In the beginning of July, my travel group (ten interns) went to the Zamora region to do field work. The journey to Zamora took 12 hours, instead of six, because there were landslides on the only paved road that connected Cuenca to Zamora. We stayed in a town called Timbara, which was a 15-minute bus ride from the city of Zamora. Similar to Cuenca, all of the interns were placed in homestay families for the two weeks. I stayed with Dona Panchita, an Asesora Comunitaria who works with Community Enterprise Solutions and Social Entrepreneur Corps. She was a mother of seven children and a grandmother to others, all living under her roof. Her daughter Diayna had a four year old daughter, Nidia, that loved pretending she was ice skating on the kitchen floor since that was the closest she would get to an ice rink in the Oriente (rainforest region). My host mom, also known as Maria, owned a Tienda located in the front of the first floor of the house. She sold drinks, snacks, her own chickens, and other household goods that her local barrio would need. Her older daughters often helped her manage the store when she was busy cooking or taking care of the house. She explained to me that because education is so expensive, their family could not afford to send all of their children to the University, so only some of her children were studying in Zamora while others worked at home.
Timbara was a town of about 800 people that were close knit and community-focused. The Zamora region is famous for its waterfalls, which the people of Timbara loved to talk about and show us. Don Manuel, one of the host dads, took us on a trek through several rivers in the mountains to show us one of the many waterfalls in Zamora. The city of Zamora was small and had a few restaurants—we mainly visited Zamora to go to either the market to buy bananas or the Bolivian restaurant to get empanadas and batidos (milkshakes).
Tilapia and un plato tipico.
Part of the Social Entrepreneur Corps work is Publicidad and Campañas. The travel group is split into two smaller project teams, and each is assigned a certain city in which they will work for the week. The work begins on Tuesday or Wednesday when the project team requests permission from the government to hold a campaign (campaña) in the town that weekend. When the government gives the group permission, they begin to fill out afiches (posters) and volantes (flyers) to hand out to the community. This work is done with the Asesora Comunitaria, a woman that works for Soluciones Comunitarias (Community Enterprise Solutions) to sell CES’s products at campaigns and gain extra income. During the publicidad, the project team splits up and walks around the city, approaching pedestrians and talking to store owners, explaining Soluciones Comunitarias and the campaign and handing out afiches and volantes. The AC works with the interns during Publicidad. After the Publicidad is finished in the morning, we returned to Timbara. That Sunday, we then travel to the campaign location, often two or more hours away with early-morning, 5:30am bus rides. The campaigns were held from 9am-3pm. At the campaigns, the interns would perform free close and far eye exams. There were reading glasses for sale should the exam show that the customer needed them. Soluciones Comunitarias also sells water purification systems, solar products, seeds, energy-efficient light bulbs and eye drops. Each of these products is referred to as a “solution.” During our second campaign, we sold over $600 in solutions, and over $200 of that profit was given to the Asesora Comunitaria, Eurelia.
A school outside of Pangui that we visited during Publicidad.
When we were not working on the campaigns, each project group was working on their VNGO task. My group, Team Impacto, was given the assignment of establishing Tienditas Comunitarias in the Zamora and Riobamba regions that can permanently sell the products of Soluciones Comunitarias. We travelled to different cities in the Zamora region to administer surveys and determine which pre-existing tiendas would be best to sell our products. In addition to the surveys, our team also created a step-by-step plan to establish TCs and an information sheet to give to TCs. We are currently working on a training manual, inventory sheets, price sheets, marketing materials, and a contract to go with our step-by-step plan. We found one tienda in Cumbaratza that we hope to establish as our first Tiendita Comunitiaria. Despite the lack of traffic in the town, this tienda was bustling with people coming to buy corn, chicken, and other goods for their families. Family-run, the son spoke with us while his mother was busy attending to customers. The location and environment of the tienda were exactly what we wanted. While the other travel group is in the Zamora region, we hope to have Soluciones Comunitarias representatives work with this tienda to establish contact and move forward with the process.
In addition to the campaigns and VNGO work, our travel group did Grassroots Consulting work for an organization in Timbara called Amor y Fortaleza. This organization seeks to economically empower the people of Timbara and create a sense of community. First, we prepared and gave a needs analysis for the organization to determine the topics of the workshops we would give them. After the needs analysis, we decided to do the two workshops on networking and organizational dynamics. My project team prepared and gave the networking workshop. We included topics like branding, business cards, making connections with other organizations in Zamora, social media, and goal setting. The other project team did their workshop on group dynamics, trust, accountability, responsibility, cooperation, and other important topics for the stability of an organization.
Sydney and I in front of our favorite truck in all of Ecuador.
In Zamora, we had two free weekends that we spent exploring the Oriente. The first weekend, we spent time near Zamora at an ecolodge. We ate Chinese food at a restaurant in Zamora, which proceeded to make every one of us sick (we quickly learned you can’t trust Chinese food in Latin American countries). The second weekend, we went on a jungle tour in the Amazon, including boat rides and a hike. Although it was unbelievably muddy, the scenery was beautiful and the history behind this specific part of the jungle was really interesting. The tour guide explained that that jungle had been a war zone beginning in 1995 between Ecuador and Peru over the border—the dispute began over gold mines that rested between the two countries.
After the two weeks in the field were over, we spent a week in Cuenca reflecting on our first experience in the field. We talked about the publicidad, campaigns, the workshops, and VNGO work. It was interesting to hear how different the experiences were in the North and the South of Ecuador. We also celebrated Jenny’s birthday (another intern from Notre Dame) at an amazing Italian restaurant—probably the best salmon I have ever tasted. On Sunday, we went to an Incan ruins site in Cuenca where I lost my wallet, driver’s license, and credit cards—yet another lesson in flexibility.
The Rio Zamora
During my time in Zamora, partially due to many long bus rides through poverty-stricken areas, I thought a lot about the idea of necessity. In the United States, internet, hot water, reliable electricity, paved roads, clean water, cell phones, healthy food, elaborate houses and furniture, and a variety of shoes and clothing are seen simply as needs. In the rural regions of Ecuador, internet is sparse to non-existent, hot water for showers isn’t a consideration, electricity is expensive and spotty, nutrition is expensive and often can’t be provided for—the staples of their diet are yuca and rice, two starches—and clothing and furniture are kept to the bare minimum. Despite the perceived lack of necessary things, the people in the campo live fulfilling, happy lives. It forces you to question whether all of the “necessities” we have are really necessities. Do I need an iPhone, or a car, or hot water and Internet? Or are all of those things desires that have converted into necessities in the wake of the commercialism that often consumes our country? My first two weeks in the field has taught me that simplicity is the only real necessity—if we live simply and really evaluate the idea of necessity as it pertains to actual survival, we are given the opportunity to live focused and centered lives around the things we have come to define as important. Each person shapes his own definition of necessity and importance; being in Timbara allowed me to completely reevaluate and reform my own definition. I look forward to travelling to Riobamba for the next two weeks for more field work and growth!
The interns out for Jenny’s birthday at Sole Mio in Cuenca.
By Emily Campbell
Class of 2017