After completing our national park project in 2 short days, we indulged ourselves in a whale watching island adventure. About 20 miles off the coast from Puerto Lopez there is a small island, around 3 miles long, named “isla de la plata” that is better known as the poor man’s galapagos. On this island you can see blue footed boobies, sea lions, masked boobies, and many other interesting species. We were lucky to be led on this journey by 2 of the park rangers from Machalilla, one of whom served as our guide once on the island.
We departed from the beach right when the fishermen were finishing up their morning exchanges. We hopped onboard and we very unprepared for the nausea that was to come, especially on my part. The waves were powerful, smacking the boat.
A typical day in the Old Town area of Quito involves passing by Romanesque churches with towering arches and intricate rose windows, juxtaposed with small shops and helado venders, occasional cobble street roads, and narrow paved streets flowing through a tall valley of multistory edificios. Spanish-Franco architecture elegantly blankets the tiendas with pastel hues of peach and sky blue, finished with adorned balconies. A typical day involves taking numerous taxis, which are just about as common here as in New York. It also includes witnessing black clouds of smoke that offend the lungs, perpetually exhaused by sardine packed buses, underneath the perpetually creamy white clouds that blanket the Andes verdes. Taking the bus this morning blasting Michael Jackson’s eighties hit “Beat It”–bus rides are always an interesting experience, involving passing vendors, guitarists, and the occassional beggar–I pondered all the curiosities of a city affected by the amenities and conformities of globalization. Here, American music and culture (food, fashion, language, you name it) is what is in. And I mean all of it: including the fast-food that we begrudgingly look down upon as the disease of the American multinational corporation infecting the entire world. And the white-washed overpriced taste of Hollister and Abercrombie. Yep. Dancing at a bar we listend to numerous American techno hits. Learning English is the road to success here. Talking to Tatchi about my apathy towards foreign language studies in high school presented a stark contrast between my situation of already speaking English and the grave importance of the American economy and language for Latin American countries: it is more of a necessity for students, accounting for the extra drive.
But then then there are certain things that are uniquely and distinctively American that have not been adopted. One of them includes excessive apologies and unnecessary politeness. “Don’t be sorry,” Alicia tells me with confidence. “That’s very American.” Another thing is the need to plan ahead, to organize our lives and the world around us. Busses don’t have any schedules, and plane flights are impossible to arrange far in advance. Also the weather is unpredictable. I wanted to know how the weather would be like for the weekend, and that was simply not forecasted in Ecuador. There is no Ecuadorian weather station–the vicissitudes of nature’s variable moods are deemed beyond human measurement. And that makes sense in a place where there are only two seasons per year, yet four seasons in one day! (Quote from Luchito, our excellent invernadero-builder Political instability is prevalent in Ecuador tambien. Ecuador has had eight Presidents in the last ten years, governance changing almost as erratically as the weather. As a result, political activism is ferfent and strong. I asked how old you have to be to vote and was very surprised to discover that you only need to be sixteen to vote (and only 18 to drink, of course), making me ashamed that I was one month too young to vote for Obama in ’08. The importance of politics is readily visible when walking anywhere in the city, for nearly all the street names are dedicated to historical events and important people. There is even one
Trapped in Paradise
Prose inspired by la Cascada de Peguche, Otavalo
Standing in the mouth
of river sculpted hollows
We watch the outpouring
of momentous froth;
A tongue of unrelenting roar
Pounding and pounding to form
ripples upon the cavern floor
And drips of saliva mist along
the moist, padded walls of moss.
We are at the mercy of nature’s
will and wonder, power and grace
We are at the hands of her care
and the hospitality of her
Humble abode’s dreams and dangers alike.
We are small, powerless;
We are nothing in comparison to
this grand mouth within which we are enclosed
To be consumed, mesmerized, and entranced
while consuming, with each and every
one of the senses wide awake
No one with a human heart
could resist being partially consumed
Stretched to bit of bias before this
To see the mystical and precious power that
the passivity of nature provides
And the grace of which none can deny.
We are Jonas trapped within
the mouth of the whale
Much bigger and grander and
more forgiving than us,
this mouthful of wonder
shows us both beauty benevolent
and the price of bounties burned.
**Note: The little boy in my first blog’s name is Andres. The new Shakira song confused me during the weekend**
Fresh fish. Cervasa. Rice and fries. The teary-eyed conversation with the school principle. A kiss on the cheek from 3-year-old Andres. Our final day at the project was a special one, as the parents of the children treated us to an amazing meal at a rural outdoor reception oasis 30 minutes from the school by foot. We spent the day hanging out with the children that we have grown so close with over the past two weeks, fishing for our meals, falling down the slide, and of course, playing futbol.
Before I knew it, we were at the end of our stay and had to say our final goodbyes. It was difficult to accept that these were the last minutes that I would see Jessica, Michael, Alex, Andres, and the rest of the children. The truth is, they have given me more than I was able to given them, being able to witness first-hand the pure joy and curiosity that filled their days, no matter what complications life had provided them.
The gratitude that these families showed us will stick with me as I move forward. They understood the opportunities that will arise from this project. The true beauty of the situation is that while the greenhouse was built in the elementary school, the entire community felt a part of the process and their appreciation proved that a tremendous amount of effort will go into ensuring the full realization of the greenhouse’s potential. In the end, the lesson that stands out most clearly for me is that so long as we work together, there’s no problem we as a world can’t overcome.
A typical day…
Many people have been asking what a typical day is like for us here in Quito, so I thought I’d give you the play-by-play of what a day at the project site looks like. First, we’re out of bed by 6:45 am each morning (if you know me, you know how painfully early this is for me, especially without coffee!). We’re up early because the van that takes us to the project site leaves at 7:15. After hitting the snooze a few times, I’m out the door and headed down the block to a little corner store to buy breakfast; for a whopping 50 cents I get more than enough bananas and bread to fill me up. We then begin our 90 minute drive to the school, which is far outside Quito in the rural mountains below Cotopaxi, the 2nd-highest mountain in Ecuador (over 19,000 feet!). We typically sleep or read during the long van ride, and I also take pictures of the gorgeous Andes mountains that we pass through.
Once we arrive at the project site around 9 am, we start working on the greenhouse. We have 9 student volunteers (3 from UC Davis, 6 from the University of Viriginia) and we divide up the various tasks. Very few of us have knowledge about organic agriculture or how to build a greenhouse, but thankfully we work with 2 agroengineers, who assist with the project as part of Triple Salto’s partnership with Conquito, which is part of Quito’s municipal agency on economic development. Our agriengineers are Luchito and Edgar, both of whom are friendly and enthusiastic about the project and provide us with direction on how to construct the greenhouse.
We typically spend 3 hours working on the project in the mornings (either building the greenhouse or painting the mural) and then eat lunch around noon. The mothers of the schoolchildren prepare our meals each day, typically some sort of soup, rice, or potatoes, with a little bit of meat or vegetables. My favorite parts of the meals were the papas fritas (sooooo fresh and way better than any American French fry!) and the jugo de tomato de arbol, which is a sweet juice made out of tree tomatoes and a lot of sugar After lunch we return to work on the project for another 2 or 3 hours before heading home for the day. Most of us fall asleep within 5 minutes of getting in the van – manual labor at 10,000 feet is no easy task!
When we get back to our home in Quito, we shower (we’re always covered in dirt and paint when we return from the project site!) and usually nap again before heading out to explore the city and try new restaurants for dinner. Then it’s back home, Skype with the family, and off to bed to rest up for another day building the greenhouse!
Our first step in building the greenhouse was to clear the land for the greenhouse; this was a back-breaking job involving lots of hoeing, digging, and weeding. Then, we built the outer frame of the greenhouse – the exoskeleton, if you will. This required precise measurements and lots of sawing, drilling, and hammering. I’ve improved my hammer-wielding skills while here, although I think my weight-lifting coaches would be disappointed at how long it takes me to get a nail through the wood…!
After completing the exoskeleton of the greenhouse, we attached the outer plastic walls, which we attached to long pieces of bamboo wood which are wrapped tightly in plastic to protect the wood from the elements. The plastic walls are preferred over glass walls because they are much cheaper and also easier to replace if damaged. Finally, once the plastic walls and roof were in place, we assembled the door. After many hours of tough manual labor, our carpentry skills were greatly improved and our greenhouse was complete!
Upon finishing the greenhouse, we then prepared the interior for planting, making raised beds in which we planted tomato seedlings. Our greenhouse will be used to grow tomatoes, which will supplement the school’s garden, in which they already grow carrots, radishes, various types of lettuce, etc. The garden and the greenhouse will provide fresh produce for the children’s school lunches, improving the nutritional quality of the meals. Any surplus tomato crops will either be sold (with the profits going back to the school) or the surplus will be sent home with kids to be consumed by their families. While the greenhouse is directly affiliated with the school, it also directly benefits the families and the surrounding community. The enthusiasm from the school principal, the mothers of the kids, and the kids themselves make me confident that the greenhouse will be a great addition to this school and will be a sustainable venture, improving nutrition in the community for many years to come.
Ok, I’m up way past my bedtime and we’re up early for a trip to Otovalo to visit the indigenous market and buy souvenirs. 😉 Have a great weekend! ~Kaitlin
Hello again from Ecuador… here are some updates on our project, as well as some thoughts about poverty and wealth… hope you enjoy! Sorry in advance for the lengthy post!
This week marks our second week at La Escuela Fiscal Mixta Luciano Coral, the rural school where we are building our greenhouse. Today’s weather was wonderful, a clear gorgeous day that allowed us to get a lot of work done while enjoying the beautiful surrounding views of snow-capped mountains and lush green hills. Much of last week was cloudy and rainy, so today was a welcome respite.
The thing I love most about our project is getting to interact with the school kids. They are sooo excited to see us every day, always eager to take pictures with us “gringas,” play soccer with us, or most importantly, paint! Part of our project is to paint a mural on one of the classroom walls, and the kids just love it. I seem to have taken on the role of master painter, and both this week and last I’ve been spending a lot of the workday painting the mural with the kids. Although I don’t get to spend as much time working on the greenhouse, I do get to spend most of my day with the kids, which is wonderful. A bit stressful at times, as EVERYONE wants to paint – I’m constantly responding to ten different kids yelling “¡Yo quiero pintar!” (“I want to paint!”) which makes for a rather chaotic scene, especially with my less-than-perfect Spanish… but in the end I really love it, and painting with the kids has by far been the highlight of the project for me. The mural is turning out really nice, and we hope to finish it tomorrow. I’ll post pictures soon!
Being at the school and seeing the environment in which the children live, study, and grow makes me realize that despite South America’s relative success in terms of economic growth and development, and despite the fact that Ecuador is classified as a middle-income country (as opposed to a low-income country), there is still widespread poverty, especially in the rural areas… Being down here I see the need firsthand, see the poverty and lack of opportunity and see what the future holds for the little girls I’ve met like Jessica, Gisella, and Mercedes. Through my time at the project, I recognize the value of what Nourish and Triple Salto are doing at this school. The greenhouse will enable the children to have a much healthier diet, moving beyond the rice, beans, and watered down chicken broth we’ve eaten with the children while at the school site. And hopefully, the mural we are painting will serve as a cross-cultural exchange that these kids will remember as something meaningful to them.
I know that for me, my time here in Ecuador is incredibly meaningful, and part of a life-shaping experience. I’ve talked about poverty, studied it, read about it, debated it, fundraised for it, etc… but until this trip I hadn’t really seen it firsthand. And without actually being on the ground, how can you expect to formulate development policies and programs for poverty alleviation until you’ve actually been there, talked with the people for whom this is their daily life, shared meals with them, hacked weeds with them, and a built a greenhouse together? Until you’ve done all that, how can you say that you know what’s best for someone, and what development should look like in their community? My hope is students who are passionate about poverty alleviation will participate in projects like this one; and hopefully, with more experiences abroad, an expanded worldview, additional cross-cultural exchanges, and further training and schooling, students will gain a greater understanding for how to help people help themselves.
Ok, time to go grab some food! ¡Hasta luego! –Kaitlin
If the saying is true, then every man should move to Ecuador. I think I have seen more dogs around Quito than people. It is quite amazing to just drive to our work site everyday (1 1/2 hours away) and just look at the window at this massive city.
This blog post will be more about my general impressions and thus I will not go too deeply into the background of our project because Kaitlin has already done so. For those of you who don’t know, we are building a greenhouse at a rural elementary school to teach the children how to live a healthier, more nutritious lifestyle. This is part of the greater goal of the non-profit we are partnered with, Triple Salto, to promote a better life for the next generation (as some of the greenhouses are in schools for learning purposes and some are built in communities and transformed into a business for a group of locals to feed their families both through the produce and the income generated from selling the goods). This is the general overview that I have heard about our project over the past two years, but it is so much more interesting to personally witness the movement we are involved with.
The children at our school are amazing. Alicia said something that really struck me when looking into these kids eyes: calling people poor is often just a misunderstanding, for while the school we are helping does not have pencil sharpeners or soap, the children are still happy and hopeful for every day. Their current economic state does not affect their outlook on life. Most are eager to help or learn at any given opportunity – painting, splitting wood for the roof, even picking up a hammer. It is obvious that they will become experts in some craft to make the most of their given opportunities.
This is where my beliefs fit in so closely with the work of Triple Salto (meaning Triple Jump – helping people get out of the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental hardship). What we are doing with this greenhouse and the larger picture of the Triple Salto movement is expanding these children’s opportunities. The apparent curiosity over our building will make these children excited about the end product, which significantly increases the likelihood that they will take the lessons of food security, proper nutritional values, and how to plant self-sustainable vegetables with them forever. Growing up with this new-found information (not to mention more substantial meals during developmental stages) will allow them to make decisions they otherwise might have made differently. Unfortunately, we are not here long enough to build a greenhouse for a community, although this side of Triple Salto is also extremely important. However, since we are not involved with this process, I will get back to more exciting personal experiences…
There is a little boy, Alejandro, who I have fallen for more than any of the other children. He can’t be more than 3 years old, 3 feet tall and 40 pounds. Since his mother works at the school, Alejandro sticks around after the other kids leave and it allows me to observe him a little more. He walks around with his little jean zipper undone, searching for any cup/bottle top to fill up so he can drink water from the spout too high for him to stick his head under. Some of my favorite moments with him include miniature water fights to cool off, chasing him around to tickle his armpits, picking him up after he trips during our chase and letting him be a little airplane horizontal to the ground on top of my arms until he stops crying, and simply how little his hand is when he puts it into my open fist. The really awesome thing about Alejandro is when Kaitlin asked him if he wanted to paint on Thursday afternoon. He was so excited and took his job of filling in a green circle very seriously. You could tell that given the chance, Alejandro wanted to make sure he made the most of it. That attitude is the symbolic message that I have taken from this trip so far.
There are plenty of other stories to tell, including talking about our trip to the coast of Ecuador this weekend (amazing to have the beach and a tropical forest right next to one another), but alas, I shall end this first long blog post. Happy Father’s Day to my pops and I hope everything is going well for everyone in the states.
We’re here — finally, all members of the UC Davis team (me, Tyler, and Lelia) have arrived in Quito! Tyler and I arrived in Quito on Monday. I won’t speak for Tyler, but I was exhausted and a little jet-lagged after a whirlwind week filled with final exams, commencement, and graduation parties. I participated in the Letters & Science commencement on Saturday morning, celebrated with family and friends that afternoon, and packed and flew out of Sacramento on Sunday night – busy!! 4 flights later (Sac to LAX to El Salvador to Costa Rica to Ecuador) we got to Quito. Lelia unfortunately had to deal with plane mechanical errors that delayed her arrival by a day, but she got in late Tuesday night. After 2 years of doing Nourish work on campus, we are so excited to finally see the fruits of our labor and come to Ecuador to volunteer on the project!
After we arrived at the airport, Tyler and I went to the home of Alicia Guzman, the head of our nonprofit partner, Triple Salto, and our host while we’re in Quito. We chatted with Alicia about the status of the project – we are partnering with the Nourish chapter at the University of Virginia (UVA), and UVA’s student volunteers have been here working on the project for a few weeks. Our specific project is to build organic greenhouses at various sites around Quito. In Ecuador, malnutrition is a significant problem, and the aim of our project is to build community greenhouses to improve food security by increasing access to nutritious food, specifically organic fruits and vegetables. For me, issues of hunger and malnutrition are near and dear to my heart — between my work with Nourish and my honors thesis (in which I studied the relationship between women and food security), I’ve become very passionate about finding solutions to hunger and malnourishment. While our Nourish project is just a small 2-week project, Nourish students from colleges around the country are putting on projects across Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, and slowly but surely I believe that we’re making a difference.
The two greenhouses that UCD and UVA are funding are located at school sites outside of Quito. The site that Tyler, Lelia, and I are working on is located about an hour drive outside of Quito at a rural elementary school. Tuesday was our first day on site, and it was certainly a learning experience! I have absolutely no background in agriculture, let alone have any clue how to build a greenhouse – but thankfully we have hired an agro-engineer who knows what he’s doing Also, the UVA kids already completed one greenhouse before the UCD team arrived, so they have some background. We spent the day building the skeleton of the greenhouse, inserting posts into the ground and drilling and nailing the frame together. Tyler and I spent a good part of the day clearing land of grass, weeds, and roots – work that really requires you to put your back into it! I’ve never done much gardening or manual labor, and boy is it hard work! By the end of the day, I was covered in dirt, and later, as it started to rain, mud. Despite the rain we made a lot of progress, and I’m proud of what we accomplished today. Tomorrow we’re back to the school to continue assembling the greenhouse frame and also start work on the mural that we’re painting on the wall of one of the school classrooms.
It’s been 3 years since I was last in Latin America, and I haven’t used my Spanish much since then. The first two days I’ve been a little rusty, but thankfully my language skills are coming back better than I expected. I still need to ask people to slow down a bit, but I feel pretty comfortable conversing with the school kids, and we had a good laugh today when I dug up some creepy looking bugs (they looked like larvae of some type) and the boys chased the girls around the playground with them, haha. Thankfully Lelia has excellent Spanish language skills, so she’s able to talk and joke with just about everyone and Tyler is learning! Hopefully by the end of the trip we’ll all be more comfortable conversing in Spanish!
The trip and the project are off to a great start — we’ll try to keep you updated as best we can!
It’s Sunday night, and Tyler, Lelia, and I are headed to the airport en route to Quito, Ecuador! Today begins our 2+ week adventure in Quito, where we will be working with Triple Salto, a Quito-based nonprofit, to put on an agricultural development and nutrition education project. Our chapter worked with Triple Salto last summer, along with some volunteers from the Stanford Nourish chapter. This summer, we are continuing our partnership with Triple Salto and also working with student volunteers from the University of Virginia. During our time in Quito, we’ll be building organic greenhouses at school sites in and around Quito. We’re so excited to begin the project!
Check back here for regular blog and photo updates — we’ll be trying to post as often as we can, so that you can follow our project and hear how things are going! We may have limited access to internet, but we’ll do our best.
Many thanks to all those who have put in so much time and effort to make this Nourish project possible. The UC Davis chapter has worked incredibly hard throughout the year to make this project possible — special thanks to the Exec Board, who consistently went above and beyond to make our chapter successful!
Time to board my flight to LAX, then to Costa Rica and finally to Quito — adios!
We caught the ConQuito van at 7:15 (super early) on the morning of Thursday the 23rd and rode to “La factoría de conocimientos” (the factory of knowledge) or ConQuito headquarters to meet up with Luchito and Luis Roman (the other Luchito) who would be our agro-engineers for this last project. On our way to the site, we stopped at a bioferria, which are the markets held on Thursdays at designated locations for the people from other ConQuito projects to see their produce and other goods. It was the first one we had been to and it was similar to American farmer’s markets, except way less expensive! One woman gave us a gift of frutillas, tiny strawberries, before we made our way to the project site.
Our final site is located in the neighborhood of San Jose de Monjas. We are now working with a community garden that is maintained mostly by 2 men, Don Luis (whose mother-in-law owns the land) and Don Jorge (who is a neighbor and friend of Don Luis). This garden is beautiful! The plants are huge, cabbages that are the size of a beach ball, and to top it off are 100% organic already! I am incredibly impressed with this garden as well as the people who own and maintain it. I can’t wait to build our greenhouse here and learn more about this communities individual aspirations for their future with conquito and organic farming in general!
This project is different than all the others have been because it will be directly affecting/benefiting a small unit (basically one large family and their neighbors). The work has gone so quickly because as Alicia says, we are now “experts” at building greenhouses. After the first day, we already had the post holes dug, the main support posts for the structure firmly planted in the ground, the wires framing the location of the beds and in place for the tomatoes to grow to and to cling to wrapped around the beams, the ground leveled and the beds mapped out. Unlike our previous projects, nobody ever stopped working (except for at lunchtime). The men who are now the owners of the greenhouse were like sponges to the knowledge of constructing and maintaining greenhouses and creating a sustainable agricultural business shared by the 2 Luchitos. Don Luis never stopped asking questions about each step of the process because he already has plans for his second greenhouse and other future greenhouses on land his family has located just outside of the city.
Day 2 brought the plastic. It was an unbelievably windy day, and being atop a hill (maybe it could be categorized as a mountain, I’m not sure) we had zero protection from the powerful gusts. Being as there were only Brianna, Adrian and I as volunteers, and Don Luis, Don Jose and his son Kevin as the community members and the Luchitos as engineers, we needed all the help we could get to cover the greenhouse with the heavy-duty plastic. Don Luis called up his wife, son and friends to grab some plastic and hold it down snugly so that Luchito could nail it securely to the frame. After a finger-achingly long time, we had successfully covered the greenhouse in plastic and were ready to dig out the beds. Inside another hot and sweaty greenhouse Bri, Adrian, Kevin and I took turns switching between hoes and shovels digging out the beds. The work is hard, but in a way relaxing and fun. It didn’t take us long to have all the beds dug to the proper depth (around 18 inches), and we finished just in time for the end of the day.
Day 3 was filled with abono, lots and lots of abono (guinea pig poop). Since we had the pre-dug beds from the day before, we simply added yerba, (basically weeds without their roots) then added the abono and mixed it all together. Then we built up the beds with the extra dirt that was over-filling the sides and back of the greenhouse and cleaned the soil with organic fertilizers. The next step was the drip irrigation/creating a way for water to reach the greenhouse which was atop a hill with no water source. The men created a hose/pvc piping system that connected the water from the garden below with the greenhouse up on the hill with a hanging hose, a long pvc pipe and a nozzle right outside of the greenhouse. Putting the small black tubing (pre-cut with the holes for the drip system) in place took twice as long as before because instead of just getting the job done, we were teaching the men how to do it, showing them then having them do it, because it was an important skill they would need for their future greenhouses. The only thing we had left to do at the end of the day was actually plant the seedlings, a task we saved for the final day.
Day 4 was our last day. It is unbelievable that a plot of land can be transformed in just 3 days from barren to yielding a greatly important structure such as a greenhouse! If we can build one in basically 3 days, imagine how many projects could be completed with a solid flow of educated volunteers and constant funding! Ok so our last day was more of a symbolic day than anything else. We took our time planting the seedlings while chatting with the friends and family that had gathered for the occasion. Don Luis hung a ceremonial ribbon and he and I cut it, marking the new opportunities that are to come with this greenhouse. We then cut the ribbon into pieces, giving each person who was present a piece of the ribbon and a share in the greenhouse. The irrigation system was testing (it passed) and the efficiency of drip irrigation was discussed. It is super efficient! Within 5 minutes, the water had reached a depth of nearly a foot. When the seedlings are plants with their roots reaching deep into the earth, this system will ensure that they are getting the nutrients and water they need to grow tall and produce healthy and delicious tomatoes!
Don Luis then invited us to a celebration! All of the agro-engineers and other administrators from ConQuito joined us at the site along with the neighbors, friends and family of Don Luis and Don Jose to drink champagne, sing songs, eat food, make speaches and share in the celebration of their greenhouse and our final project in Ecuador. We were touched by the speached made by Alex from ConQuito, telling us that we were their greatest volunteers yet and offering us a place in Quito if ever we were to return. We had become part of this community, that of both San Jose de Monjas (the site of the project) and of ConQuito.