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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

From East Walnut Hills to Ecuador: Making a Difference

By Mary Casey-Sturk

This past March, nine students plus two chaperones from Purcell Marian High School in East Walnut Hills had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador to be part of a service-based learning project. In conjunction with the Spring Valley, Ohio-based Tandana Foundation, the students worked with Tandana representatives and the local community on important infrastructure projects in the small town of Otavalo located in the Andean highlands in northern Ecuador. This was the first time that the school participated in this program. 

Purcell Marian delegation at Crater Lake
Ecuador is located in northwestern South America bordered by Columbia (to the north) and Peru (to the east and south) and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador and the capital is Quito, their largest city. Spanish is the language of its over 16 million residents. 

The Tandana Foundation was founded in 1998 by founding director Anna Taft after she spent four months in rural Panecillo, Ecuador teaching English to elementary-aged children and building relationships. The Foundation's website describes their work as follows:

Purcell Marian team: Marde McHenry, Caitlin Jimmar, Madilyn Ferguson, Alicia Jimmar, Quintin Rubick, Bob Herring 
"The Tandana Foundation is a non-profit organization that offers support for community initiatives in Ecuador's Otavalo Canton and Mali's Bandiagara District as well as intercultural volunteer experiences. Its community initiatives support community members in Mali and Ecuador as they work toward their dreams of education, health, food security, water resources, environmental conservation and income generation. 

Hike to the Peguce Waterfall
"The Tandana Foundation is not about ‘helping the poor’ or imposing a developmentalist worldview or any particular religion. Rather, our goal is to create and nurture respectful and responsible relationships among people of different cultures. Giving and receiving are inherent parts of those relationships and contributing to community initiatives is a great way to make friends. We come to learn and to share."

Installing the drainage system
Learning and sharing during this trip were students including Caitlin Jimmar, Madilyn Ferguson, Alicia Jimmar and Quintin Rubick as well as Purcell Marian staffers Marde McHenry and Bob Herring who shared their thoughts on the experience and living with host families.

The students, none of whom had traveled to South America before, discussed the important work they did and the impact it had on their own lives - from learning to barter (in Spanish) at the local market when buying groceries, traveling in the back of a truck to get to work sites or the public bus, showering without hot water, being kept awake by the sound of chickens and adjusting to the life with a host family.
Installing the drainage system

The mountain town of Otavalo is small and home to just 45 families. Small in number, but large in spirit, the community welcomed the help of the Purcell Marian team, shared their homes and worked alongside them. The importance of this project is long lasting, well beyond the ten days the team put in. 

Installing the drainage system
They dug and cleaned ditches along the windy mountain roads that would otherwise clog, protectsing the village from flooding as well as protecting homes, livestock and crops. While the government built the roads, it is up to the local citizens to undertake projects like this to keep their homes safe. 

Road maintenance
The team worked long days to make this happen, digging with manual tools, removing rocks and debris and clearing road gutters. This was an arduous, yet rewarding task, using picks, shovels and canvas sheets to tote dirt and rocks. These were long days in warm weather, learning to rely on each other and develop skills as they went along. 

The group also performed follow-up work previously done by other volunteer teams and added a drainage system to the local soccer field. This field is very important to the children of the village, as it is their sole recreational area and children play here daily.  Some of the students from Purcell Marian even joined them. These projects were chosen by the town’s residents who worked with the Tandana Foundation’s team to match volunteers. 

Road maintenance
In addition to this project, the students spent time at a local elementary school helping children with special needs. 

Along the way, the team visited the local markets, learning about the local history and hiking to the famous Peguche Waterfall. They also learned nothing is impossible -  from overcoming language barriers, to learning new skills. Together, they made a difference for this community and return to ours with lessons for a lifetime.

At LaJoya School
A memorable lesson for Quintin was to always remember, “that some people have it worse;”  and Caitlin, Madilyn and Alicia agreed, “to not let language barriers stop you from communicating.” The recurring theme that cultural barriers can be overcome and everyone can have fun and work together resounded with these students, who would welcome an opportunity like this again and hope to stay in touch with those they met in Ecuador. It’s important to note the team from Purcell Marian covered their own expenses.

This trip provided both opportunity and challenges for the students and the chaperones, Mr. Herring said it best to the group. “We don’t know how much we can do until we are put to the test. This was hard physical work, every one of you rose to that challenge. You don’t know what you can do until you do it. Give it your all and go as far as you can.”

He then added, “Never give up, we can do this and we’re here to help.”

And for ten days in March, these students helped indeed.

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