Friday, September 30, 2016

Details

The street is busy, with cars and people, but clean, and somehow comfortable. Seoul is special in that sense, different from the other major cities in Asia that I have spent time in. It does not perpetuate the chaos I am used to surrendering myself to in Hanoi or Bangkok or Hong Kong or Delhi. It doesn’t even feel as intimidating as Manhattan, despite the lack of any language barrier there. In the week there I didn’t once feel the weight of the millions that call the city home, nor the millions of miles between my physical and mental world and that of the thousands I passed on the streets, on the bus, in the subway, markets, palaces, and temples. It was truly bizarre, how safe and comfortable I felt in a city so alien to me. I think it had to do with the details of the city, there’s always truth in the details.     

Brothers chase a rabbit around a group of trees. The boys are not much bigger than the bunny, and second guess themselves whenever he lets them close. On the grass next to them an elderly couple play badminton on the lawn. The grassy area is overlooking Seoul. From here it is impossible to tell that ten million people are moving through the streets and subways in the city below. From here the city is a skyline composed of skyscapes towering over high-rises towering over palaces towering over villages. Markets sprawl across block here and there, full of more food and clothes and physical pieces of Korean culture than anyone could ever need. The setting sun casts a golden tint over the city, trying to homogenize the cityscape but failing to compete with the contrasting architectures of heritage and progress. Looking away from the city, Namsam Mountain climbs in altitude until its summit where the N Seoul Tower reaches skyward. A cable car is slowly making its way toward the tower’s base. Travelers and locals share in the view from the top while lovers add their locks to the fences at various lookout points around the monolithic tower. I sit on the grass beside my peers, watching events close and far, caught in the magic of this place as they delve into our purpose here. I often feel this way with them, like a fly on their wall, documenting what I can, grateful all the while.  


            On one side of the street are new buildings, tall and chromatic. On the other are the walls of an old palace. Walking down the street businessmen walk hurriedly to offices or meetings, young men in police uniforms stand at regular intervals around the palace walls, women in pants suits stand at bus stops beside older women they’ll follow onto the bus when it arrives. Groups of teenager’s flock into the palace, clad in traditional gowns, at once both subtle and stunning to the eye. They take photographs together in front of the old pagodas and ponds. Inside the palace generations of locals and tourists walk through the old but not forgotten heritage of Korean culture. A soft summer rain begins to fall and umbrellas come out over the beautiful dresses and the heads of the girls, but none of the thousands of tourists flee palace grounds for shelter. The rain is inviting, and there is no need to escape it. I think there is the greatest truth to Seoul, that even the forces that so often drive out, invite me in. There is a softness, a subtlety, and so much beauty in such a place. The country’s heritage is not at odds with its progress, its culture is evolving without forgetting. The world of business and economic progress does not ignore the world of artistic expression. Perhaps I am naïve, but I felt harmony in Seoul, in every capacity of the city’s identity, and I think we all saw beauty in that balance. Whatever the World Folk Art Movement becomes, I think we all aspire to achieve in the spaces we create those feelings of harmony, invitation, excellence. 

Josh Lane
World Folk Art Movement
2016

The Gift of Determination

The Gift of Determination

The day before I left to join the WFAM team on our trip to Seoul, one of my summer program classmates asked how it felt to be “going home” to South Korea. I’m of Korean heritage-- I look Korean and speak some of the language-- so I understand her misunderstanding. But I had to clarify that I had only been to Korea a couple times before and was born in the States, so I consider myself an American.

This got me thinking about identities, and the disparity can occur when the identities you choose for yourself are different than the identities the “other” imposes on you. This disparity is often caused by a simple misunderstanding, but can proliferate into larger issues if the expectations of an identity group become harmful stereotypes.

In Seoul, we experienced countless artistic spaces in the form of museums, palaces, and public parks. Art was even embedded into restaurants, skyscrapers, the airport, and train stations. My experience in Seoul, no matter how short it was, taught me to seek art in the most unlikely places.

Now that’s a piece of Seoul that I carry with me as part of my identity. Seoul isn’t simply a part of my identity because of my Korean ethnicity, but because I experienced a culture where art is so embedded in beautifying our environment. It’s fundamentally transformed how I view my world.

This also reinforced that as a professional in social enterprise, I need to allow people to voice their own identities, from my everyday interactions to the larger implications of my research.


The beauty of the World Folk Art Movement is helping others create paths to express their chosen identities through art. I’m so humbled to be part of such an amazing movement and I can’t wait to see countless identities come together through art. 

Grace Liu
World Folk Art Movement 
2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Some observations on Seoul and how it invited me to be there.

Some observations on Seoul and how it invited me to be there.
MJR Montoya, Faculty Advisor

Managing a trip with six students can be a massive undertaking.  It’s filled with safety and security issues, receipt gathering, and compliance to an agenda that has to be flexible and provide for an overall rewarding experience.  I’ve done several of these trips, and they have mostly gone well because of the exceptional students I have.  Sometimes, I encounter hiccups because the place we’re visiting produces challenges that can’t always be accounted for. 

But our trip to Seoul was… inviting… in all the ways that word can be met. I felt, from the moment that I left the airport, invited to take part in the way we traveled to our hotel.  The city has a way of making me believe in the seriousness of attending to my day, and after a very long flight across the Pacific, this is strangely comforting.  I felt as though the city was aware of its people and contained us, citizens and guests alike, in a way that expressed its diligence and commitment.  Architectural space contains a language in it, and I was keenly aware that the shape of the buildings, the pace of the buses (much more deliberate in order to save energy), and the posture of the natural landscapes so elegantly interwoven with the steel and glass of the city were all deliberate.  I was reminded that when someone cares for their home one is expected to respect the care and preparation when one enters a home. But more than this, I felt like the city was like a teacher, it wanted me to reflect on how I respected my own home, and although this was an intangible part of the city’s vocabulary, I was asked by the city to think of home and to feel at home all at once.  This summarizes a form of invitation that I have rarely felt in an urban landscape.  I have always been in awe of cities, but rarely have I felt the tense nostalgia for place that Seoul encouraged me to feel.

It is not uncommon for one to see a group of elderly men and women walking around unescorted at 11:30pm.  I remember thinking that had this been an American city, this would have been alarming.  But the city has such a deep respect for its most vulnerable, its children and its elderly, that at both ends of the spectrum, they are encouraged to roam as they please. In the case of children, they are encouraged to play. Every restaurant we visited and every institution we met encouraged playfulness, regardless of age.  I felt middle-aged not because I am middle-aged, but because I was young and old all at once, and those were feelings to be celebrated.  I witnessed children turning mundane activities into an opportunity for craft.  I saw older citizens laugh and joke as though the streets were their sitting rooms, and each time this occurred, I felt invited to be a part of the city – as a listener and as a voice in a cacophony of proud voices that echoed in the green, in the steel, and in the hearts of children and elders.  I felt respected... and valued.  

One afternoon, it rained on the palace grounds.  We had just concluded a set of filming for the documentary that will help capture the work we did in Seoul.  We stood on a bed of soft grass – even the rain was unobtrusive. It invited us to rest.  It was no coincidence that a small swarm of dragonfly fluttered nearby.  They were not alarmed by what we were doing, and they did their own thing.  But in the sum total of it all, we were all at home and at rest.   I’ve rarely felt a city so in tune with its past and its future, with nature and the workspace of a city. I’m glad I was invited there, and I still feel that way now that I’m home. If only all trips were like this one.  Speaking for myself I would be a much more complete thinker, and a better human being.


Sep 2016

Friday, September 16, 2016

Home of “Tarzan” and the “Charging Bull”

Home of “Tarzan” and the “Charging Bull”

Tarzan from the mighty jungle or the charging bull from Wall Street, can find a home in Seoul. That is the beauty of this city.  Seoul has a mystic charm that forces anybody to believe that they are home. At least I found home with the company of the World Folk Art Movement (WFAM) team.

At the Somerset Palace, the day always started with some delicious French toast and it was hard to resist temptation of going for the second round. The work meetings were as fun as a roller coaster ride. From setting goals and expectations to joking about the 16-bit animated version of the “Paradise Lost”, everything was embedded into one beautiful gathering. The trip has given the whole team immense energy to make the pop-up version happen. I still get lost in those dreams and conversations and they constantly challenge my imagination.

Our little hike to the Seoul tower was pleasant but the laughter that we shared sitting in the hill top is priceless.  It was a windy evening and I couldn’t but enjoy every sight of that beautiful sunset. I noticed an old married couple who had climbed hundreds of steps just to see their beautiful city’s sunset and play badminton. They could barely play as the wind was too hostile but that didn’t bother them for a single moment. All they cared about was the sense of togetherness and happiness. Maybe they were reflecting on their life or maybe on their love.

The team concluded that I have tremendous facial expression and suggested for a career in acting. I must say that those expressions were product of the beauty of my surroundings and the team I was with. Maybe I will take an acting class!

Seoul is the perfect paradigm of the idea that WFAM carries. The idea that preservation of art and culture is the only pathway to modernity. After this amazing trip to Seoul, I am sure that this project will change lives and will certainly contribute to make this world a better place.

We don’t get to see the world every day or may be we do! Through the eyes of our friends, family or soul mate. People say that when you leave a visiting place, you leave a portion of yourself behind. But coming back to Albuquerque, I brought back a portion of Seoul’s culture, heritage and affection. It may not have equaled out but who cares! During my visit to that wonderfully decorated city, all I bought were memories of a lifetime.


“It is nice to think that art can help provide a small respite from the ugliness of the world” – Stella Abrera





 
Photo by Josh Lane

Md Bellal Hossain
World Folk Art Movement

August 2016

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Setting the Scene - Seoul 2016

Why is saying goodbye so hard?

I knew going into the trip that it would be full of ups and downs. I would be faced with the reality that I'm leaving this incredible organization. I would be delighted to watch the team grow close and prepare for their upcoming year. I would observe proudly in our meeting with the American Center - Korea as we presented our idea of Pop-Up Markets at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games.

I didn't know that everything would go so wrong.

Except it didn't - at all. Seoul has a magic to it. You can feel it in the very fibre of the city. It runs almost like a grid throughout its streets, its museums, and its parks. There is a peace and a comfort woven into the grid. Artisan co-ops dot street corners, museums and art galleries jump out at you from between store-fronts, and the city hums with the quiet knowledge of home. 

The trip started with a bus ride to nowhere. After riding 30 minutes the wrong direction, and an hour the correct direction, we arrived at the American Center Korea to meet with Mr. Canning. He gave us incredible advice and guidance about how to better present our proposal, gifted our hungry team with some pop-tarts, and we went on our way. After an incredible team lunch, we ended up hiking up a mountain only to not reach the top, being turned away from a "foreigners-only" casino, and waiting in line for two and a half hours to not get to the top of the observation tower. What we did get though, was the most peaceful view of the skyline, an organic discussion about the nature of love, and a chance to tap into Seoul's magic grid.

I'm glad I started this post with imagery of a woven grid, because in my mind it describes the trip so well. Everything was masterfully woven together. Discussions on global culture and world polity, an exploration of Korean art and business culture, and the calmest, gentlest, most cleansing rain I have ever been caught in. Nothing that we experienced was out of order, out of place, or a mistake. Even the disastrous food tour we embarked on yielded a greater understanding of the effects of gentrification and western influence in South Korea.

In fiction, the setting is intentionally chosen by the author to help create a sense of place, and to enhance the tone and mood the author is creating. As a team, we selected  South Korea in this intentional way as the place for our project, the perfect nation to showcase art's power as a driver of socioeconomic development and empowerment. But what we didn't realize is that it would be the setting of life change for so many of the team members.

I couldn't have picked a more perfect place to be the future site of WFAM, and I couldn't have picked a more perfect place to say goodbye to IBSG.

I'm not gone for good - mark my words - but every phase in life leads to a new one. And now that I've graduated, it's time to make that forward step. I just hope that the rest of my experiences can be as magically woven together as Seoul was.

Tori Gilliland
World Folk Art Movement
August 2016


Friday, August 12, 2016

Seoul's Nature


Seoul, South Korea
Photo by Josh Lane

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul. -John Muir
Contrasting against the grey high-rise buildings and high tech subways are vivid green spaces in South Korea. Seoul is flourishing with wild life- plants, grass, flowers, trees, and the like. Nature is woven seamlessly into the very fabric of the city.  Fruits and vegetables are planted along the sidewalk, rooftops drip with vines from gardens, ponds are filled with lily pads and koi fish, and temples are adorned with lotus flowers.

We rest momentarily in a grassy field on our walk to the Seoul Tower. The spacious green area creates a sense of peace and tranquility in the city bustling with over 10 million people.  We observe children playing happily with a bunny, an elderly couple resting on a blanket in the grass in between games of badminton, a man reading a book while strolling through the area, and groups of students posing beside statues for selfies. We reflect on our project as we debrief from our meeting with Mr. Canning from the Embassy.  We allow nature to wash over us, center our thoughts, and ground us in the present reality- a reality that felt less like being engulfed in a major metropolis and more like a dream, or a movie, or heaven. Brainstorming has never come so effortless. I can’t help but think that the fresh oxygen is providing much needed fuel for high functioning cognition. After all, green spaces are known to create positive effects for humans' well being and productivity.

I take a deep breath to inhale the fresh oxygen, aromatic flowers, and dew in the air. Not only do the plants provide oxygen in exchange for our carbon dioxide, they are productive pollutant reducers. Plants make the city greener and cleaner.

Walking bare foot through the grass, I become keenly aware of the true sacredness of spaces. I admire the ways in which Koreans are able to protect that which is ancient, natural, and sacred while progressing as a metropolis. I think about our own struggles in New Mexico while attempting to protect our sacred spaces- our acequia systems, which compose the water, land, and culture surrounding the traditional communal practice of water sharing and agriculture- by designating them as UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites. South Korea demonstrates that modernization and development do not have to come at the cost of the natural, the beautiful, and the sacred. Rather spaces can be inclusive, blended, multifaceted.

Audriana Stark
World Folk Art Movement
South Korea 2016


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Soundtrack of Seoul

The soundtrack of Seoul is cicadas. Thousands of the winged bugs rest in the city’s trees throughout the summer, clicking madly away in an attempt to find love. The numbers of cicadas in Seoul has grown drastically due to global warming, as the winters do not become harsh enough to kill off the bug’s larvae. The bugs range in size from tiny to terrifying, some as large as birds. They are seen as pests in a beautiful green city that becomes infested with chirping, humming, screaming bugs in the summer.
                                                                     
The cicadas’ sound is a comfort to me, though. I’m not bothered by their constant presence, or at having to raise my voice over theirs, because Seoul’s soundtrack mirrors Albuquerque’s. The cicadas of Albuquerque, though less gargantuan in size, are a summer staple and their buzzing accompanies many of my Albuquerque summer memories.

Seoul feels inexplicably like Albuquerque. It shouldn’t, really, with a population that outnumbers ours 20 to 1 and an area a mere 100 more square kilometers than Albuquerque’s. But I feel this city and its people are on a similar wavelength to Albuquerque. They understand the importance of aesthetics and have a desire to create beautiful things, whether contemporary or traditional. Sculptures, pop art, and statues swarm the streets much like the cicadas do in the summer, but Seoul’s art is permanent. It is embedded into their culture and their way of life here, and there is an appreciation for the beautiful that I have found in the people of New Mexico, too.

Women  and young girls walk down the street in traditional clothing, giggling, taking selfies, and admiring their gorgeous costumes. I have seen Native American women at pow-wows in New Mexico do the exact same thing, admiring and appreciating the work they adorn and the culture they represent. Seoul is unusually clean for a city with such a densely packed population, and there is a palpable pride in being a part of this place, keeping it clean, and doing your part. There’s a similar pride in being New Mexican, and although our team here in Seoul isn’t entirely New Mexican by birth, we all embody the same spunk that comes with being New Mexican. We are utterly grateful to be here, taking nothing for granted. We are full of a desire to share art, culture, and tradition in a way that promotes something bigger than any one of us.

I can’t speak for the team, but I feel at home in Seoul. I feel a familiarity that goes beyond screaming cicadas and into the depths of who the people here are in relation to who New Mexico has made me. The sound of a Seoul summer follows the wavelength of our own, and I can’t help but feel it’s a good omen for this project.



Claire Stasiewics
World Folk Art Movement
South Korea 2016

Final Blog: Final thoughts about consulting, social development, Ecuador, etc

Ecuador. SEC. Team Oportunidad and Impacto. Frankly, I am not even sure how to begin this final post. I am speechless in the best sense of the word.
 To keep this final blog post short(er) and (more) succinct, I will summarize the major lessons I gathered from my experiences. Some of these are obvious but were further clarified through my experiences. Others are entirely brand new to me. In any case, I hope that these lessons learned can be constructive or beneficial for all.

Lessons Learned:
Discomfort is beautiful-
Sleeping underneath a mosquito net. Carrying a dog stick everywhere. Not drinking water from the tap. Wearing a headlamp (and four layers of shirts with two layers of pants) to bed. Packing toilet paper in my backpack every day. Speaking Spanish with host families when I didn’t have a fluent speaker with me. Removing slugs from the bed frame, wall, shelf, and our backpacks. Taking twenty second showers. Pulling a stubborn cow uphill for a kilometer. Not having wifi (oh, the horror!). Getting lost in a massive city entirely on my own. Learning Quechua. I never expected to do these things, but I will always cherish the experience. During moments (or days or weeks) of discomfort, I found myself noticing and being aware of differences like never before. For example, when I was lost, I was almost hyper-aware of my surroundings. The aroma of sweat, spices, and slow-cooked meat would waft through the stalls of the food market. The colorful assortment of fruits and vegetable stood high while women donning Chimborazo hats would harass pedestrians with their “low prices for high quality” of food. Moments of discomfort opened my senses to new sights, sounds, and smells. I also appreciate the comforts of Cuenca (and the US!) when in contrast to the “luxuries” of Pulingui (I was lucky to have six blankets). My struggle Spanish was met with laughs and words of encouragement. I enjoyed stepping out of my realm of comfort. It taught me more about myself and others.

International Development can be frustrating-
When it comes to colossal entities like the international community, change often comes slow. In contrast, the private sector or multinational enterprises are usually more agile and can respond to a changing landscape must faster. Working in the realm of international development can be frustrating because it takes time for initiatives to take effect and it takes even more time to establish and collect a metric system and subsequent data to measure the success of the initiative. Navigating between administrative obstacles can be tedious and often takes up a majority of the time. In the case of SEC and Ecuador, the staff spent most of their time dealing with logistics (such as, “how can I contact the community leader if he does not have a phone?”). Very little of their time was spent on the campaigns or empowerment. Additionally, the salary is not a good incentive; in Ecuador, the staff was making the Ecuadorian minimum wage, a measly $350 per month.

For the best outcome, focus on the client-
It is believed that there are more than ten thousand NGOs in the country of Haiti, a majority forming after the disastrous 2005 earthquakes. Even now, more than a decade later, aid, in the form of food and supplies, is shipped to Haiti from altruistic global citizens hoping to “alleviate the pain and suffering.” Starting a non-profit to help those less fortunate is laudable, but the maximum impact can only be achieved if the initiative is centered on delivering the greatest benefit to the clients. In my junior year of high school, many of my classmates started meaningless non-profits with grandiose visions of helping marginalized populations halfway around the world to demonstrate their get-up-and-go attitude to college admission officers. Within a month, the non-profits and business plans fell to the bottom of the trash bin. It is worthwhile to ask why. Is it because the marginalized were truly the target audience? Or is it because having one’s name on the philanthropy or non-profit is considered cool? In Haiti, many of the ten thousand NGOs essentially attempt to address the same problems: poverty, infrastructure, and health. Would it not be more impactful if they decided to collaborate and team up? Or what if instead of starting a new NGO, individuals who hoped to help contributed to existing NGOs? Haiti is now saturated with so many benefactor groups that they compete amongst themselves for both resources (funding, supplies, etc) and recipients (Haitian farmers, residents, etc). And is this aid actually benefitting the people of Haiti? According to Poverty Inc., not at all. In fact, it isperpetuating the poverty in Haiti because the volume of free food and supplies entering the country is preventing Haitian-produced goods and services from entering the Haitian market. If NGOs in Haiti were truly client-focused, they would have reeled back on the number of NGOs and rather focused on truly helping the people of Haiti through sustainable and empowering methods. Similarly, we want to avoid the tendency to become “voluntourists” (plenty of articles online about the dangers of voluntourism). Client-focused outcomes yield the greatest benefit.

Begin with the end in mind-
Early in the SEC training process, Greg Van Kirk mentioned: “Our goal is to eventually run ourselves out of business.” In my opinion, this should be the long term goal of any social entrepreneurship. In the words of Chelsea Clinton, “always have an exit strategy when starting a social enterprise.” How will the social enterprise impact the target market and then how will it phase itself out so that the target population can be self-sustaining? Altruism isn’t good enough because it doesn’t change the system. In the case of CEMIS, we gave them over six hundred dollars through selling their products on Facebook. But that isn’t sustainable. If we don’t think about the exit strategy, CEMIs will become dependent on the efforts of the interns fundraising. Does CEMIS have more money now? Absolutely. Have they empowered themselves? Not unless they decide to invest in educating their women about online sales. I think this framework of thinking can be applied to much more than social enterprises. If we remember that our social enterprises must eventually come to an end, we can make better, more thoughtful decisions as to how our enterprise will impact others.

Maybe, just maybe, we don’t know everything-
It was clear that the 2016 SEC Ecuador interns were some of the most headstrong, ambitious, and critical groups that SEC had. Personally, I think it was because all twenty-four of us were accustomed to having our ideas implemented or validated. We typically were leaders in our own groups and clubs and were generally implementers. When a group of leaders and implementers is brought together, some conflict is inevitable. Most of us were used to having the best ideas in the room at our respective universities. This might have stoked egos and somewhat validated our desire to be the most impactful. But Ecuador was a new context and understanding context is important for making meaningful impact. So when one’s ideas was regarded as inappropriate or less than perfect, the result was hurt egos. Additionally, we were told that when SEC decided that a P1 project was not feasible or not within the capacity of the organization, students would often retaliate and claim that SEC was an organization that was blind and did not really know what it was doing. The SEC staff quietly referred to this as “the entitlement factor;” the self-selection process of applying to the SEC program made sure that all of the applicants were proactive students who wanted to do more. Typically, students who were often praised for having the best ideas in the room grew a sense of entitlement. They would then carry this entitlement with them and apply it to other scenarios, expecting that their ideas would always be the best. Additionally, with some of our clients, the cultural difference in business practices was overwhelming. For example, Fundacion Utopia did not care to be a profitable organization. They said that they would not mind if they went bankrupt because they already created the community which they hoped to establish. Everything else was simply bonus. Many of the interns had a fundamental objection to assisting a client such asFundacion Utopia. They claimed that they could not help the foundation if the foundation did not care to be profitable. These statements often turned into rude remarks and disheartened indifference.

Rather than being hurt or expressing contempt when a client or organization does not take solicited advice, I think a question ought to be asked: “is there a better way of serving the customer?” Could the project be made simpler in any way? Could it be more appropriate for the organization? Can it actually be implemented? Are there deeper reasons why the idea is not feasible?

CAGE distance analysis-
I can see now that my first version of the CAGE distance analysis was not thorough. I had gathered information about the cultural, administrative, geographic, and economic obstacles, but it could never be complete or accurate if I did not spend time in Ecuador. I have much more to add to the cultural and administrative sections. Before I left to Ecuador, I was told that a significant portion of the CAGE would be improved as I spent more time in the country. I sincerely believe that is true.  

Never say no to a new experience-
This one is obvious. If I did not try salsa dancing, I would not have discovered that my hips move with the grace of Shakira’s.

Team Journey: Work is more fun with people we love-
I spent most of my working time with my P1 project team, “Team Journey.” From climbing Chimborazo to sipping on nutellaccinos together in Melatte to spending hours debating over the appropriateness of a survey question to taking long walks in the Pulingui countryside, I could not have asked for a better team to work with. During the final presentation, there was a moment where love for my team and for our project swelled inside of me and I was happy, regardless of what the staff decided to do with our project. Interestingly enough, I don’t think anyone of us were expecting that we would become so close by the end of the summer. We had seen each other in various settings: work, leisure, comfort, discomfort, happiness, sadness, health, sickness, annoyed, goofy. Yet I’m not sure if that team dynamic could be replicated. Regardless, I am happy that I had the experience of sharing such an amazing project with such an incredible group of people. 

Final Presentations

The last few days in Cuenca were a blur. When we met during the day, the group ran presentations constantly. Whether it was our consulting or primary projects, all of the interns had to present their final work to the rest of the group.

Frankly, I was impressed.

Most groups had tangible deliverables that SEC or CES could very feasibly use. Some groups experienced more obstacles than other groups, but these served to be learning opportunities.

To begin, I will start with giving an overview of my P1 project.
Empowerment/Professional Development: 
I am very proud of the amount of work my group has done. Our deliverables are extensive and, in my humble opinion, very feasible to implement. First off, we begin with our surveys. The surveys are meant to be a diagnostics tool to establish the “empowerment level” of the asesoras. We crafted three different versions of the survey: survey one should be administered during the asesoras training process, optimally during the first or second week. Survey two, which is more extensive, is for asesoras once they have a year of experience. Finally, survey three is for those asesoras that are already established asesoras that currently work with SolCom or have previously worked with SolCom. The last survey is primarily to address those asesoras that will not be taking the first or second survey. This system of three surveys, “Pre-AC,” “Post-AC,” and “Old AC,” was relentlessly tested and translated through several bilingual speakers who live in Ecuador, seven interviewers, and several facilitators. The questions are most culturally appropriate for an Ecuadorian context, but they can easily be adapted for the cultural contexts of other countries in which CES operates, to be easily scalable. During an interview, the facilitator (the one asking the questions) would note down narrative data through the questions we created. Afterwards, the facilitator would take the narrative data and match it up to a rating chart that my team made. This is the second deliverable.

The facilitator will look at the narrative response of the asesora and try to match it with one of the answers provided on the rating chart. The rating chart, in the simplest of terms, is to rank how comfortable or proficient the asesora is with a certain concept or ability. To avoid the issue of subjectivity and to acquire the most accurate rank, my team decided to create the rating chart. A scaling is attributed to the ranking chart. The facilitator takes these values and inserts them into a scantron-like sheet. We call this the “answer sheet” or “cheat sheet” for short. Narrative data is difficult to work with and CES asked that we create a system of empowerment metrics. This is to ensure that the data acquired can be quantifiably analyzed and easily interpreted. This is the third deliverable. Because we had three different versions of the survey, my team and I also created three different versions of the cheat sheet. At the bottom of the cheat sheet is a different scale. Depending on where an asesora scores on the scale, they will be “a new AC or not empowered,” “beginning empowerment,” “nearing empowerment,” or “empowered or empowering others.” Obviously, there are some flaws with translating narrative data to numerical data in the way we did, however this is the best and most thorough method we could have done given the time constraints. During the presentation, we made it clear the staff that our P1 and deliverables could be easily altered or adjusted to be more appropriate for their use.

The next deliverable was a compilation of courses and workshops that CES could use in order to further empower their asesoras. The workshops included a leadership workshop (from Coursera), a financial literacy (FOCOPI) workshop (another P1 project created this curriculum), and a “test-taking and review” workshop (asesoraswould review the material that would be on their final exam). The workshops and courses were not as developed as the diagnostics section of our P1; after all, another group was tasked with creating a financial literacy workshop in two months. How were we going to do that as well when our primary task was to create the diagnostics tool?

Our final deliverable was a set of recommendations and lessons learned from conducting interviews. Through talking to sevenasesoras, both former and current, we learned more about what they wanted from their experience with SolCom; we listened to them and asked about what problems they experienced or skills they might want to learn (and then included those questions in the surveys). Recognizing and understanding the needs is empowering in and of itself. The following recommendations are directly from asesoras. The list is not exhaustible.
“want to learn basic English”
“increased credibility among fellow Ecuadorians, through name badges, open certification, shirts with logo”
“want to teach others how to have financial literacy skills”
Basic teaching skills in general
“test is confusing”

And more. We felt that it was important to bring these concerns up during the presentation to demonstrate the value of narrative data and the importance of empowerment.

Other groups also did an excellent job with their P1 projects. The following are my (brief) notes on each of the other projects.

Marketing: this team focused on helping SEC and CES better market their materials and programs. On the CES side, they created three posters that advertised water filters and eye glasses with catchy slogans, easily understood images, and basic information.
Data Analytics: this two-person team was tasked with creating a system through which CES could easily analyze the data acquired through community interviews and analyzing the data that CES currently had. They created an excel document with easy-to-understand categories and a simple method of analysis. Their analysis showed that the most common problem in households was vision.
FOCOPI: this project blew me away, particularly the curriculum and workbook that was created. The objective was to create a financial literacy workshop that asesoras could use to teach community members. This team hit a lot of bumps in the road and were not able to pilot their workshops as much as they had hoped, but their deliverable was something that was akin to that of a high school workbook. Filled with aesthetic images, easy to understand concepts, and sections for note-taking, the workbook looked like it was professionally made.
Customer Feedback: this team devised a method and schedule of contacting consumers of eye glasses and water filters, created a short and quick survey to establish if the products were helpful, and gave CES recommendations on how to implement their system.
Although all twenty-four of us would have liked to create a revolutionizing system or project, I think we all understood that some improvement is better than nothing. In the end, the most we could have done is make our projects as implementable (is that a word?) as possible. The rest is up to CES. If it is within their organizational capacity to do so, CES will put our deliverables to the test.

I told Jus that I will bother her to see if SEC/CES decides to use our deliverables. Fingers crossed!

Timbara, Zamora, and that Time I Got Super Sick From Amoebas

Currently, I am sitting in the warmth and comfort of my Cuenca house, with a strong cup ofcedrón. We returned from Timbara hardly a few hours ago and, though I grew very close to my Timbara family, I was glad to be back in Cuenca. Timbara is about 20 minutes from Zamora and is a jungle paradise (though some of my fellow interns may disagree). The lush greenery and humid backdrop of the area seemed to be out of a storybook. Every morning, my open window would give way to a beautiful view of nearby mountains with wispy, low clouds hugging the thick tangles of vegetation. The air was heavy and smelled like earth but had a certain appeal. At any given point, there was a high chance of rain and the fresh mud and potholes of water prompted the need for rain boots (I have never had to wear rain boots before, so I was excited; in fact, I think I wore the boots everyday even when there was no rain).

Our first day in Timbara started off with getting caught in a torrential downpour (I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that). My Timbara host mom, host sister, Austin, and I took temporary shelter underneath a poorly constructed shed en route to our house but quickly realized the architectural flaw of having holes in the corrugated metal roofing. We decided to run and stepped into our house, soaked, cold, and muddy; one of us slipped and fell in the road with a 30 kg bag strapped to our back (I won’t give any details, but the poor kid’s name started with an “A” and ended in “-nand”). Regardless, I thought it was a wonderful way to become acquainted with Timbara. My Timbara host mom, Maria “Panchitza”, is a sweet lady with a stooped stature and wide smile. She owns a tienda in the corner of the village and her children help her with daily operations. Her husband is a gold miner in a nearby village and commutes two hours daily (I was particularly interested in Juan’s work, but he was very hesitant to tell me details). The family owned a large area of land behind the house and I was often there to pick fresh fruits or simply take in the beauty. A large creek ran through the property and my family had a small pond where they raised tilapia by trapping them with a net at the mouth of the pond. Low-hanging papayas and bananas were my late-night snacks (at the risk of slipping into the river) and Kira, the puppy, was my companion during many early morning walks.

Timbara was fun because there was no shortage of paths and hikes. Approximately twenty minutes from our house, a gorgeous waterfall erupted from a dense expanse of green. With my trusty, knee-high rain boots, I felt invincible and would often wade into the river and simply stand there, feeling the force of thousands of gallons of water rushing past my dry feet, gently pushing the rocks and sediments below. Listening to the roar of the waterfall, hardly twenty feet away, while watching the water silently flow over my boots was an oddly relaxing and humbling experience.
Near the end of my stay in Timbara, I became horribly sick. I could not hold down food and I was losing weight by the pounds per day. When I went to the doctor, he barely looked at me before concluding that I had amoebas, “like the rest of Ecuador.” Cool. I was on antibiotics for five days and was fine after day four. As the phrase famously goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I would hereby like to slightly change and add on to that phrase by saying, “when in Ecuador, do as the Ecuadorians do; get amoebas from drinking the water.”

Before I came to Ecuador and before I saw pictures of Ecuador, I had many preconceived notions about the climate and geography. Timbara was the closest to my preconceived notions. I am glad that Timbara was the last location I visited because it reminded me that I had so many incredible experiences beforehand, before I came across my preconceived idea of what Ecuador was. My mental image of Ecuador may have been accurate, but it was far from the whole picture, literally and figuratively. 

Monday, July 25, 2016



Wrapping up the project

The project was a success, despite hitting a bump or two in the road. The deliverables evolved over time into smaller, more manageable works that can be fully realized within the next year, as Perú Champs is able to hire a full-time teacher. We were able to develop an examination process, to be accompanied by an English–leveling program, that will be catered to the individual needs of each High-Potential Champ. The Champs will be included in a pilot program for SAT/TOEFL preparation at the Fulbright center here in Lima next year, and take part in their ongoing leadership speaker series. We were able to determine what resources would be required from Perú Champs with respect to a full-time English teacher, as well as what could be expected from the Champs regarding their ability to learn English well enough to get into a University in the U.S. or Europe.

Our bumps along the way felt big at the time, but were much smaller in retrospect. They only required redirection and compromise. A client should never be thought of as over-bearing or too demanding; only that they want the world for those they work with and are in need of a trusty advisor, with the right set of skills to be leveraged, to work as a partner in achieving their goals. There was unfortunately a skills mismatch in our inability to build an English curriculum for Perú Champs, which was regrettable. I felt as though we let them down on this front, as we reoriented the deliverable in the direction they were trying to avoid: having to hire someone to teach the Champs full time, as opposed to finding a volunteer or locating a corporate partner that would be willing to cover the annual cost of a teacher.

Unexpectedly, we were able to put our heads together to create several solutions that will undoubtedly increase Perú Champs international exposure, particularly in the U.S. Their website has improved significantly since our discussions about its layout, and ground has been broken to make it more user-friendly. I evolved over the course of the 7 weeks into the official Perú Champs English Editor, which included a mountain of mini-tasks like rewriting much of the language for the website, proofreading emails to the Embassy and translating incoming English documents for the team. I have agreed to do similar work for the team going forward. Many in the office already speak English well and write even better, they just care a lot about their reception, and are always grateful for the 2 or 3 words I change in an email they are about to send out.

I only recently began spending a lot of time with the team outside of work, and wish that I had done so earlier. My Spanish improves the most when I am sitting with all of them, making endless mistakes. They laugh at me and I laugh at myself. Alberto, our boss, always goes out with us, and somehow ends up the butt of every joke. I asked him about this as he drove me home one night, and he said that it was important for a boss to humble himself to earn his employee’s loyalty. He never sees himself as above them, and goes out of his way to counterbalance the manager/subordinate relationship. He’s a transformational leader in the truest sense.

I only have one more day with the team. We will be giving the Champs the English-leveling exam early next week, and I have agreed to administer it. It will be only the 3rd time that I’ve met the Champs, but still I know they will leave their mark. The last two times provided the inspiration that I needed to continue through hard times with the project. I’m sure this last will be the most difficult though, because I’ll need to say goodbye to them. I’ll still have two more weeks to hang out with the Perú Champs team though and will make the most of it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

San Lucas Cheese Company (Or, As We Like to Call it, San Luqueso)

Blog 6: San Lucas Cheese Company (Or, As We Like to Call it, San Luqueso)
July 10th, 2016

Disclaimer: The following blog post contains cheese puns. Read at your own risk.
“Okay, so the first thing we need is directions.” Everyone broke out in laughter.
OKAY, SO. Queso. (Pun number one).

We presented to San Lucas Queso today. It was a Sunday filled with hiking, cheese, cows, and a healthy dose of sugar and cologne. Let’s start with our first time in San Lucas.
Forty-five minutes from Namarin, on the Pan American Highway, a small town by the name of San Lucas sits nestled in a beautiful valley. If I had closed my eyes for fifteen seconds in the bus, I would have missed the town completely. A river runs alongside the Highway andtiendas advertise for Pilsener Beer at nearly every corner. Occasionally, the smell of a panaderia or chancho asado wafts through the bus, but before I can turn to see the source, the bus has already whizzed past.
This is Week 5 and Team Oportunidad is now in southern Ecuador. Team Impacto worked with San Lucas Cheese during Week 2 and gave some consulting advice. The artisans of San Lucas Cheese acted on all of the recommendations given during the consulting session with Team Impacto, so my team was very excited to be working with such a gouda (ha!), receptive company.

When our bus stopped in front of the building, my team did not quite understand where we were supposed to look: an old, but well-maintained, building stood in front of us; beyond the building, a field of maize grew on a nearby hill; everywhere we looked, we were surrounded by beautiful green mountains, speckled with cows, and small, stone houses scattered few and far between; behind us, an old church, seemingly ready to collapse under the weight of itself, stood atop a very narrow and steep flight of stairs. This was surely San Lucas. Our appointment was scheduled, confirmed, and re-confirmed to be at 10:00 am. However, true to Ecuadorian time, the family did not show up until 11:30. After a round of welcomes, the most talkative member of the family, Lauro gave us updates: since TeamImpacto worked with them, approximately two weeks ago, the San Lucas Cheese Company had a community meeting where many of the contributing members decided to leave the Cheese Company. Their reasons for leaving were that the members were too old or were not personally invested in the company. After approximately forty members decided to separate, this family decided to take it upon themselves to continue working as the San Lucas Cheese Company.
During the course of our initial discussion session, Lauro mentioned that the family wanted San Lucas to become a tourist site. Then he mentioned it again. And again. And once more. He expanded: San Lucas was a unique area because the valley is beautiful, there are plenty of incredible hikes in the nearby area, Incan Ruins are only an hours walk away, and the San Lucas Cheese Company makes the best artisanal cheese in Ecuador. The San Lucas Cheese consulting crew received a lot of information that day, but for the sake of being (more) succinct, I will forgo the details that are irrelevant to the tourism consulting. The San Lucas cheese is unique because the family is (and the company has been) using a very traditional style of packaging: rather than plastic, they use toasted banana leaves and blackberry vines to preserve the flavor and prevent bugs and pests from contaminating the cheese. This method of packaging proves to be very effective, but is only seven cents more. The family wants to maintain this style of packaging because it adheres to the traditional process of cheese making in the region, a craft that began in 1911. The family owns a restaurant, “Parada de Abuela,” or, “Grandma’s Stop,” which is located on the Pan American Freeway. Travelers, journeying from Saraguro to Loja, are frequently on the road. From August 1st to September 15th, the restaurant is open full-time to accommodate the thousands of religious folks that take part in a walk to a certain church (sadly, we didn’t quite understand this part of the conversation).

The family was primarily intent on leveraging the popularity of the cheese to draw tourists (mainly foreigners) to their town. However, the San Lucas Cheese Company’s cheese is not popular at the moment because they are not present in many markets. Additionally, the cheese costs $2.09/lb to make. Competitors in the nearby area charge $2.00 and are actually losing money, but they don’t have the business knowledge to understand this (according to Lauro). Competitors believe they are making money, but they forget to take into account the transportation, packaging, and time costs associated with making cheese. As such, competitors are slowly losing money. But Lauro’s family cannot sell in San Lucas because their cheese is much more expensive, priced at $2.60. Lauro also hoped to have an online presence with stronger marketing.

After consolidating our notes, the consulting team concluded that the San Lucas Cheese Company needed help with three things. First, they had to introduce their cheese to new markets; San Lucas is not a big enough market and it is saturated with cheaper cheese. Additionally, customers do not care to buy higher quality cheese. With the exception of one sale, individuals simply wanted cheaper cheese. Second, the family knew the area very well and were excellent guides (we actually spent a day making cheese with them) so San Lucas Cheese Company could easily diversify and become somewhat of a tourism company. Finally, their presence on social media was non-existent.
During my free day, I, along with five other guys from the group, traveled to Loja to do some work and explore the city. In our time there, we were able to find more than a dozen panaderias that were interested in selling the San Lucas cheese at around $2.50. Sometiendas were even willing to sell the cheese for more, assuming that the family would allow them to sample first. One store asked to sell it on consignment. We compiled a list of all the stores, their addresses, contact information, and interests. With these fifteen bakeries, Lauro’s family would be able to start selling in the Loja market.
The growth of the company into the tourism sector was a little bit more of a problem for us. The family hoped to build living quarters, similar to a bed and breakfast, for tourists that planned on extended stays. During their stay, Lauro hoped, the tourists could learn how to make cheese from beginning to end; from milking the cow and carrying the buckets to adding the final spices to the various cheeses. During the time it takes for the cheese to settle and culture, the tourists could participate in horseback riding against the winding trails of San Lucas’ mountains. Lauro, his two brothers, and his dad, took us on a (very strenuous) hike (on foot) through the jungle near their house (more details on that in a later blog post). At the top of the hike, near a waterfall, the family performed an indigenous ritual of cleansing. All in all, it was a surreal experience: ten interns, Lauro Sr., and his three sons, dwarfed by the size and sound of a crashing waterfall only feet away. It was an insight to their residency but also their culture. The reverence and respect they had for Pachi Mamawas astoundingly clear.

At the end of the hike, upon return to the residency, my consulting group was tasked with giving critiques of the day along with our recommendations for growing the tourism arm of the company. When it came to the hike, the interns were vastly underprepared. We recommended that San Lucas find two or three trails of varying difficulty, that way the tourists could pick the trail based on intensity. Second, “Grandma’s Stop” was located on the Pan American Highway, a heavy-traffic area. They could use the restaurant to publicize their cheese by offering free samples or using the cheese to make dishes. Finally, the endeavor to make San Lucas a tourist destination is difficult for one (fairly) young company to strive for independently. Thus, we recommended that they partner with other businesses and artisans in the area to better structure their tourism industry. For example, maybe someone who lives near the Incan Ruins can lead hikers there while those with horses can organize horseback riding.

Lauro Jr. emphasized that San Lucas Cheese Company really wanted a presence on social media, so we made a Facebook page and featured some of professional-grade pictures of the establishment and cheese (shout out to Hyun for an incredible job with the pictures). My group went one step further. Trip Advisor is always looking for additional hot spots as tourism sites, so we began the process to establish San Lucas Cheese Company as a Trip Advisor recommended spot.
Sadly, my group was not able to try any of the finely aged cheese of San Lucas Cheese; at the time, they did not have any ready to sell or sample. Nevertheless, after a wonderfully enjoyably productive day, I rediscovered my passion for cheese. Kraft American Singles just don’t cut it. 


Saraguro

Blog 5: Saraguro
July 9th, 2016

We have just a few days left in Saraguro, but it seems that we have bonded with the Namarin community more than any of us expected. Namarin is a small pueblo, located up the hill from the town of Saraguro. In contrast to the indigenous people of the north, the men of Namarin and Saraguro have long, braided hair and sport black pants that show off their muscular calves. Man buns may be popular in the U.S., but the indigenous men of the south are the OG man buns. The hats here, for both men and women, are predominantly black (though I have seen some blue) and the women express their creativity through intricate beaded jewelry and bright shawls. My homestay mom here, Maria, has over 300 necklaces and bracelets in a glass case in the living room. As with all women in Saraguro, Maria makes beautiful beaded jewelry, a tradition that has been passed down for generations.

My home in Namarin is incredible. I was used to the cold, dry climate of Pulingui but Namarin is the complete opposite. At a lower altitude, Namarin is warm(er) and it has rained five of the seven days we have been here. The house is beautifully furnished with wood that Marcello, my homestay dad, collected, cut, smoothed, and varnished himself. In fact, everything in their house, from the bed frames to the mirror, to the dining room table, was made by Marcello. Every morning, I wake up to the sound of an electric saw, cutting its way through another dozen planks, and the smell of various kinds of wood.

The food I eat in Namarin is different than elsewhere, for several reasons. First off, my Namarin family is entirely vegan. Second, families grow, harvest, and store their own crops; it’s entirely natural! Finally, my family is a clash of cultures. Maria makes standard Ecuadorian food, but with a vegan twist. The food is healthy, fresh, and a beautiful combination of flavors. The “coffee” is actually café de cereales, a unique concoction of Maria’s making. It’s not really coffee. It tastes more like an earthy, dark tea with a strong aftertaste, but the consistency is that of milk. It is sweetened with panella, a type of sugar from sugar cane, and is usually served with a plate of bread. Café de cereales does not have any caffeine, but the flavor is uniquely strong so I end up feeling rather energized. Additionally, thesopas here are different than Pulingui and Cuenca. For one, the soups are all grain-based, have an alternative source of protein (lentils or beans), and come with moté. I like moté but it is bland if not mixed with anything else. Usually, we used moté as a staple, like rice, but my Namarin mother would give it to me as a snack.


A favorite pastime of Team Oportunidad (during our off time, of course) was buying mora popsicles and hiking to nearby waterfalls or streams and basking in the sun. At night, we would grab our sweaters and find a secluded field to watch the stars. Albuquerque has a great night sky, but Namarin’s was out of this world: The Milky Way spilled across the sky and the only “significant” light source was the occasional flash of a lightning bug. In an odd way, it made me nostalgic of the summer nights I read about in books. My week inNamarin reminded me, on several occasions, that the simplest moments can sometimes be the most memorable.