My First Two Weeks in Ecuador

Learning about Ecuadorian culture has not ceased to be interesting. During one of our Spanish classes, we read an article about an Ecuadorian cultural practice called “las limpias.” It is believed that children that get sick have “mal aire” or “mal ojos” or simply negative spirits that cause their illnesses; these sicknesses can be spread to others through eye contact and breathing. “Las limpias” is a process in which indigenous women cleanse children, adolescents, and even adults of the bad energies that make them sick. During this process, “las curanderas” (the indigenous women) beat the ill person with an array of herbs and plants that they believe can cure while repeating prayers in their native language, Quichua. They rub the herbs together and have the sick person inhale the scents. They then take an egg (still in it’s shell–we were all confused at first) and rub it on the person’s face, stomach, and arms with the thought that the egg will absorb the sickness and the person will be cleaned. Some curanderas take a sip of a water and herb mixture and spit it on the head and body of the sick person (not my curandera, though). At the end of the process, “las curanderas” use ashes to make a cross on the forehead of the person that was cleansed. It is required that these women have strong spirits so that they don’t get sick while curing others. The four Spanish classes took a trip to the market Diez de Agosto and participated in “las limpias.” While we were receiving “las limpias,” other Ecuadorians brought their children and infants to be cleansed as well. Every Tuesday and Friday “las curanderas” are present to perform “las limpias” on anyone that comes.


Me receiving “las limpias”

On Saturday, our group took a trip two hours from Cuenca up in the mountains to a town called Principal. Here, we met with artisans that weave Panama hats, baskets, placemats, coasters, boxes, and other goods out of straw. Everything is handmade– they even dye the straw themselves in a two-day process. The women explained that the art of weaving is slowly fading out of their town as their children attend school and don’t weave with their parents; they were taught how to weave simple hats but don’t know how to do the more complex products and difficult patterns. After talking with the artisan women, we walked from the town to Lolita’s (an artisan) house to eat lunch. In Ecuador, “cuy” or guinea pig is a delicacy. There were three women cooking cuyes and choclo (a type of corn) for our group. We talked to them about their work, watched them cook, and even got to try a little bit of cuy from the best part — the head — before sitting down to eat. After leaving lunch and heading back to town to get on our bus back to Cuenca, we stopped at a jam making factory. This factory made all different flavors, including Siglalón, a fruit that only grows in the Andes whose jam is specifically from this factory. The owner explained the entire jam-making process (using real fruit) and explained that many times they have to travel all over the mountainside to find certain fruits that are constantly in shortage. Despite the fact that the jams are riquísimas, he explained that there isn’t really a market for their jams and only people that know about the factory or are passing by purchase their products.


Julianna and me in Principal

On Sunday, I took a bounding leap outside of my comfort zone and went on a hike in Parque Nacional Cajas. I’m sure you can guess, my clumsiness was at its peak with a whopping 16 trips/slips/falls up and down the mountainside; the falls were well worth the incredible experience. During our hike, we reached an altitude of almost 14,000 feet. Being up there makes one think about what is an isn’t important in the grand scheme of life. This trip, while obviously physically demanding, also demanded a lot of emotional attention as we passed run-down buildings that were the roots of businesses that could never get started and garbage thrown around, mostly by Ecuadorians, as they have begun to lose value for the land that was the center of their ancestors’ culture and livelihood. Our guides, Sky and Axil, were unbelievable people. Canadians by passport, they had traveled all over the world. They told us stories of biking trips across the entire continent of Australia, adventures in Argentina, and finally their 10 years in Ecuador as hikers and tour guides; they had hiked Cajas over 400 times. Their stories were incredible and sustain my desire to experience the world with an open mind.

During morning sessions, the interns receive training for their work in the field. At the core of all of our work are the principles of social entrepreneurship — an interesting and change-provoking concept. It seeks to look at entrepreneurship with a different end goal in mind. Rather than focus on increased profitability or shareholder value as a measure of success, social entrepreneurs look to social impact as a success indicator. This social impact is based upon unchanging core values that are used to guide all of the decisions and actions of the entrepreneur. As a social entrepreneur, we learned the importance of recognizing not only the positive effects your work can have, but also the often unnoticed negative impacts. Sometimes entrepreneurs think that they are doing development work that is bettering the community, when there can be negative consequences that he/she does not see. For example, you could create a system of developing roads to make travel to large cities more feasible for rural families, but in doing this you could be destroying natural landforms, creating pollution, and even putting locals out of business. The idea is that sometimes good ideas and plans can have bad consequences that can harm communities and families.


 Two 0f 250 lakes in El Cajas

Inherent in social entrepreneurship is failure. It is about failure, which pushes you outside your comfort zone. It is important to recognize and be accountable for things that you can personally improve. Most importantly, innovation is about limitation– the path to social change is not a simple walk. There will be challenges and obstructions along the way. The important thing to remember is that these challenges and difficulties present an opportunity for innovation rather than abandonment; it is important to respond to struggles and limitations as opportunities within failure. Failure is often a result of the absence of a globalized and understanding mindset. Rather than understand the real needs of a community, it is often much simpler to impose our perception of need upon this community. We might think that computer training is a necessity to be successful, yet these Ecuadorians may not agree. Rather than make assumptions about their feelings, it is an entrepreneur’s responsibility to empathize with and pay attention to the perceived needs of the Ecuadorians. Failure is also often a result of a lack of incentives– humans are selfishly motivated whether they admit it or not. The idea of incentives taps into this motivation, demonstrating that humans are more likely to do something or buy a product that will benefit them or their families. If incentives aren’t properly aligned with the real needs and desires of people, the entrepreneur will fail.

By and large, the biggest obstacle to breaking the cycle of poverty is access. Access, however, is more than availability. In small towns in Ecuador, the MicorLending and MicroFranchise Models are unsuccessful in providing for the needs of the community. The end goal is a situation in which there are stable businesses that provide for the needs of the community. The MicroLending Model fails to do this because often there are no existing businesses that needs loans to improve sales. The MicroFranchise Model is also unsuccessful because many entrepreneurs are not willing to finance the development of their business with debt. However,  the MicroConsignment Model understands and addresses the needs of the community through empowering people to overcome aversion to risk and start something new. Rather than take on an economic burden as in the other two models, MicroConsignment allows for “asesoras comunitarias,” or female entrepreneurs, to sell products and receive part of the proceeds without fearing the economic downfall of failure because they do not take on the cost of the products. Products like water purifiers, solar lights and panels, and glasses are all sold by the asesoras after they have gone through intensive training with Soluciones Comunitarias. These women are given the chance to provide for their families and offer their children opportunities to better their community in the future. It encourages women to take a healthy risk and sacrifice their time in order to earn extra income without fear. In certain situations, the MicroLending and MicroFranchise Models work perfectly in developing communities and breaking the cycle of poverty. However, in rural Ecuador there was a gap in meeting the needs of families, which was filled by the implementation of the MicroConsignment Model.


 Our group after “las limpias”

This week, we went through field training on campaign administration (running the sales with the asesoras comunitarias). This included training on giving eye exams, presenting information on the solar flashlights, panels, water filtration systems, energy efficient light bulbs, and seeds. These products are all sold to meet the perceived needs of rural Ecuadorian communities, as they may not have electricity or clean water. The energy efficient light bulbs stemmed from a government campaign in 2008 during which energy efficient light bulbs were administered to all of Ecuador as well as laws that decrease energy bills if a family takes measures to conserve energy consumption. In addition, many of these families only have small plots of land for personal gardens, and seeds are often only sold by the pound. The campaigns sell seeds by the 1/4 ounce so that families are receiving the right amount of seeds for the size of their land, aren’t wasting money on seeds that spoil, and can serve more nutritious meals beyond the typical starch or carbohydrate. During the next six weeks, the interns will split into two groups of 10 and travel separately to Zamora and Riobamba to work on given assignments. I will be travelling to Zamora on Monday with 9 other interns, four of which will work on the same project as me. We are all assigned Virtual NGOs (VNGO) with a given name; there are four VNGOs, each with five interns assigned to the project. Impacto, my VNGO, will work on establishing tienditas comunitarias (stores) that will be a consistent vendor of the products that are sold at the campaigns; they often only occur 6 times a year in the busiest locations– even less in the remote towns– leaving many families waiting for access to the products they need. I am so excited to begin my field work and put all that I’ve learned to the test!


By: Emily Campbell



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