Hi everyone! I’m Sree Kancherla, a freshman sharing my thoughts as I embark on a journey of social entrepreneurship, microconsignment, and cultural immersion in Ecuador with the Social Entrepreneurship Corps.
Two weeks ago, I left Cuenca for the mountainous highlands of Pulingí, a northern village on the slopes of Mt. Chimborazo. I return back to Cuenca tomorrow having experienced a drastically different world. The six hour journey seemed one of not only distance, but also time; it felt as if I had been transported far into the past. Here was a place with dirty outhouses, little running water, and dirt floors, where Wi-fi, refrigeration, and hot showers were but memories of past luxuries. I stayed in a small (from a US point of view) house with the Pachecos, a large family that extended through much of the village. Through conversations and mealtimes gatherings, I gathered that there were over 70 members to the family!
On my first day in the village, in order to better understand rural life, I performed “chores” with my host family— which, in a principally agricultural setting, meant that I tended to the fields and the livestock. I woke at 6:30 in order to milk the cow and take the sheep herd to pasture before picking ava beans and quinoa for about four hours. It is a hard existence; I can recall many of my fellow interns complaining about sores and back-aches from bending down to pick crops that first day.
The first day’s work would serve as a backdrop to the rest of our time in Pulingi. While my team and I spent time in Riobamba (the nearest city) searching for cheaper, locally sourced bucket manufacturers, for example, I thought about how the $7 drop in the price of a water filter could drastically affect daily household finances. While consulting and performing a price analysis for a local women’s group looking to sell homemade shampoo, I kept in mind how substantially the increase in income could change the women’s lives. This work, I feel, is true grassroots social entrepreneurship; consciously taking on projects that, first and foremost, deliver great social impact.
During our time in Pulingí, my Social Entrepreneur Corps group performed three campañas: trips to nearby rural villages specifically to sell sustainable, beneficial equipment (eg water filters, solar flashlights, reading glasses for the old) at prices rural people could afford. A pair of reading glasses, for example, costs only $7: a far cry from the $15-20 (if I remember correctly) that people might pay for a similar pair in the US. During the trips, I specialized in publicizing the events and performing close-eye exams. I can still recall the first time I matched an elderly man with a correct pair of glasses; he was so overcome by regaining his sight that he gave me a hug and shook the hands of everyone in our vicinity.
I’ve also enjoyed my time off while here. In the past two weeks, I’ve watched a great deal of World Cup soccer (when Ecuador is playing, all other activity in the city seems to halt), watched sporadic parades for a local credit bank (seriously), and hiked about 1,000m of Mt. Chimborazo to see Balthazar, the last continuing mountain ice cutter (Sven from Frozen provides a good schema, but you should Google it). As one of the few interns to escape serious sickness, I’ve been able to explore a great deal of Riobamba while sampling plenty of local foods.
Looking back, my time here in Pulingí has been interesting, exciting, and thought-provoking; while I might not miss the severe cold (some nights have been South Bend flashbacks), I’ll certainly miss the people and experiences I’ve had.
Note: Due to the relative dearth of internet services (and the fact that the boy hovering behind me evidently and emphatically wants the computer I´m using) I´ll be posting my pictures in a further edit as soon as I get back to Cuenca.