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Nourish International

Week 4: Upcycling projects and Harvesting the Future

July 14, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Guatemala, Summer Projects, UCLA | By

On Monday morning, Jessica and Carmen picked up Alba from the airport, who has been a fantastic addition to our project team. Born in Mexico, Alba is perfectly bilingual in English and Spanish, and has recently received a degree in Economics at UC Davis.  The UC Davis chapter was unable to travel to Tanzania because of certain travel difficulties.  This made her reach out for another similar project where she could get involved in helping the community, having her with us on our project has truly been a blessing.  Even though Alba was exhausted from a sleepless night of chaotic traveling, she still enthusiastically joined us on Monday afternoon when we visited JUNKABAL.

JUNKABAL is a non-profit organization operating on a fairly sizeable gated piece of land blocks away from the largest waste dump in Central America.  The organization empowers women through job training and classes; this involves educating women in the process of making homemade worm compost to sell as well as teaching them how to crochet bags with string and recycled pop-tops from soda cans.  JUNKABAL also offers counselling and classes in taichi, nutrition, and hygiene.

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We became connected to JUNKABAL through Maria Rodriguez, The CEO of Byoearth. Byoearth is a social venture that teaches people how to compost and then sells the compost to nurseries.  Maria started the company 7 years ago, when she was 20, and has recently expanded out of the start-up stage of her business. Maria is now partnering with JUNKABAL and has successfully introduced the composting initiative to the organization.

In the front yard, Maria showed us the Red Worm Compost (which we found to be surprisingly not that stinky) that the women produce to sell for profit.  Each woman in this initiative is in charge of their own box of compost, which they regard as their prized possession, affectionately described by Maria as “[the women’s] babies”.  Maria explained JUNKABAL’s future plans include expanding by installing a greenhouse on their property where they will use compost to help grow organic herbs.  Selling the herbs will be much more lucrative than selling the fertilizer.  Jessica and Alba, both who wish to pursue a social enterprise career path, were deeply inspired by Maria’s work.  We told Maria that we are keen to help in the preparation of their greenhouse, and to continue working with JUNKABAL.  We plan to meet with her soon to contribute to the efforts of Byoearth and learn more about the impact they have made the community during our time in Guatemala.

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As stated earlier, the women in JUNKABAL are also involved in another project where they craft beautiful purses out of aluminium pop-tops and yarn.  The finished products are sold in stores. Because we found their works of art so aesthetically pleasing, we suggested that Ecoweaving parter with JUNKABAL as they both are involved in similar crafts.  The women shared their ideas to expand their product line with Christmas ornaments, artificial flowers, headbands, and earrings.

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Over the past few days, we have prepared two presentations for Enactus projects. The first presentation we put together was on upcycling, the process of crafting waste materials into objects with tangible uses. This presentation was to be given by Ana Lucia to 60 male employees of Cofino Stahl, the Toyota dealership of Guatemala City, with the purpose of raising environmental awareness within their company.  Some of the upcycling projects included in the presentation were: making a broom from two-litter soda bottles, making candle holders and flower pots from tuna cans and clothespins, and making a shovel out of a plastic milk bottle.  We also constructed some upcycling crafts to present to Cofino Stahl the physical products, such as newspaper gift bags and spoon mirror frames.

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The second presentation we worked on this week was on public speaking, to be presented by us to a classroom of UVG students next week.  Ana Lucia brought us with her to a LIFE class where she gave a presentation about Enactus, in order to give us an idea of who our audience will be and their receptiveness to public speakers. The students seemed very attentive during the presentation and we hope that we sparked an interest in them in becoming entrepreneurs and getting involved with Enactus.

Another project we began to work on this week is Harvesting the Future, an initiative that teaches families in the rural town of Comapa to grow moringa.  Moringa is a hearty and resilient plant originally from India with extremely nutritious leaves.  Once the plant reaches a certain height (approximately three feet), the leaves will be dried in home-made solar ovens at a low temperature to preserve their nutritional value before being crushed into powder.  The goal is for 20% of the powder to be saved for family consumption and 80% to be exported to Sam’s Club in Seattle, Washington through Greenpack, an established moringa exporter. The powder is used as an additive to tortillas, sauces, juices and shakes.  Greenpack has currently offered to buy the powder for $25 a pound and Enactus has connections with another company called Moringa de Oro who “is always willing to buy.”  Enactus hopes to expand the project to meet the demand for both buyers by implementing it in other communities and installing more advanced solar ovens.  The moringa industry is around 5 years old in Guatemala but it is growing to meet huge domestic and international demand. In order to grow the project and pay for transportation costs, 10% of the profits from moringa will go to Enactus and 90% will go to the families in Comapa.

Harvesting the Future began in 2012, but unfortunately too many of those plants died. To prevent this from happening again, Enactus arranged to use a greenhouse on UVG’s campus to grow the moringa plants from seeds, which will subsequently be transplanted to the communities once they sprout. This week, we planted 900 moringa seeds in the greenhouse. We expect only a fraction of these seedlings to properly germinate. 

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At 6:00 on Saturday morning, Carlos and Sophie drove us to Comapa, the pilot town for Harvesting the Future, tucked atop a mountain in the dense rainforest near the border of El Salvador.  Comapa is located in one of the nation’s poorest regions, with its only access to water being a murky swamp in the middle of the town.  The residents of Comapa are malnourished to the extent that they do not reach their full height.  For example, one eleven-year-old boy we worked with could have passed for seven.

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The purpose of our visit to Comapa was to curtail the bug infestation of the moringa plants with environmentally and health conscious insecticide. We visited twenty families in the community to spray the plants with insectide, each of whom had from 7 to 25 trees. Most of the moringa trees are small, reaching up to three feet tall.  This is the ideal height to harvest the stems.  However, each family allows one tree to grow to maturity in order to produce seeds for future use.  It is also worth noting that in addition to moringa, many of the families grow tomatoes, corn, coffee, papayas, avocados, beans or other plants. 

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Besides working on the bug infestation problem, we also spend time interacting with the villagers in Comapa.  Carlos and Dylan took a large group of children for a ride around the community in Carlos’ car—this was a first for many, if not all, of the children.  It was evident from the children’s excited laughter and smiles that they were having a good time.  Additionally, our conversations with the villagers gave us a clearer idea of their lives in Comapa.  Stumbling through Spanish, Anthea befriended a 13 year-old boy who had 11 siblings.  An avid basketball fan, he shared that he hopes to be a basketball player when he grows up.  He also enjoys learning mathematics in his school, which has approximately 16 students in a class and 300 students in total.  From other conversations we also learned that even though most members of the community stay in Comapa there are those few who travel to the city to continue their education and work.  We also observed that children as young as 7 years old took important roles helping their families by carrying water, sweeping, and making food.

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We left the village around noon, exhausted but immensely satisfied. We definitely see a lot of potential with Harvesting the Future and have high hopes and expectations for this year’s harvest!

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Paint, Present, Party

July 8, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Guatemala, Summer Projects, UCLA | By

On Tuesday morning, Josué, a member of the national tennis team, taught us how to play the sport. Anthea was a natural, but the rest of us required more patience. We hope to see Anthea pursue her talent after the project! Later in the afternoon, Karen came to our house and asked us for help in preparing a presentation to encourage participation after low turn out at a recruiting event. We each drew from our own experiences with various student groups to outline this motivational speech, and brainstorm other solutions. We also researched statistics about poverty in Guatemala and learned that only 40% of children finish 6th grade. Even after graduating, many are still illiterate and innumerate.

Subsequently, Rocho came to our house and we brainstormed ideas for the design of the Annual Report to be submitted in the Enactus national competition. The national competition is where every chapter of Enactus presents their projects to a panel of entrepreneurs. The team has won the national competition every year for the last 5 years and placed 4th in the world last year.

Ana Lucia and Fernanda brought us back to Santa Catarina on Wednesday to paint the chairs that we sanded with the children last week. As usual, the children were ecstatic to see us, and were eager to help out in any way possible. After painting the chairs, Jessica, Dylan and Pavit continued to spend time with the children, while Anthea helped to install antivirus software programs on the computers in the center. The staff at Santa Catarina were extremely grateful for the antivirus programs as the computers have previously been running slow, impeding the children’s progress during their computer lessons. Visiting Santa Catarina is always a pleasant and rewarding experience for us, and we look forward to returning to Santa Fe to build relationships with the children there as well.

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That same day afternoon, we met with Eddy at UVG where he showed us the finance sheets of all Enactus projects. This was particularly interesting to Dylan and Jessica as it reflects their backgrounds, and we pondered ways to maximize their chapter’s total revenue. Dylan and Jessica also offered to assist Isabella with Enactus’ marketing strategies, which will hopefully improve both the demand for Ecoweaving products from stores and on-campus recruitment.

On Thursday morning, we were given a tour of a city recycling plant with Eddy, Sophia, and Juan Pablo. We were all shocked to see women on their knees in front of massive piles of paper and plastic, relentlessly tearing the bits of scrap and organizing them into various piles. It helped us realize how small the burden of recycling is on our end versus the amount of work required in the remainder of the process, all done by individuals surviving on less than $400 per week.

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Later in the evening, Luis brought us to another university, in which we sat in on a presentation on recycling and environmental preservation, and then helped man a table on behalf of REcyclathon.

Karen and Josué picked us up on Friday morning and took us on an adventure near Volcan Pacaya, where we ziplined through the rainforest, repelled down a tree and canoed on a peaceful lake.

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On our way back, Karen brought us to her house, where she prepared a FANTASTIC meal for us featuring an array of traditional Guatemalan dishes. We were all blown away by both the effort she put into the meal for us and the overwhelmingly delicious food. In addition to this, her kindness went even further in that she bought us an American flag piñata, which we enjoyed later in the night at our 4th of July party/BBQ. The party was a roaring success, featuring both American country music and Latin reggaton. Each of us holds a great amount of American pride in our hearts, but we can all agree that it was culturally awakening to experience our Independence Day with dancing salsa with foreigners in another country.

On Saturday, Juan Pablo invited us to join him and his high school friends on a camping retreat on a coffee farm for his buddy’s birthday. Dylan and Jessica both went, and felt welcomed among his group of friends while enjoying a peaceful escape from the city. As  we were forewarned, Guatemala living can take a toll on a gringo’s health and digestive systems, which unfortunately prevented Pavit and Anthea from joining us. Luckily, they are both feeling better and are enthusiastic about our upcoming projects.

Tomorrow morning, we are picking up our new project member from the airport, Alba, who we will be spending our final three weeks with. We look forward to meeting her and learning more about the moringa plant this week!

REcyclathon and Other Adventures

July 2, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Guatemala, Summer Projects, UCLA | By

Who has taken initiative for a recycling program for a city of 4 million people? UVG students, Ana Lucia, the director of REcyclathon, along with the help of Mauricio, Fernanda, Juan Pablo, Ana Teresa, José and Luis. REcyclathon has four parts: schools, green points, companies and communities. Enactus educates students about recycling at schools. Recyclable  materials are collected at green points located at strategic points throughout the city and then sold to companies. The money is then used to expand the project, pay salaries and contribute to two children’s day centers.

We began working with REcyclathon on Tuesday morning when we visited Santa Catarina Children’s Day Center in a district just outside of Guatemala City. This center provides care for children between the ages of 3 and 13 before and after school in order to keep them out of gangs. Both the volunteers running the day center and the children were thrilled by our presence. Some of the children were undercared for, which was evident as they were in constant need of attention and embrace from our group. Some of the activities we did with the children were similar to common games in American summer camps, such as sing-along songs and relay races. We also worked to improve the sanitation and safety on the facility by sanding the rust off their metal chairs. The children worked beside us throughout the whole process without being asked to, with nary a complaint. When it was time for us to leave, the children gathered to thank us for our love and time. We promised to return to repaint the chairs with them the following week. We found the children here to be both cheerful and approachable, which was quite the contrary to what we would experience the next day at Santa Fe Children’s Day Center.

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Santa Fe is a neighborhood overwhelmed with extortion, drug trade, and other forms of organized crime. Poverty is extreme in this region, where gangsters regularly exploit the children by offering them money to play for their soccer teams. The day center was started as a result of a tragic gang shooting at a children’s soccer match where 8 people died. Thankfully, Santa Fe Children’s Day Center offers a safe alternative to the streets of Santa Fe, where the director, Juan José, almost single-handedly oversees 50 children between the ages of 5 and 15. Juan José even spends his Saturdays hosting soccer tournaments for the children. Traumatized by an impoverished upbringing, most of the children were afraid to talk to, or even look at, us. One nine-year-old boy recounted to Mauricio that his mother abandoned his family for another man, only to leave him to cook for and look after his younger brother every day while his father worked multiple jobs to support their family.


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At the day center, our group gave a presentation with Enactus to explain the importance and benefits of recycling. Some of the children explained that they had been made fun of for recycling because it indicates their level of poverty and desperation. Our goal is to demonstrate to the children that recycling is not merely a source of income for the poor, but an act of responsibility practiced around the world. To this end, we will be returning to Santa Fe this Thursday to collect and deposit recyclable goods with the children.

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Near Santa Catarina, we spent half a day with Ana Lucia, Karen, and Carlos Lima—director of Santa Catarina Pinula’s Children Day Center—sorting and cleaning the shack used to store materials to be recycled. The shack is located at a two-room school where chickens roam, rusty nails puncture out of beams and a tidy playground was constructed out of tires and recycled wood. The roof of the shack leaks, rendering much of the cardboard moldy and unsellable. To correct this issue, we will be returning to the center next Wednesday to construct boxes to sort the material away from the leaky edges.

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Yesterday, we worked with Josué to develop a presentation explaining how to use biodigestors to rural communities. Biodigestors produce natural gas from animal excrement, which can be used to cook and heat homes. The project has not yet been implemented but we forsee the biggest struggle to be  the maintenance and continued use of  the biodigestors after they have been installed. To overcome this, Josué has found an organic fertilizer company to buy the leftover manure after gas has been produced. Ninety percent of the sales will go back to the owner of the biodigestor.

The highlight of Pavit’s week was this morning when we visited a local public hospital where the women of our group emotionally supported new mothers and prayed with them. We became acquainted with the different realities of women our age as several new mothers at the hospital were in their teens or early twenties. Dylan and Ana Lucia assisted the nurses with a room full of premature babies with birth defects who had been abandoned by their mothers. Dylan held a baby for his first time and was overwhelmed by his respect for new life as well as the vulnerability of a special needs newborn without parents.

On top of the projects we worked on with Enactus, we have continued to enjoy Guatemala to its fullest! Every evening we hang out with friends from Enactus either at their house or a local hotspot. We also visited the Guatemala City Zoo, which just added a new penguin exhibit! It was funny for us to see raccoons in cages, when we normally chase them away from our trashcans.

On Thursday, we hiked Volcan Pacaya, which was particularly exciting as none of us had seen a volcano. Unfortunately, there was no lava, but we did see warm smoke, a sign of activity from its last explosion in 2010. The most memorable part of the experience was the sudden down pour that caught us after we reached the top. We got soaked as we ran the entire way down through the rainforest. Anthea said dodging obstacles on the trail felt like a videogame. It was really fun!

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On Saturday, we visited the ruins at Iximché, located in the forests just outside of Tecpan. It was striking to see the accomplishments of the Mayans in contrast to the extreme poverty of their descendants.  We even got to see a traditional ritual in worship of the God of Gambling and Drunkenness, which was not very difficult for us college students to identify with! On the way back, we stopped at a field in a remote area, and played soccer with four local boys who were half our age and twice our skill. After they demolished us, Jessica gave them the ball we brought, which they greatly appreciated.

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Overall, we are developing strong partnerships with the Enactus team and greatly enjoying ourselves in Guatemala. We look forward to the remaining 4 weeks of the project. ¡Salud!

 

Lake Atitlan

June 25, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Guatemala, Summer Projects, UCLA | By

On Saturday morning at 5:00 AM, we embarked on our journey to Lake Atitlan. The four of us traveled with nine Enactus students: Carlos, Isabella, Regina, Oscar, Douglas, Luis, Raquel, Karen, and Fernanda. After a windy four hour drive to the lake through rain-forested mountains, the group split into two separate projects in different Mayan towns. The Nourish Chapter went to Chuitzanchaj, part of the second poorest community in Guatemala.   We waited in a common room overlooking a lake so incomparable it is a world heritage sight as 35 proud and cautious women arrived carrying children in colorful sashes on their back. Many of the beautiful and playful children were dressed without shoes or other articles of clothing.

We demonstrated how to make bracelets from garbage bags to sell to the many tourists in nearby Pana. The biggest challenge we faced is best summarized by a quote from Anthea: “Wow…language…it’s so key!” The Mayan people speak their native language and only a few know some Spanish words. More importantly, we learned about some of the challenges they face. Economic opportunities in the community are limited to selling small crafts and t-shirts to tourists and some agricultural work for men. This leads families to have as many children as they can to contribute to the family income through vending or begging. Jessica spoke to a number of children in both Pana and Chuitzanchaj, none of whom went to school – partly because of poverty and partly because of culture. At the end of the day, the women were enthusiastic about making more bracelets in the future and raced to pick up scraps of plastic off the floor. The bracelets provide an especially practical opportunity because the women can make them from home. In other communities, the making of these bracelets earns a women $50 a month on average. This is approximately the cost to send one child to school for one month.

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After leaving the community, we spent the rest of the day being tourists in one of the most breathtaking places on Earth.  Against warnings that the lake is intolerable cold, we jumped in to find that it was considerably warmer than the beaches we are used to in California.

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We even talked a few of the Guatemalans into joining us! In the evening, the Enactus students took us into Pana, the small and lively town near the lake where we enjoyed famous pizza from Circus Bar and a live  Guatemalan band. Unlike Guatemala City, there is a large expat and tourist community at Lake Atitlan and we were surprised to find many Americans and Europeans around us.

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Today, Karen brought us to the city’s Central Park, where we toured the National Palace, which is Guatemala’s White House and the National Cathedral. They were built in the 1940’s by President Jorge Ubico who ordered the Palace to have 5 columns and 5 floors because both his first and last name had 5 letters. The most memorable aspect of the Palace was a statue of two left hands that symbolize peace being close to the heart after 36 years of civil war.

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Guatemala City, Antigua, Ecoweaving, Ziplining, and more!

June 22, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Guatemala, Summer Projects, UCLA | By

The past few days have been extraordinary. On our second day of the project, some members of Enactus Guatemala took us to the largest city mall in Central America and then took us to a restaurant where we sampled several authentic Guatemalan desserts. Our personal favorites were the buñuelos and the moles de platanos! In the evening, Enactus organized a welcome party for us at Oscar’s house, where we taught them American party games and they taught us Latin dance moves. Needless to say, everyone had a blast! We spent the next two days in Antigua, the beautiful and historic former capital of Guatemala with ancient ruins and numerous landmarks. Some of the most notable ones were the city park mermaid fountain and monumental churches.

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Enactus Guatemala also took us out to breakfast at a restaurant on top of a mountain which gave us the following spectacular view of Antigua and surrounding forests.

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The most enjoyable thing about Antigua was walking around the streets during the day. Where we are located in Guatemala City, we do not leave the house without an Enactus member out of concerns for our safety.

After leaving Antigua on Wednesday, we had our first opportunity to witness and participate in one of Enactus’ projects, Ecoweaving. Ecoweaving is a sustainable job training program that teaches previously unemployed women how to make jewelry and accessories out of recycled material to sell for profit. It also includes workshops for community members on financial planning. We were brought to a very rustic village and had the pleasure of meeting the warm and friendly people currently producing the jewelry, who taught how to make their bracelets and lanyards. Their appreciation for our help was a great reminder as to why we applied for this project and will help us mentally solidify the fact that we are making a positive impact on other people’s lives. One of the most memorable aspects of the house we worked in was the tin roofs which leaked and thundered loudly under the spontaneous rainfall.

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Yesterday, we had our first taste at Guatemalan nightlife, as we went to a popular nightclub in the city with the UVG students. We had a great time, and we promised to host an American Independence Day party for them at our house on July 4th. Today, we worked on a small project at the university. In order to demonstrate to employees of a local company that waste can be re-purposed, we made examples of homemade projects. These included a desk organizer made out of toilet paper rolls and a mirror decorated with plastic spoons.

Afterward, we went ziplining between the peaks of the rainforest near UVG, which was both unique and exhilarating. Pavit even conquered her fear of heights!

Tomorrow morning at 5:00AM, we are taking a bus to Lake Atitlan with a handful of Enactus Guatemala students, where we will have a weekend full of education, beautiful scenery, and hands-on activity with the Mayan villagers! We will further discuss our work with the community when we get back.

Day 1 Recap of Guatemala Project

June 18, 2013 | Posted in 2013, Guatemala, Summer Projects, UCLA | By

Since landing in Guatemala City this morning, our group has been thoroughly impresssed by the hospitality of Enactus Guatemala. Enactus is an international student organization, whose name is an acronym for “ENtreprenseurship”, “ACTion”, and “US”. We are partnered with the Enactus chapter at University del Valle de Guatemala, located in Guatemala City. Their chapter has founded several different projects which share the overall mission of eradicating poverty through sustainable business practices. Examples of projects we will be working on with them include Ecoweaving, REcyclathon, and Harvesting the Future. We will describe each of these projects in later posts as we work on them.

After arriving, both Carmen and Ana Lucia greeted us at the airport with open arms and immediately drove us to breakfast before taking us grocery shopping and moving us into our lovely townhouse. We were then brought to UVG, where we were given a tour and introduced to other Enactus students, and we even got to meet the Enactus faculty advisor. The UVG students also invited us to have dinner with them at their favorite pizza parlor and ordered us the notorious “meter pizza”, which we shamefully could not finish, but this may be a goal for us to aspire to before the project’s end. The most significant part of the day to us was indisputably when Carlos welcomed us into his home and introduced us to his entire family. At Carlos’ house, we had the pleasure of watching Enactus Guatemala practice for the 2013 Enactus World Cup, along with meeting each of the department heads and learning more about each of our upcoming projects. It has only been one day, and this is already starting to feel like home!

Reflections on Ecuador

July 30, 2012 | Posted in UCLA | By

We started the project in Quito with six students unaccustomed to any kind of construction labor, some giant pieces of wood, plastic, and a few tools. Somehow over the course of a month these ingredients came together to leave two communities with eco-friendly greenhouses that they can utilize for years to come. The journey from there to here was a long one and I can safely say everyone involved in the project grew by leaps and bounds in order to reach these goals. On a tangible level our job entailed measuring, cutting, and hammering together over 30 wooden joints per greenhouse, lifting the wood to its terminal height of about 10 feet, and covering the entire greenhouse in tight plastic. Once the holes were dug, the frames built, and the plastic secured, we also helped the future farmers of the community till, plant, and organize the land and resources inside their new greenhouse.

More than just labor skills, this project gave us to integrate and learn about a culture very foreign from our own. Things that were commonplace and accepted in the U.S. were luxuries or unheard of in Quito. It could be disillusioning at times. For instance on our second project in the agrarian south, the small farmhouse was made simply of concrete bricks stacked to corner off two small rooms, a bathroom, a few decaying appliances, and a corrugated tin roof to protect from the elements. To us their dirt floor and close quarters signaled extreme poverty, but this idea was soon dispelled as the people were constantly smiling as they worked their land. They did not need televisions or even cars. We were not there to rebuild their lives in our American image, an idea I believe we all secretly entertained from time to time as we pushed ourselves to our physical and emotional limits. Our goals were not so grand and patronizing, but instead they were to provide these communities with the initial investment they desperately needed so they could provide for themselves and their children in a sustainable way so that this culture, very different from our own, could continue and grow in its own way.

As the project started to wind down and we were putting the finishing touches on (or arm numbing stretching of) the plastic we all started to get instant nostalgia for the place we were and the things we were doing there. We had formed strong bonds with the people of the community, the workers of ConQuito (the municipality agency that aided us in our work), and the guide from Triple Salto, Shak. Though we did not all speak Spanish, and many of the people we met on the project spoke no English, all that was required by any of us was the fact that we had worked side by side day after day, and built a system of shared words and gestures to accomplish our project. As we headed out on our last day, hugs lingered, and a simple kiss goodbye on the cheek, something that violated our personal space at first, was the only fitting way to say goodbye to the wonderful people surrounding us. We all felt we had done good work and that we made a tangible difference in the lives of two communities. Above all the other memories we made in our off time, that idea will stay with us the longest.

Finishing Our First Greenhouse

July 14, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Ecuador, Summer Projects, UCLA | By

We’ve finished another successful week with the completion of our first greenhouse! All of the team members including myself are proud of our hard work. This week by far was our hardest yet, as bringing together all the elements necessary for the greenhouse required immense amounts of perseverance and perspiration in equal measure.

Working on the first greenhouse has been an amazing process. Though the bus ride is lengthy, once the team and I arrive at the project site, a school to the south of Quito in a rural community, the ride is instantly forgotten. The school is teeming with kids, with young life, with individuals whose futures will directly impact Ecuador as a whole in just a few short years. It’s great to think that our collective work, building a greenhouse for and with the people of this community, will help ensure an even grander host of opportunities for each and every child attending Escuela Bogota.

This week saw the installation of one of the most essential parts of the greenhouse: the plastic encasing! The plastic is what makes a greenhouse special; it filters out harmful rays from the sun, allowing the vegetation within to grow up strong and healthy. With careful and precise guidance from Luis, our wonderful leader for the project, we pulled and stretched the specially-made greenhouse plastic across every outside surface exposed to the sun. It’s hard to imagine, but I speak from experience that it is no easy task to stretch plastic until it is completely taut. And yet, with the cumulative effort of all our members, we managed to accomplish what at first seemed impossible. The end results are fabulous.

This week also saw the completion of six planter boxes started last week. These boxes, made out of sturdy plywood planks and posts, will be used as raised beds for planting vegetation within the greenhouses. Due to the tropical climate of Ecuador, vegetation can often rot or mold if planted close to the ground. Therefore, in order to sidestep this molding process, the team created sturdy legs for the planters to raise them from the ground. Though the greenhouse is a huge accomplishment in itself, the team and I are happy to see the initial steps of planting brought to fruition through the construction of the raised planter boxes. All the team members are proud to see every step of the project through to completion.

The small ceremony on our final day, Friday, was short and sweet. We had many helpers along the way: the school administrators provided snacks and milk, the local eatery fed us after long hours of work, and even the school’s children helped with smaller tasks along the way. Everyone came to see the greenhouse completed, and everyone was amazed at what could be accomplished in just two short weeks.

After so much hard work, the team has been happy to take a small weekend stay in Mindo, otherwise known as the Cloud Forest. Ecuador is an extremely diverse nation with many climates, flora, and fauna. Mindo has shown us yet another habitat housed within the country, another facet of Ecuador’s diverse personality. With great excitement, the team looks forward to next week’s project, another greenhouse. Though it will be a farther journey, as it is to be built even farther south of Quito than Escuela Bogota, we now know what it takes to successfully build a greenhouse from beginning to end. With that knowledge, we proceed forward with the utmost confidence in our abilities to collectively achieve our goals.

A Successful First Week of Building

July 3, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Ecuador, UCLA | By

One week of work is under our belts! Last Monday, we set out on a one-hour long bus ride to the southern part of Quito where the site of our first project is.  We are building this greenhouse on the roof of an elementary school so that the children learn about sustainable farming practices and healthy eating while having the ability to produce their own crops year round.

Luis, the agricultural engineer from ConQuito, taught us the basics of the tools we would be using and then we got to work building the framework of the greenhouse.  The older children from the school came to help us as well, and this allowed them to be a part of the building process and also gave us the chance to practice our Spanish.  Although chiseling the beams into the right shape and hammering in the wooden poles straight was sometimes difficult or tiring, everyone definitely had a lot of fun and easily got into the groove of our workdays.

In addition to the greenhouse, we had several small side projects.  The school asked us to paint a mural on a wall in the main courtyard that was educational and incorporated themes from the greenhouse.  We had a blast coming up with ideas and having the kids help us, and the picture shows the final product.  We also weeded a small plot of land in the nearby kindergarten so that we can plant a garden for them.  We have not begun planting yet, but we will this week.  While we were cleaning out this land, teachers from the kindergarten asked several of us to help teach English to the students.  Amanda, Sarah, and Diva were each given about 30 kids to attempt to control and educate, and that was definitely quite the experience.  Hopefully they retained some of our lessons.

Luis also took us to another one of his greenhouse sites and we helped with this project as well.  This greenhouse was located behind the Contemporary Art Museum our job was to wrap each metal pole with plastic to protect it.  An amazing feature of this greenhouse is that it was constructed entirely out of recycled materials.

At the end of this working week, we had finished the basic framework of the greenhouse.  All that is left is the roof, crossbeams, and plastic coverings.  While Amanda, Sarah, and Kristi were painting the mural, Dan, Steven, and Diva were building the planter boxes so we will also need to transfer the plants into those.  We can all agree that this first week has been a great success, working efficiently on our projects while making friends with the local community.

With the weekend came time to explore Quito! On Saturday, we went to Papallacta, a small village in the Andes where there are natural hot springs.  Soaking in the water and relaxing our sore bodies while looking at the beautiful mountains was the perfect way to unwind after this first week of work.  On Sunday, we went to Yanacocha and enjoyed an amazing ten mile hike where we saw different kinds of hummingbirds and butterflies.  Because we were so high up in elevation, we were literally above clouds and the view was breathtaking.

This coming week, Steven will be going back home so we will finish the greenhouse and garden at the school on Thursday and then go back the the one at the museum on Friday.  We have some special guests from Sacramento coming to visit the site on Tuesday and one of them is a journalist who will write a story on our work here.  We can’t wait for another week of work and to finish this greenhouse!

 

From the City of Angels to the Center of the World..

June 23, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Ecuador, UCLA | By

After dozens of finals, one graduation, two flights, and a layover six of us found ourselves in Quito, Ecuador’s charming capital named for its location at 00°.00’.00’’ and otherwise known as the middle of the world. As we staggered through customs visions blurred by exhaustion and disorientation none of us could be exactly sure of what lie ahead of us but one thing was for sure, that by this point it was pure adrenaline which  kept us pushing one foot in front of another, adrenaline and the excitement of beginning our project. We were greeted at the airport by Alicia, Coordinator of Triple Salto-the NGO our Nourish chapter has been working with and also our host for the next five and a half weeks. As we settled into our home away from home we began planning the building of two greenhouses in Quito, one would be situated on the roof of a school another to be located in a neighborhood in southern Quito. We began working with ConQuito a government municipality allied with Triple Salto. Our partnerships with ConQuito and Triple Salto would help us build greenhouses for organic farming in urban areas of thecity. The two communities we are working with will utilize the two greenhouses to nourish themselves and sell the excess for a profit thereby our project will combat the high levels of malnutrition amongst young children and pregnant mothers while providing entrepreneurship opportunities. An agricultural engineer named Luis provided our team with a crash-course of greenhouse building and we set off to purchase material to begin building the following week. To fill our time until building starts and to give our bodies the chance to acclimate to the climate and high altitude we have been taking advantage of all that Quito’s culture and landscape has to offer! The following pictures document our adventures in the city of Quito!

The team on top of the statue of El Virgen on Panecillo Hill, a 30m high statue that stands on El Panecillo hill overlooking the Old City. It depicts the Virgin Mary with silvery wings standing on an orb with a serpent curled around her feet and chained to her arm.