2011 EDUCATIONAL MISSION TRIP TO VILCABAMBA, ECUADOR

Led and Reported by Terry Minke April 26-30, 2011

ACF Mission Team:

Terry Minke: ACF Co-Founder and Trustee, from U.S.
Cristina & Enrique Alvarez: assisted in many ACF mission trips to Ecuador, residents of Quito, Ecuador
Eva Mendoza: daughter of Jaime Mendoza, ACF’s 1st Director, resident of Canada, visiting Ecuador on holiday
Christina Chaya: volunteer consultant to ACF since 2010, Vilcabamba resident
Ivan Macanchi: owner of VilcaNet IP Service in Vilcabamba, volunteer for ACF, Vilcabamba resident and long-time friend of Jaime Mendoza.

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PART 1: PREPARING TO VISIT THE SCHOOLS

Prior to the mission trip, I asked Christina Chaya to survey the Vilcabamba school administrators and teachers and ask what equipment and supplies were most needed for the school children.

School administrators overwhelmingly reported that there was a huge need for additional computer systems, Internet access and upgrades to older computers previously donated by the ACF. Because computer and Internet access is becoming increasingly important to the schools for educating the children of Vilcabamba, Ivan Macanchi offered to set up new computers and provide Internet service to schools without Internet access.

Ivan, who was a good friend of Jaime Mendoza, plans to maintain and service the existing computers so they are always in working order. Since many of the schools have lost their funding for “specialty” teachers (arts and computers), Ivan has offered to find a local computer software teacher to become a “circuit teacher” and go to the schools each week for an hour or two per day that have our equipment to do computer and software training.

To prepare for the Mission Trip, Cristina Alvarez and her husband, Enrique, tirelessly worked in Quito for many months acquiring computer equipment, supplies and T-shirts that the Vilcabamba school administrators and teachers had requested.

On Tuesday, April 26, I flew from the U.S. to Quito, Ecuador, where Cristina and Enrique picked me up. The next morning, I caught an early morning flight to Loja, leaving at 5:00am.

After dropping me off at the Quito airport for the flight to Loja at 5:00 am, Cristina & Enrique Alvarez, along with their 4-year old son Emilio, started on the long cross-country, 12-hour trek from Quito, in north central Ecuador, loaded down with all the equipment and T-shirts, bound for Vilcabamba near the southern tip of Ecuador.

I arrived in Loja at 6:15am and was greeted by Eva who had commissioned a taxi from Vilcabamba for the 3-hour roundtrip. We arrived in Vilcabamba and checked into our hotel, Jardin Escondido (Hidden or Secret Garden), just ½ block off the village center and square.

Over breakfast, I met with those who would become my team for the next few days. Christina Chaya, Eva Mendoza, Ivan Macanchi and I made plans for visiting the schools over the next two days and computer installation and maintenance. Cristina and Enrique would arrive at the end of the day with all of the equipment and supplies that we planned to deliver over the next two days.

A special thanks to Eva, who was on a three-week vacation to revisit her birthplace of Vilcabamba, for having agreed to be my guide and interpreter for the 3-day tour. Not being fluent in Spanish or Quechua Indian dialogue, she was a great help. My usual Spanish interpreter (Donna, my wife) was unable to accompany me on this trip.

That afternoon, my team met with 18 administrators, school officials, teachers and superintendent of schools for a luncheon and open discussion of where ACF has been and where we are going from here.

The administrators praised the ACF’s past support. Some administrators whose schools are new to ACF support were excited about the opportunity to work with the ACF. They agreed to assemble the “priority list” of needed equipment, supplies and services that they would like ACF to consider in the future. All agreed on a plan to honor Jaime Mendoza with a plaque at each school. On the next trip, the ACF will deliver plaques to each school that honor Jaime’s memory and the work of the ACF.

Below is the complete list of computers, equipment and supplies that the team planned to deliver to the schools over the upcoming 2 days of touring 11 schools in the Vilcabamba Valley.

Educational Equipment & Supplies Brought to Vilcabamba to Deliver to the Schools:

  • Four (4) Complete ATX Computer Systems with Flat Screen Monitors and many peripherals, including Web Cams for future streaming video conference between the children of Vilcabamba and ViaViente Distributors.
  • Software, including Windows 7 Starter Kits, MicroSoft Office Home & Business 2010, PhotoShop Elements
  • HP2000 Color Printer with 2 Extra Ink Cartridges
  • Four (4) 10 Megapixel Vivitar Digital Cameras with Extra 2GB Memory Card
  • Two (2) Toner Cartridges for ACF Printer/Copier at San Pedro Grammar School
  • One (1) Projector Bulb for ACF Projector at San Pedro Grammar School
  • One Keyboard & Mouse to replace broken units for repair of existing ACF computer systems
  • 1000 ViaViente-ACF T-shirts in children’s sizes.
  • 220 Adult-Sized T-shirts for Directors and Teachers.
  • 250 Pocket Folders in memory of Jaime Mendoza, ACF’s first Executive Director.

PART 2: DAY 1 OF SCHOOL VISITS – Thursday, April 28, 2011

Starting at 7:30am, the first school we visited was Trece de Abril in downtown Vilcabamba across from the square. Originally this school was an all-girls school, but now is co-ed. The ACF team delivered one complete computer system, printer and a digital camera along with T-shirts for 192 students, teachers and administrators.

Next we visited Yamburara Bajo, a rural school just outside Vilcabamba with 52 students and 4 teachers/administrator. They received one of the complete computer systems, printer and a digital camera. VilcaNet donated Internet connection service for this school. The students and teachers/administrator all received T-shirts.

The third school we visited was Neuve de Octrubre in San Pedro. This school s has been beneficiary of many gifts from ACF and has some of the greatest needs in the valley due to lack of support by the government. We presented them with one of the complete computer systems, printer, a digital camera, a new bulb for a projector and 2 toner cartridges for a copy machine we had given them several years ago. 90 students and 8 teachers/administrators receive T-shirts. I personally have formed some lasting relationships with several of the students here who were very excited to see me again and greeted me with their traditional kiss and hugs. The two administrators, Vicente and Eduardo have also formed a close relationship with me and always greet me and ACF warmly as do all the teachers. This school will always hold a place in my heart.

The fourth school visited was our ever so loved, Mollepamba Indigenous School, high above the valley floor. This little “Indian” school is one of the most beautiful sights you could ever see. Not the school building, the children.

Adults and children alike, wear their traditional Saraguros Indian clothing every day. ACF has helped this school through the years with a new roof, tables and chairs, a concrete floor (just dirt for the first year it was open), backpacks for the children and school supplies. In anticipation of receiving a computer one day, the parents built a computer lab room on the side of this little school. We gifted them their first computer system, printer, and digital camera ever during this trip. In addition, we will provide internet connection and service for the school. It will be the first internet available in this area of the valley. 19 students and 2 teacher/administrator received T-shirts.

As always, they insisted on serving us a traditional meal of free-range chicken soup and yucca stalks during our visit. It was delicious. After this early lunch, we played marbles with the children (flash-back to my childhood.) They taught me their way of shooting a marble (holding the marble between forefinger and thumb of one hand while projecting the marble with the index finger of the other hand) and I taught them how I used to shoot a marble (cupped in the cradle of my forefinger while projecting it with the thumb of the same hand). Even though my way projected the marble with greater force, their way was more accurate. They won, so I guess I’ll have to teach my grandchildren their way.

I made a new best friend in a tiny little Saraguros girl who insisted on sitting in my lap most of the time I was there. I have a full framed photo in my office to help me remember to pray for her and her friends and family at Mollepamba daily.

The grandmother of 9 and mother of 6 of the 19 children in the school came to the school to personally thank us for all ACF has done for their little school. A tearfully goodbye followed as we left them for another year.

The last school was Montalvo School, the largest grammar/middle school in Vilcabamba. This school is rare in Ecuador because it receives a great deal of help from the government due to the administrator’s friendship with government officials and because of its large size (475 students). Though the ACF has not contributed much to this school, the students, teachers and administrators always are given T-shirts.

PART 3: DAY 2 OF SCHOOL VISITS – Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday morning we started out driving south of Vilcabamba into the valley of Quinara. Round trip plan for the morning involved about 100 km (78 miles). Up and over the mountain we went starting on nicely paved, two-lane roads and ending up on a narrow dirt pathways, crossing rivers and streams barely wider than the pickup we were in.

The first remote village we visited had just gained vehicular traffic recently. Once only accessible by foot across a mountain stream bridge, this village has gained more access due to a bridge built across the river, replacing the footbridge, to carry dump trucks full of river rocks to the new road bed being built thru this pass. The only school in the village is Comunidades Grammar School. It had 15 students and two teachers/administrators. They have never had any computers or internet service. The ACF plans to provide this as part of its 2011-2012 program. T-shirts and Pocket Folders were distributed.

The second school was in the town of Quinara, which has a more modern-type Grammar/Middle school with several buildings and classrooms, a large concrete playground and assembly area with basketball and soccer goals. ACF has contributed 5 computer systems to the school in past years. Due to lack of funding, the school was forced to drop its computer teacher and Internet service. The ACF hopes to be able to provide Internet service and maintenance on existing computers for the 2012 programs. The school administrator/teachers treated us to a mid-morning fruit dish and beverages. We had some fun times taking pictures with the children and Enrique challenged a few of the boys to a soccer match. Not sure who won, but fun was had by all. T-shirts were given to the 112 students and the teachers/administrator.

The third school we visited was Quinara High School. In past years the ACF had contributed the funds to construct a 2-story computer lab and arts center on school property and had contributed 6 computers with printer and projector screen. The temporary director of the school told of their need to get Internet service re-installed into the building. Originally this school was the recipient of government run Internet service which has recently been discontinued due to lost funding in hard economic times in Ecuador. ACF plans on providing this service through VilcaNet sometime in the 2012 budget allocations.

The fourth school was the Grammar/Middle School in Tumianuma, a very small but robust village along the river. Only three family names make up the 150 inhabitants, so most everyone is related in one way or other. The school has 43 students, three teachers and one administrator. This school is in much need of assistance. Even though it is in the Vilcabamba school district, it is on the other side of the Mondango Mountain, some 40 Kilometers from Vilcabamba. It is, as one local resident calls it, the Forgotten School. Roof repair is the most immediate need. Children open umbrellas in the classroom when it rains. There are no permanent walls in this school, which has three dividers separating the three classrooms. The lighting in the building is made up of single strands of wire suspended from the ceiling passing through black plastic which has been suspended in the ceiling to help keep out of the rain.

The kitchen was destroyed by fire last year and has been rebuilt as a kindergarten room. Parents bring food for the children for lunch from their homes. They have 1 computer contributed by ACF in past years. They have never had Internet service. They are constructing a computer room in anticipation of getting some more computers in the future and Internet service. Recently, the school received some funding from the government to repair the roof and place dividers in the long open room that is their school. The ACF hopes to donate a desktop computer system, printer, video camera, digital camera and Internet connection in the upcoming year. We also hope to involve this school in the circuit computer teacher program. The school treated us to local made crackers and “horchata”, a local herbal tea, as a snack. We passed out T-shirts, pocket folders and rulers to the students.

The fifth school visited is just outside Vilcabamba. It is a traditional, two-room rural school with 12 students, ages 6-13. The one teacher teaches each course to each age group. The other room is used for indoor recreation on in-climate days and to serve meals. We provided T-shirts, pocket folders and rulers to the student and a T-shirt for the teacher. The ACF hopes to provide a computer system to this school in 2012 as well as Internet service.

The last school for the day was Cucanama Alto, a small rural school just 4 miles from downtown along the main road from Loja. It has 11 students and one teacher. As we entered the school, the children were all huddled around a computer system that had been donated by ACF in years past. There was a second computer that had been donated by the parents. A young woman volunteer from the area had come by to teach the children how to use the computer. She has been volunteering for over a year, coming once a week to teach computer skills. This is the type of circuit teaching program that the ACF hopes to provide in the upcoming years. This school also needs Internet service and computer maintenance which the ACF hopes to provide soon. The students and teachers/administrators received T-shirts and the remaining pocket folders.

PART 4: SUMMARY OF DONATIONS PROVIDED ON THE 5TH ACF MISSION TRIP

The ACF 5th Mission Trip to Vilcabamba, Ecuador, was extremely successful. With visits to 11 total schools, 1125 students were impacted by the generosity of the ACF, its volunteers and its donors. The gifts to these schools will improve the educational opportunities for all of these children and help them to become better prepared for a successful and happy future.

The balance of the short time I had remaining in Vilcabamba was spent revisiting the Madre Tierra Hotel, once owned by Jaime and his wife, Ginette and enjoying a hearty lunch before leaving for the airport in Loja and my return journey home. Memories as always remain behind and are carried with me back to America.

I want to extend a very special thank you to Cristina and Enrique Alvarez. Without their assistance and tireless efforts, this 5th Educational Mission Trip would not have been possible.

Schools Visited (11):

Schools Receiving Computer Systems, Cameras, Supplies, T-shirts:

Trece de Abril – Co-ed Grammar school in downtown Vilcabamba 192 Students

Mollepamba Indigenous School (Rural Mountain School) 19 Students

Neuve de Octrubre – Grammar school in San Pedro del Vilcabamba 90 Students

Yamburara Bajo – Rural School just outside Vilcabamba 52 Students

Schools Receiving T-shirts and Pocket Folders:

Montalvo Vilcabamba Grammar/Middle School 475 Students

Comunidades Grammar School (Rural school near Quinara)15 Students

Quinara Grammar School 112 Students

Tumianuma Grammar Rural School 43 Students

Linderos School (Rural School just outside Vilcabamba) 12 Students

Cucanama Alto (Rural school just outside Vilcabamba) 11 Students

School Visited to Assess Previously Donated ACF Equipment for Repair Consideration:

Dr. Balazar Aguirre High School in Quinara 104 Students

Total Number of Students Impacted by This Mission Trip: 1125

That is the conclusion of the 5th Mission Trip to Vilcabamba for April 2011. Vilcabamba stands out for its beautiful scenery with the greenest greens, the bluest sky, the sweetest drinking water infused with naturally chelated minerals in the perfect balance for human health, the most precious children and a very appreciative community, teachers and administrators. Every trip is another life-changing experience in the land of the centenarians and a true paradise… Vilcabamba.

Terry Minke is an ACF Co-Founder and Trustee, CK Companies consultant and owner of CISS Publishing and Advantage Marketing.