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Nourish International

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!

 

Progress in Puni

July 1, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Duke, Ecuador, Summer Projects | By

 

Ally tuta! I cannot believe this will be our last post before our internship comes to an end. After traveling on the weekends to Tena or another destination, returning to Puni Kotona is like returning home. The kids in the community have become our good friends, the teachers have become our colleagues, and our homestay hosts have become family. It will be difficult saying goodbye. 


In the past two weeks, we have made great strides in our projects in the community. As of yesterday, the chakra de guayusa is complete. Students, teachers, and community members helped prepare the land earlier in the week by clearing the vegetation in the area. Yesterday, by using surrounding resources such as sticks and branches, the padres de la familia measured out a grid for the guayusa saplings. About four hours later, all three hundred saplings were planted, and everyone who contributed headed back across the river, with machetes in hand. In about six months to a year, the guayusa leaves will be harvested and sold back to Runa.

Last week, Kaley and I led a community clean-up, as well as a short presentation on the importance of proper trash disposal. Littering is a huge problem in Puni Kotona, so we hope this event, as well as a proposed schedule for regular clean-ups, controls the garbage issue. 

 Because of the help of our host-fathers, we now have a beautiful roof for the school garden. We are eagerly waiting for the seeds in the seed beds, which include watermelon, cucumber, and  various flowers and medicinal plants, to germinate so that we can get the garden in full swing before we leave.

We are now in the process of handing our projects off to people in Puni Kotona that we think will successfully carry on the initiatives. For example, my host-mother, Nancy, has agreed to spreading the word about the compost pile next to the school garden. She will also ensure that the materials in the pile (which will mostly consist of yucca and platano peels) are turned once a week. 

Kaley and I have loved watching people in the community grow and learn from our projects, whether it be mastering numbers in English or asking questions about how humans impact the environment. 

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading, hasta luego! 

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.

 

Love

June 18, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Duke, Ecuador | By

Staring at this screen for the first time in two weeks, I was trying to think about how I could possibly decide what to write about from the plethora of experiences that have occurred thus far when it hit me: the capacity to love here.  To borrow the words of Henri Nouwen, “Often we talk about love as if it is a feeling.  But if we wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn to love well. . . When we “do”  love, even if others aren’t able to respond with love, we will discover that our feelings catch up with our acts.”  Such has been the reception of us here.  Working in a community that has never had volunteers before has certainly exposed us to a genuineness of love, and that within itself has mad our experience greater than anything that we could have imagined.  My host mom calls me “ushi,” which means daughter in Kichwa, the children are always making sure that we don’t fall, and I could not tell you the number of times each day that we’re asked about how we’re doing.

We’ve made lots of progress in our English and computer classes.  It’s inspiring to see the kids’ desire to learn and willingness to help with the other projects.  We’ve started using a double digging technique for the school garden, have begun a composting project that will incorporate kitchen waste from the school’s breakfast program, and have made progress on the school chakra, planting guayusa, yucca, plantains, guineo, and pineapple.  We also had a painting day for the students to decorate rocks to surround the garden.  The girls working in the other community are excited to direct a school play as well!

We are all looking forward to what the next month will bring and are sad to know that our stay is already halfway over.  It’s amazing to see just how the time has flown (not to be cliché).  We hope that we can truly take advantage of the time that  we have left to continue building our relationships with the families in the communities and mirror the love that has been afforded to us.  Emily and I will be without Internet for another two weeks, but we’re looking forward to where these projects will be at that point.  Chao chao, amigos.  Que todo vaya bien.

Adaptation

June 10, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Duke, Ecuador | By

As we wrap up the second week,  we finally feel at home in our communities.  Adapting to a way of life so different from our own was difficult, and not without bumps in the road, however, after two week we have grown accustomed to the Kichwa way of life.  One of the hardest things was that we are unable to communicate with our families and friends because we only get internet and phone service closer to the town.  In addition, we are also far removed from technology and chaos of world events.  Despite these shortcomings, our host families have treated us as if we are one of their own, if not better.  Just this morning a seven year old boy ran up a mountain to stop a bus that was quickly evading us, as several other people yelled and whistled to catch the drivers attention.  We had never previously spoken to any of them and yet they went out of their way to help us.  That is one thing that is very special about Kichwa culture, their sense of community. Another thing we have noticed about the culture here is that the people all seem to have a sense of simple happiness.  They work extremely hard to feed their families and go through the trials and tribulations associated with living in the jungle such as fighting off a Watusa (the largest rodent in the world) with a machete, or accidently encountering a group of Boa Constrictors on their way to work, and yet they never stop smiling.  This may have to do with the importance they place on relaxing and spending time with their families.  After a long day at work or school, they always make time to sit and share their stories with one another, to laugh and enjoy the presence of their loved ones.

This week, we had a charla (meeting) with the Padres de la Familia (the parents association at the school in Santo Domingo) to discuss planting a chakra (plantation) of Guayusa behind the school.  They all seemed excited about the idea, as it would bring in more funding for the school and its students.  We also discussed the possibility of implementing a compost system at the school to provide a place for organic waste as well as improve the quality of the soil in the chakra.  In addition, we brought up the idea of planting a vegetable garden to provide the students with new nutritious food items.  After the charla it was decided that at 7 AM this coming Monday, the Padres would reconvene, and we would all begin the preparation for the 300 Guayusa plants Runa plans to send.  While teaching English and computer skills has been incredibly rewarding, we are excited to begin these new projects!

First Week in the Jungle

June 10, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Duke, Ecuador | By

 

We have concluded our first week emerged in the exotic and beautiful Amazon.  It was spent integrating ourselves in the communities Santo Domingo and Puni Kotona, getting to know our host families and teaching English to the indigenous children.  The educational system differs from what we’re used to in the United States.  The educational system is more structured around oral and written repetition.  In response to this, we are trying to introduce more critical thinking and creativity into their curriculum.  Outside of the curriculum, the students are very vibrant and welcoming to us extranjeras. Everyday is new adventure with them!

Only a week into living in the communities we are starting to establish a rhythm in each of our living situations.  For example, the food in the communities revolve around staples such as Yucca and white rice and are completed my small portions of meat.   After eating certain meat for a few days, we were surprised to find out that “mountain meat” we were eating was actually monkey. You would never know because it is so appetizing.

As the first week comes to a close, we are already planning to implement our other projects which include building a chakra for the community and school to help raise money, implementing a recycling and compost project, and expanding our English classes to include teachers and students who don’t go to school in the community.  Teaching these two groups of people will create a more sustainable impact on the community.

So far our initial arrival to our Amazonian communities have heightened our sense of awareness about the world and kindled a fire of positive change within our community and with ourselves! Yupaichany and Ally Tutta! (Thanks and good night!)

Orientation Week (Tena!)

May 28, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Duke, Ecuador | By

Ally tuta (or buenas noches in Spanish)!  Its been a week since we landed in Ecuador, and after a five hour drive through the mountains and the jungle we arrived in Tena.  We were greeted by a cozy cabin-like intern house at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of the city.  Our first night was spent exploring the unique streets of Tena along side other interns and employees of the Fundacion Runa.  Our dinner conversation revolved around Guayusa and the company’s efforts to form its image as a sustainable cash crop for small Kechwa farmers.  Runa has taken a creative approach to international development by forming a company that has both for profit and non-profit sectors in both Ecuador and the United States.  The four parts work as one, to promote Guayusa as an organic fair-trade product over-seas.  They focus on marketing Guayusa as not just a drink but a story, a story of centuries old indigenous tradition and culture.  Guayusa has been historically central to the Kechwa culture, bringing together families at 4 o-clock every morning to share stories, interpret dreams, and discuss the coming day.  By promoting this image Runa hopes to create a product that will always stay in the hands of Ecuadorian farmers and provide a sustainable income for them.  Starting this coming week we will have the opportunity to take part in Guayusa ceremonies with our host families.

In order to prepare for the coming 7 week excursion into the Amazon, where we will be completely immersed into the indigenous Kechwa culture, and cut off from society as we know it, we have spent the past week taking intensive Spanish and Kechwa language classes.  We also discussed culture shock and the cultural norms we will be experiencing over the next seven weeks.  On Monday we will re-pack our bags and enter Santo Domingio and Puni Kotona, two indigenous communities deep in the Amazonian jungle.  With excitement and uncertainty looming ahead we are looking forward to this journey where we will strive to make a difference as well as learn about an ancient, beautiful culture and about ourselves.  Pakharinkama (adios)!

grab your bags

May 16, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Duke, Ecuador | By

Hello everyone!

Our bags our packed and our anticipation is ever increasing because, in two days, we will be flying to the beautiful country of Ecuador.  We will be spending eight weeks in Archidona, partnering with the non-profit Fundación Runa to help build gardens and guayusa (a tea-like plant) nurseries as well as teach classes in first aid and hygiene, nutrition, computer literacy, and English.  Fundación Runa is a new organization, but they have made leaps and bounds in helping secure increased and more stable incomes for farmers in the Napo valley. Through their partnership with Runa, a for-profit company that is trying to create a greater market for guayusa, they have been able to fashion a fresh and so far effective model for social entrepreneurship.

Although we have a plan for this summer, we understand the importance of being flexible and fulfilling the actual needs of the community rather than trying to force an ill-fitting agenda.  We are not there to help but to empower.  We hope to give those with whom we work some tools to improve their own communities and create the foundation for a self-sustaining environment.  Fundación Runa began their project by recognizing the strengths of the Kichwa people with whom they were working, and they used their own knowledge to create an organization that would help share and preserve indigenous knowledge while alleviating poverty in the area.  We hope our summer exchange will allow for both parties to learn and grasp new understandings.

Thank you for following this special journey; we cannot wait to share our adventures with you.

Isla de la plata aka poor man’s galapagos

January 26, 2012 | Posted in 2009, Ecuador, Stanford, UC-Davis | By

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.