Out on the Field in Timbara!

Hi, my name is Jenny Ng and I am currently in Ecuador on a two-week internship program in social entrepreneurship. Here is the link to my first post: https://sibcinternational.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/two-weeks-into-ecuador/

Our fieldwork officially started two weeks ago when our group split into two and my half headed south to Zamora. It became clear to me that things don’t often go as planned when our 6 hour bus ride turned into a 12 hour bus ride due to multiple landslides in the region.

While this is true regardless of where you are in the world, it is more apparent in developing countries where the infrastructure or technology is not as reliable. Over the past week, I learned that the key here is to be flexible. If your bus doesn’t show up on time, jump in the back of a pick-up taxi. If you don’t understand Spanish, smile and nod. (This last one doesn’t actually work.)

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After we finally arrived at Zamora on Monday night, I was introduced to my indigenous host-family members who have been wonderful to Emily and me for the past week. Our family lives in Timbara, a small village within the Amazon region and located 20 minutes from the city centre of Zamora. There are plenty of differences between life in Timbara and Cuenca:

1. First of all, the environment here is much more rural than in Cuenca. We have one Wi-Fi hotspot in the entire village, and I no longer need an alarm clock because I am woken up continuously from 4am onwards by the roosters beside my window. Similarly, the absence of hot showers has reduced my total shower time from 40 minutes to 40 seconds.

2. I have much bigger family here in Timbara than I do in Cuenca. In fact, after a week of living here, I still don’t have an exact number of how many people live in my house. (My guess is anywhere between 10 and 15 people.) I’m having a great time getting to know my host brothers and sisters, and we’ve spent plenty of nights laughing at my attempts to explain BS and Spits using broken Spanglish and excessive hand gestures.

3. I’ve noticed there are fewer social boundaries in comparison to Cuenca, and even more so in comparison to the United States. People are not at all hesitant to ask questions about income or how much something costs. This reminds me of the more rural regions I’ve visited in China, and it makes me wonder whether the relative absence of social restrictions allows for people to be more open about personal circumstances.

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4. While Cuenca evidently has a machismo culture from the mere fact that a girl can receive more catcalls during a 20 minute walk to Spanish school than most people have to endure in a lifetime, it seems to be even more of a serious issue in rural communities where some women are forced to stay at home and/or experience physical abuse. It is both uncomfortable and distressing to be made aware of the effects that barely scratch the surface of a much large social issue at hand. I hope that our work with female entrepreneurs will help to progress the way in which these communities view women and their capabilities beyond household duties.

Beyond the physical and cultural differences, our group is also doing a lot more hands-on work here in Zamora than in Cuenca. On Wednesday, we travelled to Nangaritza in preparation for our campaign there on Sunday, during which we will be accompanying our local entrepreneur, Euliria, to sell products to the community. Throughout the week, we have also been conducting a feasibility study of a new solar lamp that will potentially be added to the product line.

From our time travelling around town and to different locations, I’ve noticed that the absence of marketing is a huge barrier to success in many small businesses. For instance, a newly built hostel here in Timbara has virtually no marketing presence, and restaurants that are only a few metres away from a road intersection have no signs at all to capture the attention of potential customers. While the quality of a product of service is inarguably important, having a good product in itself is not going to bring you any customers. Not marketing is equivalent to crossing your fingers and hoping that someone will magically stumble across your product. Instead of leaving it all to chance, prioritising public awareness of your product/service is equally if not more important than having a good product/service. Fortunately, this barrier can easily be overcome with the right tools and access to information.

Here are a few more photos from this week:

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Thanks for reading!

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