Saturday, March 6, 2010

from my hospital bed in cuenca!

I’m writing this from my HOSPTIAL BED in Cuenca. As many of you know, I have been sick with one thing or another since September. I even had to delay my trip to Ecuador a bit, so I could recover from the latest bout of flu and a back problem that resulted from all the strain of coughing. I was fine when I got here, but I quickly developed a cough that just wouldn’t go away. I thought it was my usual adjustment to the climate and the pollution, but finally Ana Cecilia whisked me off to the doctor. A chest xray revealed that I had pneumonia! The doctor immediately put me in the hospital for 5 days of IV antibiotics and respiratory treatment. That was Thursday. He said today (Saturday) that I am doing really well, and he expects that I’ll be released on Monday. ¡Ojala!

I am doing fine, and frankly rather than being upset to be in the hospital i am relieved to finally find out what was wrong with me all those months. The doctor assures me I’ll be all “cleaned out” by the time I leave the clinic.

The pneumonia has really cramped my style! These were my last two weeks before I fly back on 3/15/10 and I had them chock full of plans. But, I hope to at least see everyone before I leave. Many of them are visiting me at the hospital.

San Cristóbal:

There are now 38 socias [members] of the Banco Comunitario de San Cristóbal; we started with 13. All socias meet on the 8th of the month to pay their loans and apply for new ones. I was there for their regular 8 February 2010 meeting, and again on Feb 20 for a special meeting to talk over proposals for this coming year. I brought down about $2000 in gifts from folks in Vermont and Bethany church. The socias decided to put $1000 in the loan fund, since all the existing money is in circulation and there are more women who want loans than money to lend.

At the meeting, they introduced all the new members of the bank and gave an impressive report of their finances. The original 2007 seed capital of $5000 has grown to $12,000 and they have about $4,700 more in “social loans” for which the bank gets the interest. So they have a total of almost $17,000 in circulation. Note: Social loans are a Mohamed Yunus idea where rather than giving charitable contributions, you make a loan. The lender gets the capital back, so the lender can help someone else, but the interest stays with the bank to pay the bank’s administrative costs. The discussed the few problems they had with “collections” during the hard times. But as a bank of “solidarity”, they worked with the women, until they got back on their feet, restructured the loan and everyone is in good standing.

I had originally planned on helping them start a new branch in another community, but they wisely nixed this idea since they have successfully integrated women from other communities into the bank. So the socias decided to match the other $1000 with their own funds and use it 1) to train all the women on computacion, 2) buy a new computer and 3) acquire the programs (and training) to put all their accounts in the computer. The municipality is giving them free space in the community building, so when I come back next year, they will be in their own space with their own computer.

They also nixed the idea of using the money to hire employees. They are happy with the current completely volunteer job of administering the loans. Because of this free labor, the bank’s expenses were $70, mostly for paper and copies.

Last year, the socias started a savings program to add money to their lending pool, but it was a bust. Because of the financial crises no one has had money to save; it all goes for necessities. The husbands of many of the women are working abroad either in the US, Spain or Italy. These husbands used to send money home to help support the family, and of course that has all dried up, since most of them are now unemployed. The remittances from abroad used to be the second highest item of Ecuador’s GNP, after petroleum! Now these women has to send money to their husbands so they can survive. Many migrants have come back to Ecuador or plan to. I for one, am happy about this development since the migration due to lack of jobs in Ecuador created a huge social crises, and their families – especially the kids - really suffered in their parent’s absence. Even if the migrants come back and do subsistence farming, at least they are working and can be there for their families.

On Saturday, 27 February 2010 i was invited to participate in the parade which commemorated the 150th year of the “parocialization” of San Cristóbal. That essentially means when the town was incorporated. Kids from three elementary schools in the parocia marched, and I marched with the with the socias of the bank. There were two other groups of women “Las Rosales” who are artisans who make the polleras [the beautifully embroidered skirts most indigenous women wear], and “Las Artesanas” who are another group who weave the panama hats and other artifacts from paja toquilla [the thin strawlike strips made from palm fronds]. For the parade, they dressed me up a pollera and lovely white camisa [the traditional blouse that goes with the pollera]. I think they got a bigger kick out of it than I did! Especially since on me the pollera was more like a mini skirt, since at 5’4” I tower over most of them.

This will be my last post from Ecuador, so I hope to see you and share so many more personal encounters and stories. i'll also send along some pictures when i get home. i brought my camera, but forgot the cable to download to my computer. i HATE aging!

I love being here, and I love sharing the experience with all of you…. Carolyn

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

2 of 3, from cuenca

Casa Maria Amor: I arrived in time to celebrate with the first graduating class of their big new project. La Asociación Mujers con Exito [The association of Successful Women] – a name they picked right from the start of the laundry and was it prophetic. The vocational training started expanding last year with a grant from Germany. The staff at the Casa is very professional, competent and smart. With this grant, they were able to rent a new building, outfit it with equipment, hire instructors and staff, and teach any woman who wants to learn the art of commercial cooking. Its kind of like NECI [New England Culinary Institute] in Cuenca. They got this grant because of the success of the laundry, which is still going strong, and is a companion vocational training piece with the cooking school. All the women who live at the Casa as well as other women who have “graduated” or who go there for services can participate. But it is voluntary, not obligatory. The women also participate in self-improvement classes like parenting, nutrition, gender issues, learning their legal and human rights…

At the graduation ceremony, they presented me with a beautiful plaque thanking me for starting them on the path to their dream – real autonomy. Needless to say, the tears were flowing all over the place! I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to return every year and see the progress these women make. While there is a lot of turnover at the Casa, the women and their kids stay involved with the Casa and its services, and so I get to see them all. My returning every years not only means a lot to me, also means so much to them, since they really think of me as their fairy godmother, and love my continued involvement in their lives. As I love them!!

There are two particularly bright girls who are 15 and 16 – Evelyn and Mayra. They don’t go to high school because although high school is free (all public school, from elementary through college is a right under their new constitution and it is all free) having to pay for uniforms, school supplies, books, transportation and the loss of income to the family puts it out of reach for a lot of families. So, these two will become my goddaughters and I’ll help them anyway I can.

Please know that even though I am the human being and the face they know, they also realize that all this came out of the generosity of family, friends and groups in the USA, and it boggles their minds! There is NO culture of volunteerism or philanthropy here, so for people like us - who didn’t even know them - to help them is astounding to them, and very very deeply appreciated.

All of South America is burdened by the history of colonialism, repression, corruption and the deep divide between the rich and poor. But thankfully this is changing, and pretty quickly. Indigenous people have organized. Countries like Ecuador have rewritten their constitutions taking back their countries from oligarchs and the multi-national corporations who were in cahoots with them, whose corruption and greed squandered their wealth. And from my first hand look at the grass roots process of change here in Ecuador, it has been totally transparent and corruption free. Every citizen 18 years of older HAS TO vote (kids 16-28 can vote, but its not obligatory), each candidate gets a little bit of money (maybe $3000) from the government to spend on campaigning. NO PRIVATE MONEY AT ALL is allowed. Voting is always on Sunday, and lots of other good ideas that I think we should consider adopting.

This year, I work with the kids at the Casa every day. They are all ages from toddlers to about 13. Its an outgrowth of my teaching Spanish to Nancy Reid’s class at the elementary school. Her students are avid to learn Spanish and to see how other kids live – what’s the same and what’s different. Her students made a fabulous book as a gift to the kids at the Casa. Each student had their own page, with their picture and all kinds of neat information about their likes, dislikes, hobbies, families, etc. It was a huge hit with the kids at the Casa, so I’m using it as a tool to teach them a little English, a little geography, a little reading, etc. I also take them on outings to museums – since they all love to draw – (and for all of them a first) and other fun places. They are also making their own drawings, messages and photos for me to bring back to the kids in Nancy’s class.

cuenca, march 3, 2010

Post #1 of 3, 3 March 2010, from Cuenca

Hola dear friends,

This is really part one of the three part post which will be the only one from Ecuador this year.. Its my only one, first, because my time here have been so full that I haven’t had a moment to sit down and write. Second, because I will be returning earlier than expected. My mom, Mary Tonelli, who is a lively 89, is however in the early stages of dementia. Up until now she has been adamant about staying in her home, and since her memory loss was not affecting her hygiene, or her ability to go shopping, cook or clean her house, we (my brother Quentin, my sister, Giovanna, and I) left well enough alone, knowing full well that the time would come when all this would change. And did it!

My brother, who lives in Maine, and my sister-in-law, Sonnie, went down for a visit and found my mother in terrible shape. She was sleeping all the time, not bathing, not eating, and worst of all, had a serious infection in a hammer toe. So they literally kidnapped her, bringing along her cat, and took her to Maine, and to the hospital there. At first it looked like she was going to lose a foot! The infection was so bad and there was no circulation in her left leg from her knee down to her toes. But she received the most marvelous care, first treating the infection, then a procedure to restore blood flow to her leg and foot, and then the removal of the dead toe. Due to her otherwise excellent health –heart, lungs, kidneys, etc. – she is recovering beautifully, and has been moved to a rehab center in Portland.

Quentin and Sonnie have been by her side 24/7. So I am coming home on March 16 so Quentin and Sonnie can take off on a much needed vacation.

My mom is doing really well in rehab, and Quentin really wants her to stay in Portland where there are a lot more options for assisted living, etc. She is doing so well, Menig doesn’t seem appropriate. We’ll see…

Now back to the present moment…

I have been reconnecting with all my dear friends here, including, of course, the Astudillos. How lucky can a gal be, when she can stay with a family like Pepe, Ana Cecilia and their two teens, Ana Elisa and Jose Antonio. In Vermont, I live alone and LOVE IT, but maybe that’s because I do get to spend real family time here in Ecuador when I am with them – sharing meals, trips, provocative discussions and just laughing a lot. Teens anywhere are a “challenge” - a euphemism for pains in the ass! But they are also a hoot, and I love watching these two and their friends mature from year to year. Ana Elisa finally passed her drivers test (she’s 18) but she is the worst driver ever, even worse than me! Her family is always kidding her that she will never be allowed behind the wheel of the family car. Jose Antonio (16) is drop dead handsome, madly in love, and addicted to punk and heavy metal. But he can’t sing worth a damn, but that doesn’t stop him. Flora their housekeeper and my dear friend and I cover our ears and roll our eyes when he takes out his electric guitar and starts howling. He has a band and a set of drums, but thank goodness the band has a rehearsal place outside the house!!! He however is a prize winning poet and artist.

Next Post: Casa Maria Amor