Tuesday, July 12, 2016

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.

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