the school´s principle has worked so hard to attract students from neighboring villages, the school has more than 250 students. The nearest city, Santo Domingo, doesn´t have the capacity to clean out septic tanks, so once they´re full, they´re simply abandoned. Thus the school has serious issues with contamination and overflow.
Ideally, the toilets will be able to accomodate the school´s increased population and will be eco-friendly: in addition to safetly containing waste, it will ultimately produce a useable and nutrient-rich soil. So far we´ve helped to dig trenches and lay pipes. Hired skilled workers are the ones who do most of the concrete laying, and so far the engineers have had to modify their original design. We have been able to observe some of the difficulties in implementing development in a rural community like Bua: firstly, communication. There are several different groups of volunteers here, Thinking Beyond Borders, Engineers without Borders , funneled here through Yanapuma, and these different groups have to work in conjunction with the community, the school itself, and the skilled workers. Secondly, we´ve seen how designs created in the USA cannot necessarily be implemented in other places: the engineers made sure to ask if Ecuadorian cement blocks had holes in them, but they didn´t realize that the holes don´t go all the way through, so we can´t thread riebar through them. Thirdly, the community itself sometimes doesn´t understand the intent of those volunteering. When Yanapuma intially came to the village, they learned that no map of the community existed, and when they tried to make one, the community reared back because they thought the information would be fed to the government to make them pay taxes.
Back at our homestays, we often bathe in the river, help to do dishes, play marbles with Andres ... I´ve learned some really interesting bits about the TsaChila culture through speaking with my host mother. She came from one of the other seven TsaChila communities and seems to miss her own family a lot. She explained to me that the TsaChilas ären´t allowed to marry white people¨ -- I actually got to look through a TsaChila ¨rule book¨ type pamplet in the living room, and it had rules like you must marry within the nationality, what types of roles women should play (cook, clean, and raise children), and the customary clothing (for men, black and white striped skirts, for women, very brightly striped skirts). The men also have a tradition of dying their hair red with berries that grow here.
It´s really exciting to be in Ecuador at this time. In a week or so, the country will vote on whether or not to implement a new constitution. Their constitution changes pretty regularly, I think about twenty times in the past couple decades. My homestay family was shocked that our USA constitution ´hasn´t been changed in more than two hundred years! Correas, the current president, is proposing a fairly liberal constitution that would allow abortion, is vague on gay marriage, and, some hope, would equalize socioeconomic conditions.
Something else that struck me about being in Ecuador is that they use as thier national currency the US dollar. They dollarized about eight years ago due to hyperinflation and have used the dollar ever since.
We certainly don´t have internet in the village, so right now the group is on a day trip to Santo Domingo, a hyper-industrial, kind of grimy little city about forty minutes from Bua by cattle truck. Tomorrow is Sunday so we won´t be working but spending the day with our homestay families.
Monday, September 15
Saturday, September 13
I should have posted an introductory post before I left, but between packing and that strenuous life-guarding job, I never got the chance, so let me say a little bit about the program.
I graduated from Winsor in June, and I’ll be going to Columbia in the fall of 2009, and in the mean time, I’m taking a gap year with a program called Thinking Beyond Borders. I actually never planned to take a year off, but in April, my college counselor mentioned that there would be a gap year fair at Nobles, and so I decided to stop by one weekend. While I was there, I discovered and fell in love with TBB.
This is the first year that they’re running the program, but it seems to be incredibly well run so far. There are sixteen students and three leaders: Sandy & Robin (who are married) and Nina. We’ll be spending the next eight months together, traveling the world and studying global development issues.
The basic structure of the program focuses on five main countries, and in each one we focus on a different issue: Ecuador (clean water), China (public education), Vietnam (the environment), India (sustainable agriculture), and South Africa (public health). In each main country, we do an individual homestay and work directly with a local NGO (non-governmental organization) that specializes in our focus. In between each of the main countries, we have an enrichment week, essentially a vacation week to decompress and process and come back together as a group, so those trips will include hiking Machu Pichu in Peru, going to Angkor Wat, scuba-diving in Thailand, seeing the Taj Mahal in India, and going to a National Park in South Africa. After all that, we come and spend six more weeks together in the United States, drawing connections between everything we’ve seen. We’ll be meeting with the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and small NGOs in New York City and Washington DC.
I’ll explain more about the program as I go, but that’s good for now.
The trip began on September 4th, when the group met in Houston and flew to San Jose, Costa Rica, for a ten-day orientation. We spent the time in a small costal town called Playa Uvita, which is on the Pacific, south side of the country. We lived at a small co-op owned hostel type place, on an unpaved road with few local shops. We were a half hour walk from the beach, so many of the mornings some of us would wake up early to catch the high tide and surf, which I’ve never done before, but began to get the hang of.
Early morning surfing -- catching the high tide at 5:00 AM (Zach & Noah)
We spent the week having group discussions (rules, safety, curriculum) and doing outdoor activities. Highlights included kayaking in a mangrove grove, hiking to a waterfall, taking a boat trip to an island, going on a nighttime beach hunt to help preserve turtle eggs from poachers, and seeing a local soccer tournament.
We discussed our summer reading – Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, and The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs. The group opinions differed about each book, but I would recommend them both. Ishmael, or its sequel My Ishmael, is a quick read with a heavy message about the nature of human society. The End of Poverty is a very well written, easily accessible book written by an economist who pioneered the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.
We’re back in San Jose now for the night before our flight to Quito, Ecuador. From there, we’ll drive about four hours to our site.
The group is great so far; everyone is really getting along and seems to be having a great time. I’m really excited to start our first main country and hopefully remember my Spanish!