2013 EDUCATIONAL MISSION TRIP TO VILCABAMBA, ECUADOR
Reported by Terry Minke, Mission Director & ACF Co-Founder/Director/Trustee Feb 20-23, 2013
ACF Mission Team:
Craig Keeland (Plano):Entrepreneur & CEO of CK Companies, ACF Co-Founder/Director/Trustee
Terry Minke: ACF Co-Founder and Trustee, from U.S.
Cristina Alvarez: ACF Ambassador & Ecuador Liaison
Enrique Alvarez: Cristina’s husband & ACF Volunteer
Emilio(age 6) & Matias(age 3) Vera (Christina’s & Enrique’s two sons) (Quito)
Cassidy Keeland (Austin): Craig’s son and guest of the foundation
Ximena Alvarez (Miami): Official Photographer
Diego Ortuna (Quito): Official Videographer, with special assistance from Laurie Miller
Larry Evans & Director Paul Leon (Vilcabamba): One World Vilcabamba Co-Founders.
Planning for the ACF Mission Trip #6 began almost a year before the actual trip. With the help of our ACF Liaison in Quito, Cristina Alvarez and her husband, Enrique we were able to arrange the transportation, purchase the computer equipment, appliances, electronics and school supplies we planned to give the children in the 10 schools we planned to attend.
In November 2012, Cristina and Enrique made an exploratory trip to Vilcabamba to go to all 13 schools being supported by ACF. Their purpose was to meet with each school director and get an update on the equipment and supplies previously given each school through the years and get a priority list of their current needs. In addition they got a current count of the number of students and teachers for us to use to determine the number and size of the t-shirts we planned on making for the February 2013 trip. Upon completion of the trip, Cristina sent us a report which allowed us to allocate the funds necessary to achieve our objectives for gifts to the children and schools during our February 2013 Mission Trip. With the help of Laurie Miller and Paul Leon of One World Vilcabamba (OWV) they were able to visit all 13 schools and compile their report.
Partnering for a Brighter Future for Vilcabamba’s Children: OWV is an Ecuadorian Non-Profit Organization that has been in Vilcabamba since 2010. It was founded by Laurie Miller, Larry Evans both from California and now retired in Vilcabamba and a native Vilcabamban, Paul Leon who operates as the foundation’s Director. ACF has partnered with OWV to accomplish the goals of both to provide a quality environment for the education of the children of the Vilcabamba Valley. ACF provides the financial means to acquire the donations of educational equipment and materials, administrative assistance and online presence with websites development and management while OWV are the “boots on the ground” to provided the services and overview of the common goals. ACF Board Members and Trustees look forward to a mutually beneficial relationship with OWV.
Mission Trip Report
Wednesday, February 20 – Flight to Quito, EC via Houston, TX. We were one of the first flights to arrive in the new Quito International Airport on its inaugural day. It is a modern new facility that is now an hour outside Quito and has a perfect location for future growth and a better weather pattern for less of a chance of diverted flights due to foggy conditions on the 9,350 ft. elevation old airport which has been an issue in past missions trips to Ecuador.
We were the guests of Cristina Alvarez’s mother and aunt in a country home they have just 15 minutes from the new airport. The accommodations were wonderful and they were very hospitable serving us a light meal of homemade potato and corn soup and snacks at around 11:00 pm.
Thursday, February 21 – After a short but restful overnight stay at aunt we arose at 3:00 am the next morning to catch our 5:45 am flight to Loja. I couldn’t believe it but a rooster crowed just outside my bedroom window which awakened me just one minute before my alarm went off; welcome to Ecuador! Roosters must get up early in Ecuador, it was only 2:59am! We were the first flight out of the new airport that morning and needless to say, it was a very hectic 2 and one half hours at the airport attempting to get on the flight with most of the procedures of the new operations being learned as they were needed. Had it not been for Ximena speaking the language and insisting on the flight being held for (as she explained it to the ticketing agent) some “very important dignitaries from the U.S.,” we would have never made that flight. The plane was held for us an extra 15 minutes so we could be hurried through security and personally escorted onto the awaiting TAME Airlines’ new Embracer airplane. Once onboard we had a beautiful 1 hour flight to Loja as the sun broke over the horizon above the breath-taking Andes Mountains. First hurtle cleared!
We arrived at Loja’s airport (still under construction from a November 2012 closure date) to a complete unfinished and unoccupied airport terminal building. The crew and baggage handlers quickly set our luggage and other equipment on the ground outside the building and asked those who had baggage to come and claim it. Cristina and Enrique who had arrived in Vilcabamba three days earlier greeted us at the airport and we had three taxis (Toyota trucks) waiting to take us top Vilcabamba a two hour ride up and over the mountains. The scenery from the taxis was amazing and the day just got more and more brilliant as we entered the small town (village) of San Pedro de Vilcabamba just above the valley.
School Visit – Map Key #1 (Nueve de Octrubre (9th of October) – San Pedro, a small town with only one road leading through it was the destination of our first school visit –An Elementary School in the center of town. The director Vicente Guzman a longtime friend and supporter of ACF greeted us outside and lead us through the entrance of the school to the hallways lined with the excited children. High-5’s, clapping and cheers from the children were welcoming us along the path through the school. We passed by a plaque on the wall which we have given to each school recognizing them as one of the schools being supported by the ACF. As we made our way down three stories on the outside stairways to the playground, the children followed us and anxiously gathered there. After a brief ceremony and words of encouragement from Craig, the playground became a flurry of activity with the students and ACF staff participating in soccer and volleyball with the new soccer balls, volleyball’s and net and basketballs and nets that the school had received from ACF. After the play time, we were given a short classroom demonstration using the new Epson digital projector which ACF had also donated. After a light snack and coffee/tea (an Ecuadorian tradition of always giving your guests something to eat) hugs and some tearful goodbyes were welcomed by the ACF staff and crew as we left the school again with our hearts filled with the love of these precious children.
School Visit – Map Key #2 (José Vicente Andrade) – After leaving San Pedro, we took the mountainous trek to Mollepamba, the Saraguros Indian (indigenous Ecuadorans) community high above the Vilcabamba Valley which is a short 30 minutes away. We are greeted by 18 of the most beautiful children in the Vilcabamba finely arrayed in their traditional native dress consisting of black and white layered garments, some accented with sashes or colorful woven belts and others with patterned beadwork collars, embroidered necklines and cuffs. The greatest need at this time for the school was a refrigerator for their kitchen and a voltage regulator for the computer equipment we had donated to them on our last trip. In addition their slide was in need of repair and we were able to hire a local carpenter to make the repairs prior to our visit. The children and the ACF Staff enjoyed climbing up the slide and playing with the children. The photo op to the left proves a good time was had by all the “kids.”
School Visit – Map Key #3 (Pedro López Medrano) – After descending the mountain we had a 30 minute ride down the Pan American Highway (mostly a gravel and dirt road after the first 8-10 miles leading from Vilcabamba) through the Yangana Valley to the other side of Mandango Mountain toward Quinara. The road to Comunidades Village was a one-lane dirt spur off of the main road which has only been accessible by car since 2010 due to a new bridge construction. Before that time, villagers would have to cross the “quebrada” (ravine or gully which could have flash floods or raging waters at certain times of year) via a suspension bridge on foot or horseback with a small narrow cart. Comunidades has an elementary school with 13 students. ACF visited the school on its last visit and determined that they were a very poor school in need of a lot of help and added it to its list of supported schools for 2013. During our November exploratory visit, the principle need seemed to be new desks and chairs for the 2 classrooms since the old ones were falling apart and unsafe for the children. ACF was able to hire a local carpenter to build 10 double-student desks with bench seats (a traditional style that encourages children to develop “buddies” to help each other to excel in school.) The brightly painted desks were completed and delivered to the school just a few days before our visit. In addition, ACF donated a large white board with color markers and erasers to replace the traditional chalk boards which have been determined to be unsafe for the children’s health. After a quick game of soccer with Terry and Enrique getting beat soundly by the children, we received a thank you address from the parent representative and director and proceeded to the next school.
School Visit – Map Key #4 (Vicente Paz) – Quinara Elementary school was just around the lower part of the mountain about 20 minutes from Comunidades. Quinara is a fairly well developed community and has several schools in the valley. The school which ACF is supporting is the Elementary School (1st thru 6th grades) with 145 students. The teachers and staff have always been supportive of ACF’s help there and the multiple computers and other equipment we have brought to the school in the past. They greatest needs were for a water filtration system and a digital projector. A resent health official determined that the students had bacteria in their bodies from drinking the local water supplied to the school and that something had to be done to eliminate the problem. ACF was able to acquire a water filtration system that filled the need. A classroom demonstration using the projector was shown to the ACF staff and several children were seen using t he water dispenser while we were there. Terry played some basketball with some of the boys and was very sore the next day after having exercised some muscle groups he forgot he had.
Administrators’ & Teachers’ Appreciation Luncheon: ACF organized a special luncheon for all of the administrators and teachers from each supported school which was held at El Jardin Escondido (The Secret Garden) Hotel just a block off the square in Vilcabamba Thursday afternoon from 1:30 to 3:00. Attended by 65 people including our ACF Staff and crew, the event was very successful and gave us an opportunity to thank the administrator and teachers for all of there devotion to the education of the children of Vilcabamba (without the interruptions by and attention on the students which occurs during our school visits). ACF Staff made the rounds to each table to talk with each schools representative and receive numerous accolades of praise from both teachers and administrators for what ACF was doing for their schools. At the end of the luncheon a special award was given to retiring Director Vicente Guzman of San Pedro Elementary School for his years of service to the community, the children and his unselfish allegiance to ACF for all the assistance we had his school. We presented him with two identical plaques, one for the school to display and one for him to take with him into his retirement.
School Visit – Map Key #5 (Gonzalo Abad Grijalva) – After the luncheon, we headed for our last school of the day. Since some of the schools in the valley were having “Teacher In-Service Work Day” (they called teacher seminars), we were invited to visit our last school after normal school hours. Being a mostly agrarian community, most schools in the valley meet from 7:00 am – 1:00 pm so that the students can get out of school in time to work in the fields surrounding the valley. Our afternoon destination and last school visit of the day was to the Elementary School in Tumianuma. Because this school was in a very small, close-knit community along the loop road that leads around the mountain, the director was able to have the children come to school for an hour on a day that they would normally be off due to the seminar at the school that day. Almost every student (approximately 45) from community returned to the school to greet us at 3:30 pm. They sang all the verses of the Ecuadoran National Anthem for us and a few of the girls put on a dance routine. ACF provided a digital projector to complement some equipment which had been given them in the past. Craig spoke to them encouraging words including the possibility that one of them might become the President of Ecuador! You could tell from the look on their faces that they believed it could happen to them! With help from ACF for this school in the past and during this trip, their futures are brighter!
After a very long day (which began at 3:00 am in Quito), we were finally able to check into the Hosteria Izhcayluma, owned by two German guys who migrated to Vilcabamba several year ago. The hotel is one of our favorites because of the view from the outdoor restaurant overlooking the village of Vilcabamba and the entire valley. The accommodations are adequate with a variety of rooms form cabin style to dorm-room style (which our crew from Ecuador stayed in by request.) The restaurant actually serves real German food along with some more traditional Ecuadoran cuisine. They have a spa there that was enjoyed by Craig, Terry and Cassidy who each received a very deserving 1:30 massage! Ahhhhhhh!
ACF hosted a dinner on the veranda at the hotel in honor of the OWV team of Laurie, Larry and Paul as an appreciation for the help they had provided to make our day and the entire trip a success. During the dinner, Terry introduced the idea of partnering with them in the future so that OWV and ACF goals could mutually be met and cooperation between the two foundations would lead to a brighter future for the children of Vilcabamba. OWV accepted our informal proposal and we are sure this relationship will benefit both organizations as well as the children in Vilcabamba. Be looking for evidence of our relations on Vilcabamba.co, AndesChildrensFoundation.org and Facebook.com/oneworld.vilcabamba
Friday, February 22 – The rooster crowed a little later for the weary travelers on Friday morning as we were allowed to “sleep in” until 6:30am. Breakfast at 7:00, a few scenic photo ops from the observation area and then off in our taxis to our first school visit of the day.
School Visit – Map Key #6 (Trece de Abril) – Trece de Abril (13th of April) School just off the square in Vilcabamba has been recently changed from an all girls’ school to an elementary school grades 1 thru 6. This school has received many gifts from ACF in the past because of their dedicated directors and teachers who are always willing to ask for help for their students. Computers, a copy machine, printers, 10 microscopes and art supplies have been given to this school during every mission trip ACF has made to Vilcabamba. The evidence of the quality of education at this school has always encouraged ACF’s willingness to support it. Their need this year was for a digital projector. Next year they have asked for help improving their kitchen facility. The school accommodates 200 students and does a great job providing for them. The current director, a former teacher we have known for years is enthusiastic, fun-loving and always happy to see the ACF team. One of the teachers put on a mathematics demonstration for use in the classroom using the projector we had provided. As we were leaving the school, Terry was surprised to meet-up with one of the former student he had met years earlier with her young child! He said it feels as he has become a grandfather, again! The future of ACF is not only bright, its growing!
School Visit – Map Key #7 (Juan Montalvo) – By far the largest multi-grade school in Vilcabamba, Juan Montalvo has over 450 students and is primarily from 1st grade to Middle school aged students, but has a special program that a few students attend that are high school aged students. OWV has been allowed to use their classrooms for the English-Spanish classes they teach in the afternoons to adults who have immigrated from English speaking countries wanting to learn Spanish and for Spanish and Quechua speaking adults in Vilcabamba who want to learn English. Since this school has received lots of help from the government, ACF has not been needed to help them very much but has provided some assistance in the past and always include them in the t-shirt and school supplies gifts provided by ACF. Because of their willingness to provide OWV with classroom space in the afternoons, ACF has put them on the list to receive a digital projector during our next visit and possibly over requests which we have asked the director to provide us a letter outlining their needs. While visiting Terry was invited to be the pitcher in a stickball game (large thick stick and a tennis ball) the children were playing and needless to say, he was relieved by the manager after giving up 5 runs with no outs in just one inning! He found is comfort zone in the cheering section of a rowdy table soccer game (an old foosball game console – German for football, BTW) being played by several of the student in the inner courtyard which is their playground area since they are in the heart of Vilcabamba. Craig was busy handing out ACF caps to several of the student which of course caused a commotion since there were 450 students and only a few dozen caps available. At the assembly in the courtyard, Terry gave the students a motivational speech exhorting the bright futures available to them if they dedicated themselves to a better education afforded them by the devoted teachers they had who loved them very much.
School Visit – Map Key #8 (Julian de Rua Pizarro) – Yamburara Bajo borders the village limits of Vilcabamba on the east side, yet is considered a rural community. The elementary school there with its 29 students and three teachers has recently been selected by one of the local eco-friendly organic farmers in the area as a pilot school for an organic and herbal farming project. When we arrived the students were busy working in their two garden spots. The female farmer, Kitzia Danel who initiated the project was there giving the two groups a demonstration on harvesting techniques in one garden that had finally matured and was ready to harvest and in the second garden preparing the soil for planting. It was evident to the ACF Staff that this was a very worthwhile project and that Kitzia was very dedicated to its success and education of the children. She had mentioned that she had designed a small illustrated booklet (comic book style) teaching the children the most recent science of organic gardening and herbal varieties that could be mixed among the crops. ACF has interest in supporting the publishing of this booklet in the near future. After being shown some old computer systems that have been donated by the government that were not in working order and the computer lab which needed some repairs to the roof and had not furniture on which to place the computers, ACF has decided to help this school get these computers operational and provide tables and chairs for the computer lab as part of it remaining budget for 2013. The school was the recipient of a complete computer system, printer and digital camera during our 2011 visit.
After Terry gave a short motivational talk to the children, we lined up for some photos with all the staff, crew, children, teachers and the director. As we were about to leave, one of the students, Jean Carlo Santín Ramón, presented us with an colored pencil drawing he had made of a student wearing one of the bright new t-shirts we had given them, an Ecuadoran flag and the words ” Bienvenidos Los Queremos Mucho” which translates in English “Welcome, we love you very much.”
School Visit – Map Key #9 (Miguel Carpio Mendieta) – By far the smallest school we visit was in Cucanama Alto in the Malacatos Valley along the Rio Piscobamba (river) road leading toward Tumianuma. It consists of one small room about 30 x 20 and a fenced-in playground area in the back. It would remind you of a small daycare in the U.S. With only 10 students this school receives only $220 a year from the government for the school needs. It has been targeted for possible elimination by the government which means if it is eliminated, the students will have to travel by bus to either Tumianuma or Vilcabamba. Because of their status ACF has waited to find out its future to provide additional need for the school. This visit we gave them a multiple-function CD Player, PA System with microphone and digital recorder. The 10 students ranging in age from 6 to 12 entertained use with a choreographed song using their new CD player, “Rudolf, el reno de Nosy Red” (Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer), all the verses sung in Spanish. Since this school has been part of the English classes taught by OWV, Terry and Craig took turns speaking in English to the children as they replied to our questions in English. One student in particular had excelled in his studies and was able to carry-on an extended conversation in English. We encouraged them all for their willingness to learn English and told them that they would excel in their education and into their futures outside Vilcabamba into all of the world. As we were leaving, the teacher gave us a large basket of fruit to take with us as a gift from the students. A precious school with great traditions that we hope will not be absorbed into one of the larger communities losing its unique identity.
School Visit – Map Key #10 (Francisco Xavier Salazar) – Our last school visit for this year’s trip was in Linderos, a small rural community about 10 minutes outside of Vilcabamba. The surrounding area is made up of largely small to medium-sized farms. The elementary school in this community is adequate in size but few in number. The three buildings that make up the elementary school are occupied by only 12 students and 1 teacher. Other than a large facility, this school has not had any help from the government because it is so small in the number of students. However, very much like Mollepamba when we first visit when they had only 8 students it is large in spirit. The teacher is a very dedicated 40-something man who does the best with what he has been given. On our last visit to Vilcabamba, ACF determined that this school would be the primary recipient of the most help during our 2013 Mission Trip. On this visit, they received a Complete Computer System including a dual-core desktop CPU, 15″ flat screen monitor, keyboard, mouse, video cam and headset, a digital projector and small Canon printer with a reserve ink cartridge. Upon our arrival, you would have thought we had given this school the world. The children and the teacher were so excited to see us and could not quit hugging and thanking us. I could tell that the teacher had remembered the promise ACF had made to him almost two years ago and he was so excited to be given an opportunity to show how he could use the equipment we had given him. Within just a few minutes he prepared an extensive vocabulary lesson for the class using the computer and digital projector and gave ACF staff and crew a demonstration. Craig was sitting in the last row of chairs as if a student in the class and was caught off guard when the teacher called on him to answer one of the translation questions the teacher was asking in the demonstration. He was asked to give the Spanish words for three objects shown on the projection on the wall. A computer, a cow and a school bus. When he couldn’t answer the question, the children laughed and starting helping him by saying “computadora, vaca and autobus.” It was all in good fun and you could tell that the students were excited about their new learning tools and so proud of these new gifts they had received from ACF.
After leaving the school, Craig and Terry walked across the dirt street to a courtyard of a small house where an elderly man was sun-drying small coffee beans he was growing on the one hectare (2.5 acres) farm behind his house. We found out that many of these small farmers through the area support their families on just small amounts of land, earning about $1000-$1500 per year from their crops. As we left the home and crossed the street to our awaiting taxis, the principle means of transportation, a donkey being ridden by a farm worker, came ambling down the street. An appropriate farewell from the communities we had helped through your generous donation to the ACF.
In summary, this are the items/services we were able to gift to the children of Vilcabamba on this 2013 Educational Mission Trip:
1). Nueve de Octrubre – Elementary & Middle School – 87 Students – San Pedro de Vilcabamba
Sports Equipment (Volleyball Net, 5 Soccer balls & 2 Basketballs with ACF Logo Imprint)
2). José Vicente Andrade – Elementary Saraguros Indian School – 18 Students – Mollepamba Vilcabamba Mountains
Slide Repair (Labor & Materials)
Voltage Regulator for regulating electricity flow into the computer room
3). Pedro López Medrano – Elementary School – 13 Students – Comunidades / Yangara Valley
10 New Double-Student Desks with Bench Seats
Whiteboard with Multi-Color Markers & Eraser
4). Vicente Paz – Elementary School – 178 Students – Quinara / Malacatos Valley
Water Filtration System with Replacement Filters for 1 year
5). Gonzalo Abad Grijalva – Elementary School – 45 Students – Tumianuma / Malacatos Valley
Epson Multi-Function Copier, printer, fax and scanner + 4-Color Ink Cartridge
Reserve Ink Supply for Epson Copier
6). Trece de Abril – Elementary School – 200 Students – Vilcabamba Village
Xerox Toner Cartridge for Copier/Printer (previously given)
7). Juan Montalvo – Elementary-Middle-High-School – 450 Students – Vilcabamba Village
Future considerations to be determined – T-Shirts & Caps Distributed to all students and teachers
8). Julian de Rua Pizarro – Elementary School – 29 Students – Yamburara Baja – Rural Vilcabamba
Future considerations (Computer Repair & Computer Desks & Chairs Est. $450)
T-Shirts & Caps Distributed to all students and teachers
9). Miguel Carpio Mendieta– Elementary School – 10 Students – Cucanama Alto – Malacatos Valley
Multi-Function CD Player, PA with Speakers
10). Francisco Xavier Salazar – Elementary School – 12 Students – Linderos – Rural Vilcabamba
Computer System (CPU, Monitor, Keyboard, Video Cam, Headset & Mouse)
ACF Support Plaques & Honorary Plaques for Vicente Guzman
10 School Support Plaques & 2 Vicente Guzman Plaques
ACF T-Shirts for the Children and Teachers (1500 – 8 Sizes – 3 Colors)
ACF All-Cotton Baseball Caps (Embroidered – 3 Colors)