Ecuador “Oportuni-Squad” Part 3

The past two weeks in the field went by quickly. Team Oportunidad (or “Oportuni-squad,” as we call it) lived and worked in Pulingui, a community 45 minutes away from Riobamba. In less than a week, we will complete our internship and head back home. Looking back to the past eight weeks, I have discovered, to my relief, that I have realized the three goals I set for myself when the internship first started.

GOAL #1: SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN ACTION

We talk about social entrepreneurship a lot in classroom settings. But this has been my first time actually implementing SE theories in a professional working environment. It sounds cheesy, but there have been so many first times in the past two months that this internship has changed my life and worldview. First time consulting for grassroots startups. First time giving a consulting presentation in Spanish. First time working in the field of financial education and savings groups. First time conducting door-to-door surveys and marketing… Through these fieldwork experiences, I have developed a set of values and practices that I will stick to in future social entrepreneurship works.

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UTOPIA, a “Canasta Communitaria” (community veggie basket) in Riobamba, is a client of our grassroots consulting service. La Caja Solidaria, UTOPIA’s internal savings group, is seeking to expand its function: as demand for savings groups in local area increases, UTOPIA hopes to help create and give advice to other savings groups. Last week, we created a guidance manual for UTOPIA, outlining a step-by-step road map for creating and improving a savings element in work associations. 

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Campaign publicity with local entrepreneur Rosa. 

GOAL #2: SPANISH IMMERSION

My friend challenged me before the summer to learn 10,000 Spanish words during my time in Ecuador (~200 words per day). I am going to be honest here and admit that I have obviously failed to do so. Even so, I am still proud of and grateful to my homestay families (well, and myself) for taking the 10,000-word challenge and making efforts to immerse me in the Spanish language context. From week 1, when I didn’t know a single word in Spanish, to week 8, when I can do basic communications with my Ecuadorian families, tremendous efforts have been made. My three favorite Spanish activities are chatting with my host families (including babysitting my 4-year-old sister in Pulingui), conducting door-to-door publicity on campaign days, and doing consulting presentations in Spanish. Muchas gracias to everyone who listened to me patiently and who corrected my mistakes in our conversations!

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My host family in Pulingui. I couldn’t ask for a better pair of host siblings. 

GOAL #3: ENJOY THE SUMMER (#YOLO)

“Do what you are afraid of doing, and you will discover that you are much stronger than you thought.” I don’t remember who said this to me, but I will forever remember what reminded me of this quote – our Chimborazo hike.

Hiking is a major part of our downtime in Ecuador. And to be honest, I was afraid of it in the beginning. High elevation makes it difficult to breathe; steep slopes and deep mud slow down our paces; rolling rocks increase the difficulty and risk… However, as we hiked mountains after mountains, I gradually found myself at ease and even excited. Our biggest hiking highlight is in Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador. We set out for the hike last Thursday, hoping to meet up with Baltazar Ushca, the last “ice merchant,” on the top of the mountain by 2 pm. The ice beyond the snowline of Chimborazo is well-known for its sweetness. Harvesting ice and bringing it down from the mountain have thus been a local tradition for hundreds of years. However, as less and less people were willing and able to take up the job, this tradition has been in danger of dying. Baltazar is the last “Chimborazo iceman” in the world. Every Thursday, he goes to Chimborazo and brings down the ice to sell in local markets with drinks. It was a tough hike, as not only was the trial steep and rocky, but it was also raining and hailing, making it harder to see and breathe. As we mounted higher, the wind grew much fiercer, blowing small, sharp particles of hails into our faces. At some point, it was difficult to even open our eyes. Our faces and lungs hurt from the hail and the breathing, and each small step seemed to take hours. However, Team Oportuni-squad made it to the top and we were in great honor to witness the Baltazar harvesting Chimborazo ice.

After the Chimborazo hike, I felt that I could do anything. I enjoy overcoming my fears, which has made this summer even more unique and memorable. You Only Live Once, and life is too short to skip Chimborazo.

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Baltazar harvesting ice in Chimborazo. 

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Team “Oportuni-squad” made it!!

Muchas gracias to those who have been reading my stories so far. Also, I want to thank SIBC and HYSP for offering me this opportunity to learn & explore & serve & reflect. This summer is a blast!

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BY Yuchen Zou

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