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. 


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.

Fundacion Hogar and the Ridiculously Frustrating Time When I was the Least Experienced Spanish Speaker in the Room

Blog 4: Fundacion Hogar and the Ridiculously Frustrating Time When I was the Least Experienced Spanish Speaker in the Room

Why did the XM radio go to the hospital?
Because it was Sirius-ly injured.

We were told our next client would be a radio station. Imagine our confusion when we walked into a low-income hospital, but that is exactly where Radio Familia 96.9 is located. Fundacion Hogar is a trifecta organization consisting of a hospital, church, and radio station. The Verbos Church raises funds for the hospital and the radio station through soliciting donations and pledges. In turn, the hospital has an open-door policy, accepting everyone regardless of their financial situation or citizenry status. Medical procedures that typically cost $120 - $300 are administered at the fractional cost of $9. If the patient is not able to pay $9, the hospital is willing to accept any amount. This also includes repeat visitors, such as when checkups and reevaluations are necessary. On several occasions, the hospital treats patients entirely free of charge. One individual comes to the hospital once a month, and has been for over two years, and pays $2 each visit.

Radio Familia 96.9 is a Christian-based radio station that offers preventative treatment over FM, the only such radio channel in Ecuador. As the 8th most popular radio station in Cuenca, listeners call in with questions regarding health and hygiene to have them answered by medical professionals. Currently, Radio Familia 96.9 has 8,000 regular listeners with an average of 19,000 listeners per month. The Verbos Church is the only source of funds for the radio station. In the past, the church has raised funds for the radio station through “Time to Give,” a campaign to enlist churchgoers to pledge $1-5 per month. Unfortunately, Radio Familia has not raised funds on their own because they are not allowed to sell ads or commercials over the radio, out of fear of compromising their Christian values. Radio Familia can receive donations through individuals, whether it is domestically or internationally. The Ecuadorian government currently does not provide funding for Radio Familia because the government has more pressing concerns (understandably…the 2016 earthquake in Ecuador destroyed parts of the coast). Additionally, if one radio station in Cuenca solicits subsidies or funds from the Ecuadorian government, then government must also fund other similar radio stations. As such, at this time, Radio Familia does not believe that government support is feasible.
Annually, Radio Familia has costs of $60,000. Though we asked several times (in several different ways and languages), it was not clear where this $60,000 went; all of the equipment, such as the mics, soundboard, mufflers, and more, were donated by Peace Corps volunteers or USAID and the station employed five people. In 2015, Radio Familia spent $60,000 but was approximately $11,000 in debt (they received $49,000 from the church and related funds). For the future, Radio Familia hopes to build a fully equipped radio station in a church (Verbos Church) so that they can have complete autonomy over the material they broadcast and access to priests, sound technicians, and specialized talkshow hosts. Pablo estimates that this project would cost $300,000 in total.
Fundacion Hogar asked for help with fundraising. First off, how can they raise $11,000 to clear themselves of the 2015 debt? And second, how can they consistently raise $60,000 per year to sustain their operation costs? Finally, how can they move into a church of their own?

Pablo, the “chief” of Radio Familia, met with us twice to try and answer all of the questions we had. His teeth are as shiny as his bald head and his positivity is contagious. He is receptive to any of the concerns or feedback that he receives on the spot and is always offering himself as a resource for the interns. After leaving Fundacion Hogar for the second time, we (the interns) agreed that working with Pablo is incredible because it is clear that he is passionate about Fundacion Hogar and Radio Familia. We walked away intent on providing them with as much help as possible.

Our methods of tackling this are still in development as we speak. Josh, a soccer player from UConn with a love for international development, and I decided spearhead this initiative. We met together earlier to consolidate our ideas; we intend on presenting a strategic framework of sustainability for Fundacion Hogar. The rest of the team decided to hone in on one of the short term recommendations so that Pablo actually had a tangible plan of action that he could implement as soon as possible. (Later, we decided to make Fundacion Hogar a Priority Two project, one that we worked on throughout our time in Saraguro).

The basic outline for Fundacion Hogar is as follows. Short term solutions for Fundacion Hogar and Radio Familia are centered on raising funds as quickly as possible to eliminate their $11,000 debt from 2015. As such, the team decided to create a 5k run (which are apparently very popular among those in Cuenca, especially expats) and a GoFundMe page. Similar pages exist in Ecuador (Pablo’s assistant mentioned something called “Hay A King?”) but Fundacion Hogar has never tried using such resources. After talking to some Cuenca locals, I found out that many expats in the region try to find worthy causes to donate their time and money. GoFundMe has a large viewership and Fundacion Hogar would benefit, regardless of the amount of money raised.

Medium term recommendations were about creating partnerships in Cuenca. Cuenca is known for having an abundance of churches of various religions and denominations. Many of the churches in Cuenca have such a strong attendance that they are able to donate to several charities each year and still have an excess of funds. We recommend that Fundacion Hogar and, more specifically, Radio Familia  partner with other churches for events, such as “Time to Make a Difference,” so that church attendees are made aware of Radio Familia, their message, and their need for funds. If a member of their staff can dedicate their time to establishing such relationships with churches, fitness clubs, and philanthropic foundations, Radio Familia will have an abundance of events and individuals rally to their cause.

Long term ideas for Radio Familia were focused on two legs. First, Fundacion Hogar had to expand their network of reach. As of now, Radio Familia only receives donations from The Verbos Church, but Pablo, and the staff of the station, know several churches internationally that would be able to provide much larger sums of money for initiatives that are similar to Fundacion Hogar. One such way of expanding their reach is by creating a network of hospitals that operate similarly to Fundacion Hogar. That way, international campaigns and philanthropic initiatives can see that the hypothetical network is established, legitimate, and serves a large number of people. This incentivizes those large donors to consider Fundacion Hogar as a legitimate contender for those funds. Second, Radio Familia needs to appeal to the Ecuadorian government for funding. Many of the hospitals in Ecuador accept everyone and the Ecuadorian government ends up paying a lot for those individuals unable to pay for the medical procedures. Radio Familia provides a public service by offering preventative health care, for free, to listeners in Cuenca. If Radio Familia was able to quantify the approximate amount of money that they are saving the Ecuadorian government through their radio service, then the government is more likely to support the radio station (given, of course that the amount saved is more than the amount spent to support Radio Familia; otherwise, this would not be in the best interest of the government). Pablo mentioned that he could provide an approximate figure, but he would need a few more months of data to accurately make a claim.

We will be presenting to Pablo, Fundacion Hogar, the employees of Radio Familia, and some church members in our final week in Cuenca. I sincerely hope that these ideas will help them move forward to continuing their incredible work.

In the title, I mention (rather subtly, if you couldn’t tell) that speaking with Fundacion Hogar and Radio Familia was frustrating. My Spanish is nowhere near perfect, but I am usually able to understand most of the conversation that takes place around me. This time however, the technical words used went completely over my head. I obviously could not do my best job as a problem-solver if I could not accurately understand the issue. I felt that I was committing a disservice to myself and Pablo. After several minutes, I finally spoke up, asked for translations, and had a better gauge of the conversation. Was this the first time this happened? Absolutely not. Will it be the last? I hope not. If I am in a room where I do not understand the conversation, be it due to linguistic differences or thinking differences, that means I am in a very uncomfortable situation; I do not have mastery over the subject material and thus have a lot to learn. I am okay with that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ahuana Jam Factory: A “Sticky” Situation

Blog 3: Ahuana Jam Factory: A “Sticky” Situation
June 14th, 2016

There is a phrase in Hindi that roughly translates to “gold is found in dirt.” Mitti me sona haiis the most concise way that I can describe the Quilla Pacari Ahuana Jam Factory. In the small town of Santa Fe, forty-five minutes from Pulingui on a stretch of treacherously uneven road, a bright yellow building with adorable white window panes and a large, iron-wrought gate stands in contrast against the cement houses in the community.

The women of the jam factory, we were told, sought our advice as to how to best expand their product to larger cities and markets around the country. I was joined by five others: Daniel, our SEC Regional Coordinator for Northern Ecuador; Tosi, a volleyball player from UConn who had a keen eye for fashion and visual appeal; Bobo, a Romanian student with extensive travel experience; Serena, an avid reader from Florida; Carly, an incredibly fast hiker from Long Island who enjoys taking pictures of laughing sheep (seriously, it was a little weird); and Daniel “Vivas,” a fluent Spanish speaker from Costa Rica.

At first glance, the six of us were simply at a large house. But inside the tall, iron-wrought gates and through the large metal door, a large, cold factory stood still.

The factory was operated by five women, ranging from the age of fifteen to fifty. Though all of them were indigenous, only two wore the traditional “Chimborazo hat” and colorful throw. The other women wore jeans, hoodies, and tennis shoes. Our work began with the women explaining their organization: their jam (actually marmalade, but they called it jam) is carrot-based and they have three flavors, maracuya, guayaba, and mora. They have been in business for about two decades and currently sell their jam exclusively in Santa Fe; in order to sell in markets beyond their own community, they require a minimum of three licenses (one for each product). The jam factory shares the building with bed-and-breakfast style accommodations and French tourists are common because the jam factory has a relationship with a French company (but the women did not know anything about this relationship). They hope to become an internationally renowned jam factory, with sales in the U.S. and England. In the next year, they told us, they would like to expand their operations into milk, cheese, and yogurt production.
The jam is sold in 250 mL jars and 500 mL jars, priced at $1.50 and $2.50 respectively. When asked, the women estimated a profit of $0.50 for each jar sold, regardless of size.  They are prohibited from selling in super markets or tiendas because they lack a sanitation license. Nine years ago, Ahuana had a sanitation license, but sales in the single tienda were not successful and they did not expand beyond. Now, the jams are refined and the women believe they will fare well in the market place but they still must purchase the license. The license costs $1000 for each product for ten years. The factory, and the women, have been operationally inactive for the last six months because of a surplus and lack of demand. In regards to inventory, they had “thirty small jars.”

Immediately, we realized that Ahuana did not in fact understand their business model; on several occasions, they gave different answers for the same question. On the shelves, there were more than 150 small jars and nearly forty large jars. The group did not know their input costs (the small jars were either twenty, forty, or sixty-five cents), how much they had in stock, or targeted locations and markets. There was no work schedule or weekly production goals; the women worked whenever they pleased.

The first goal: expectations management. Before they can expand to dairy, Ahuana had to focus on improving their business practices.

Our recommendations stood on three legs: better accounting practices, ideas for short-term fundraising, and publicity or marketing opportunities.

To lower costs, Ahuana needed to first understand what their production and operation costs were. The cost for producing their jams, we were told, was $1.00 for the small jams and $2.00 for the larger jams. After some discussion, the women confessed that they actually did not their costs. Immediately, we recommended that they sit down and jot down each of the costs of producing jam. When we compared products of comparable quality, we found that Ahuana could increase the cost of their jam. Rather than selling their 250 mL jar for $1.50, they could safely raise the price to $3.00 and probably even more. Majority of the visitors to Santa Fe are French tourists and comparable products in France sell for $4.25 to $7.00. However, comparable products in Ecuador are priced at around $3.20 - $3.80. We figured that $3.00 would be very feasible for French tourists, but also for locals; we did not want to prevent locals from participating as Ahuana customers.

Fundraising is difficult for Ahuana because they do not have the capacity to ship their products yet. All of our fundraising efforts were then centered around raising funds through the tourism center in Santa Fe. We explained the importance of having a story for their products and how tourists buy products for their story. We then created a “donation letter,” explaining the story behind the women of Quilla Pacari and the town of Santa Fe. Additionally, we recommended that Ahuana partner with the tourism center (where Quilla Pacari already works) and offer tours of the jam factory, to further the relationship and story of the artisans.
In regards to marketing, publicity beyond the community would not be feasible because Ahuana did not have a license to actually sell their jam in supermarkets. Additionally, the jam was not popular among locals. However, Pulingui and nearby pueblos were hotspots for tourists, many of whom would be interested in jam tours and artisanal jam. As a small, up-and-coming company, Ahuana needs to leverage the relationships of nearby communities. Furthermore, the Ecuadorian government has recently invested in many national campaigns to explain the significance of buying domestically. Campaigns such as “Primero Ecuador” encourage Ecuadorians and tourists to purchase products that are made by indigenous women, artisans, and Ecuadorians. To qualify for such certifications, Ahuana first had to purchase the sanitation and sales licenses, so certifications would be long term focuses.

We presented our findings to the “Board of Directors” for the community. Some were receptive but some were not. Most notably, two of the older women nodded off in the first thirty seconds of the presentation. On the other hand, we knew for sure that the infant was awake the whole time, as his shrieks could be heard through the factory. At the end of the day, we were consulting for Ahuana. The women were not obligated to follow our advice. But, we were glad to hear that they increased their prices right before we came by to purchase the incredible jams. Maybe we should have bought the jam before the presentation? 


Blog 2: Pulingui
It is the end of Week 3 and SEC Team Oportunidad has adjusted to the challenging Pulingui environment. It has been a steady ten degrees Celsius (about fifty degrees Fahrenheit) for this entire week. Though this is not considered cold by most, especially the UConn students, there is no escape from the weather; it is just as cold inside as it is outside. With the wind chill and high altitude, the interns tend to stay inside.

Our plans for our time here included consulting for a local jam factory, consulting for a social enterprise in Riobamba, hiking Mount Chimborazo, and lots of project time. By far the highlight of the week was hiking Chimborazo, the volcano that overlooks Pulingui. At more than 20,000 feet, “Tite Chimborazo” stands as a fatherly figure in the local indigenous cultures. Our hiking guides included an “Ice Man,” an individual who hikes to the ice level of Chimborazo to mine ice and transport it to the regional city of Riobamba. Twenty years ago, the Ice Men would hike Chimborazo daily (sometimes twice in one day) to bring ice to nearby cities and pueblos. Icemakers and refrigerators largely put the Ice Men out of business, but a few serve as tour guides. I wore two shirts, two sweaters, a jacket, two gloves, and carried a backpack full of snacks and toilet paper. I have hiked mountains before (thank goodness for the Sandias) but Chimborazo was a physical challenge unparalleled to anything I have experienced before. The altitude forced us to take a short break after every ten to fifteen steps. After several strenuous hours, we made to the “ice zone.” It was only after we made it to the top when I realized that our guide was not wearing gloves (he had some, but did not like to wear them because “they were too hot”). I might have taken pictures if there was a view (and if I could move my fingers), but the clouds enveloped us closely and our view was limited to the twenty feet around us. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “cloud nine.”

Pulingui does not have wifi. This cultural shock prompted the interns to find other ways to stay busy. In all honesty, not having wifi was very relaxing; I took hikes, helped the family with moving their livestock (the cow is difficult), and worked with others on community projects. Early one morning, I joined the rest of the village to participate in a minga, or a community project, to "repave" the lone road in the pueblo. "Paving" the road meant cleaning up the trash in the street, dumping fresh dirt over the road, and smoothing it out with shovels. I'm still not sure if what we did was actually helpful, but the giggling women insisted it was. A few days later, another minga included removing a fence that was in thick shrubbery; this fence was older than some of the younger mothers in the village. Removing this fence meant cutting down vines with machetes and cutting down trees with large axes. The interns were caught off guard when the older Pulingui women began swinging the axes to cut down trees. After only a few minutes of helping, Daniel, our regional coordinator, pulled his back and later went to the hospital. I'm not sure how the small Pulingui women are so tough and strong, but I was thoroughly humbled. My house mom, Paulita, insists that it's the soup and Pulingui dirt that creates such strong women. 

When it comes to housing, I unknowingly had twenty-six roommates. Twenty-five of them were slugs that ranged from two to three inches long, slowly moving underneath the floorboards of our house. We only found the slugs three days before we left Pulingui. Like many “traumatic” events in our lives, I found the inspiration to write a poem:
Roses are red,
violets are blue,
bed bugs are not fun,
slugs suck too.

But in all reality, slugs are decent roommates. Definitely better than some of the roommates I know *coughcoughMenachemcoughcough*

Typical Pulingui food includes a hearty soup of choclo, papas, and an herb. Paulita used a healthy amount of herbs (I picked some of them) in all of her food and I became a quick fan. The rest of the meal varies, depending on time of day and weather. One morning, Menachem and I had a large plate of french fries, drizzled with ketchup. Paulita was looking on eagerly, hoping that she we enjoyed the meal. I finished my plate, though I didn't feel well afterwards. How could I say no to Paulita?

Tomorrow morning, I’m tasked with walking the cow up to the nearby hill, but the cow does not like me. Updates later.

Ecuador, Cuenca, Host Family, and SEC

Blog 1: Ecuador, Cuenca, Host Family, and SEC
June 6th, 2016

Ciao from Ecuador! I arrived in Ecuador a day later than anticipated, due to inclement weather in the U.S. Regardless, my arrival has been nothing short of bright smiles and warm hugs. Ecuadorians are eager to extend a warm helping hand (literally! A large cart of luggage tipped over in the Guayaquil airport and several men and women, donning bright clothes, helped restack the luggage). I arrived in Guayaquil, joined the other interns, and headed to Cuenca via bus. In seven hours, we journeyed through seemingly every climate: the fresh, salty air of La Costa, the chilly and barren Andean highlands (La Sierra), and the hot and muggy El Oriente. Before long, we made our first steps in Cuenca, Ecuador. Cuenca has one of the world’s largest expat populations and is a beautiful clash of “old meets new.” As a UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than eighty churches (of various religions and denominations) and a large indigenous population, Cuenca proudly shows off her rich cultural history. At the same time, the night life, sports events, and technological innovations and research offer insight to the duality of Cuenca. The city caters to all ages and boasts a strong tourism industry. I have no doubt that exploring Cuenca will be rewarding.

To many, Ecuador is a successful example of how to advance a country, while still valuing and maintaining the traditional history. Many others believe the exact opposite. This is simply one example of how deeply divided Ecuadorian politics can be. The Correa Administration is a controversial topic of discussion in regards to development and indigenous rights. However, I hope to find out more during my stay.

The first few days of SEC largely consisted of going over the organization, the projects, and meeting the other interns. We began with a rundown as to the various partnerships between SEC and local Ecuadorian groups. Social Entrepreneur Corps is the American-based company through which interns applied to the program. SEC funds the operations for CES and provides support to the various programs within each SEC country. Community Empowerment Solutions (CES) is also an American-based company, but Ecuadorian staff (Justina, Daniel, and Rebecca) work under this organization. Soluciones Comunitarias (SolCom) is the company under which the asesoras work. As of now, there are a total of ten ACs in the country of Ecuador. In stark contrast, the country of Guatemala has more than eighty ACs. In regards to interns, there are twenty-four of us ranging from the age of nineteen to twenty-seven, hailing from several different universities around the U.S. Some universities sent multiple students, like Notre Dame, UConn, UMaryland, and Vanderbilt. Most of the interns have a background in management, finance, or economics, but there are a few who study the liberal arts and education. After only a few days in the program, it became increasingly apparent that our program had some very capable, intelligent, and hard-working students with strong personalities. The staff did not hesitate to point this out on many occasions, but included their hope that it would mean better ideas throughout the duration of the program.

I am excited to live with my Cuenca host family. Margherita, the house mom, stands just over five feet tall but her bubbly personality is larger than life. She runs a hair salon in the living room of her house and I wake up every morning hearing the laughter of her customers as she talks about the latest hilarity of her life. Margherita’s cooking is incredible and never fails to impress. She offers a meal to all of her salon customers and establishes a close, personal relationship. Pedro is Margherita’s son and is half of the reggaeton band “IRMAO.” An incredible singer, I can hear Pedro humming at night while he creates and styles clothes for his clothing line (also called IRMAO). He wears his own clothing when performing at different concerts and fiestas. Jaisser is Pedro’s friend and the other half of IRMAO. Born in the Galapagos, Jaisser loves his country and hopes to return there to raise a family. He is also an incredible singer and stays up to date with the mainstream music of the U.S. On the fourth day in Ecuador, Jaisser showed us that IRMAO was number one in Venezuela (according to a Venezuelan Radio twitter account). Menachem is my SEC host brother and he will be my roommate for the next two months (we are vegetarian/vegan and it is simpler to room together for the entire program). Menachem (or Menchie) is twenty-one and is the most entrepreneurial of the interns, constantly thinking of new business ideas and needs of a community. He is a charismatic leader who can rally a group with ease.

In regards to my work here in Ecuador, my primary project is to establish a method of measuring the empowerment of acesoras, the men and women who work in Soluciones Comunitarias to sell their products (like water filters, glasses, lightbulbs, etc). Soluciones Comunitarias and CES hope to empower every individual who participates in their organization, but do not have any sort of empowerment metrics in place at the time. My P1 group (priority one) has been tasked to establish these metrics. My group and I recognize the difficulty of this project because we are working to create an entirely new method, rather than simply improving upon SEC’s/CES’ current operations. I look forward to the challenge.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Working as a consultant calls for the need to compromise with your client. Such a situation needs a cautious approach as a consultant, remembering that the client’s organization is their baby. They are spending day and night, working toward its success, and a new face with different, possibly opposing ideas, may come off as aggressive, insensitive, naïve or even rude. Tension can arise, as it did briefly with us. Emotions can run high, perhaps way too high, because criticisms are taken personal. A more experienced consultant told me to try to see it as an exercise in client-relations. This proved helpful and allowed us to take some forward steps with Perú Champs.

Perú Champs has three objectives for Renée and I:

1.     Find Universities in the U.S. and Europe that offer full scholarships to kids from marginalized backgrounds. The specific Champs we are working with, the ‘High-Potential Champs’, who are essentially the top 1% of all Champs, easily have the wits to get into a top University in the U.S.. Where they are not proficient is in English. Perú Champs wanted Renée and I to build a curriculum for SAT and TOEFL prep for these Champs, but we knew that that wasn’t gonna cut it. A baseline English assessment is where to start, and to do that correctly, we’ll need a teacher who’s familiar with these sorts of things. We found free practice tests online for each exam, but will only be able to guesstimate the scores of the Champs after they test. Perú Champs is especially short on cash, and needs us to find an instructor for free.

2.     Our second objective is to build a Summer school English bootcamp for the Champs that are not old enough for SAT or TOEFL prep. This bootcamp will help prepare them for these exams, but again, we cannot get around the need for a teacher familiar with testing prep to help us design a curriculum. Renée and I are hardly qualified to assess these student’s English abilities with respect to their age, place them in classes and write curricula for each class.

For these two options, the best Renée and I can do is search high and low for a free instructor, which lead us to the Peace Corps. Peace Corps is heavy on English instruction and are known to take on secondary projects, free of charge. Outside of this lonely option, Renée and I have begun to look into what it would actually cost Perú Champs to hire an instructor for the amount of time required to achieve their goals.

3.     The final goal of the Summer, considered our ‘extra credit’ objective, is to develop a financial sustainability plan for Perú Champs. Outside of our near inability to find a free English instructor for the Champs, this was the source of tension between Renée and I and the organization. Renée and I both agreed that our inability to use some funds to hire an English teacher for the Champs was paralyzing.  We didn’t want Perú Champs to spend money they didn’t have, rather, we wanted the ‘extra credit objective’ to become our primary objective. In other words, outside hearing positive news from the Peace Corps, if Renée and I accepted defeat regarding a free instructor and instead put all of our efforts toward a sustainability plan, maybe Emzingo Fellows down the road would then have some money to spend on a teacher for the English programs. This notion did not go over well with Perú Champs.

They commented on Renée and I spending too much effort on a fundraising campaign, then the following week, gave us a stern warning on the same. Throw the language barrier into the mix, and it became contentious. I cut Renée off mid-sentence last Tuesday, just before a shouting-match erupted, and ended our meeting with Perú Champs early. Was this an impasse? Were Renée and I just hard-headed and not trying hard enough to find an English instructor? Possibly. Were we wrong in our assertion that a free English instructor for a program of this magnitude was a long shot and that any additional focus therein would not be time well spent on our part? Possibly not.

We went into our following meeting three days later ready to listen, but also ready to defend our points. If I could sum up our approach quickly it would go something like “ We will look for a free instructor for these programs until the day we leave, but it would be unwise for us to not develop contingency plans. Our leads have almost dried up for instructors, so a plan for financial sustainability, eventually leading to an instructor being hired by Perú Champs down the road, is the most practical solution we can provide as well as the most sincere solution we feel we can stand behind.” Perú Champs was actually very receptive. We explained our ideas for sustainability in detail, agreed to meet with English instructors ASAP to design curricula and to never stop looking for a free instructor. Perú Champs invited us out to lunch this weekend and dinner and dancing next Thursday.

An enormous weight off my chest, to say the least. Renée and I still only get along because I force a relationship on her. She will definitely be worth her own blog post. I’ll save her for last though. Maybe I’ll just save her for a week when I can’t think of an appropriate subject to write about.