During our reflection week in Cuenca, I was slightly unsettled after hearing a lot of horror stories from the group that was in Pulingui while we were in Timbara. The major concern was the extreme cold due to the proximity to Chimborazo, which is a dormant volcano that is the furthest point from the center of the earth due to the equatorial bulge. Of course, the weather here is nothing in comparison to South Bend winters, the only difference being that there is no escape from the cold over here. The temperature inside a house is the same as that outside, so the key to survival is layers on layers on layers.
Here are some photos from our hike up Chimborazo:
Despite the cold, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I like life here in Pulingui possibly even more than I did in Timbara. Although my living conditions in Timbara were significantly better than here in Pulingui (I lucked out with a nice house back in Timbara), the beautiful view of Chimborazo and good food make up for the lack of warmth.
This was the view from outside our homes:
Aside from the temperature, the community here appears to be much closer knit than that in Timbara, which I realized on my second night when my uncle and I went knocking on the doors of dozens of houses to invite them to me and my host sister’s joint birthday party. (Her birthday was conveniently a day before mine.) Regardless, there are a couple of similarities between Timbara and Pulingui, one of them being the generally loose grip on children. I have seen 3-year-old children running around with machetes and eating food dropped in dirt that was recently ‘used’ by the cattle.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that poverty comes in a different form here in Ecuador than what I have seen in the United States. The poverty here is aggregated by the lack of access to technology such as water filters and reading glasses, which is something that we are addressing through our campaigns selling products in different communities. In the States however, there is widespread access to such technology so it is interesting to see that although the barriers to breaking out of the poverty cycle are different, both forms of poverty are significant in their own right.
Along similar lines, I see a lot of potential in increasing the cash flow in Pulingui as a small-scale tourist destination due to its beautiful environment and rich cultural history that is well preserved by the villagers through their traditional dress and museums. With this in mind, I had a conversation with my host relatives (many of whom work in the tourism industry) about their eagerness to bring tourists to Pulingui. However, many communities often develop to serve tourists and lose a certain aspect of their ‘untarnished’ culture, so I am interested to see how this will pan out in the future.
Alongside our primary work with the campaigns in different communities, we have also been working on side projects during which we act as consultants to local organizations. In most of the organizations we have been working with, the biggest barrier to progress is the lack of organizational structure. For example, a group in Timbara was structured in such a way that members had no incentive to make a collaborative effort to improve the organization. The restaurant the organization owned lacked consistency because it was run by different people each week; they had never had a meeting with all the members in attendance, and the president of the organization showed up for 5 minutes in total to the two 2-hour-long meetings we had with them. Our recommendation to them was to build a more concrete structure before expanding the organization any further.
Here are some working photos:
I want to finish off by saying a big thank you to SIBC, and in particular to Pedro, Monica and Frank, who all made this experience possible. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer.