2014 EDUCATIONAL MISSION TRIP TO VILCABAMBA, ECUADOR
Reported by Terry Minke, Mission Director & ACF Co-Founder/Director/Trustee March 10-15, 2014.
ACF Mission Team:
Craig Keeland (Texas):Entrepreneur & CEO of CK Companies, ACF Co-Founder/Director/Trustee
Terry Minke (Texas): ACF Co-Founder, Board Member and Trustee, Owner Advantage Marketing
Keiko Nagao (Japan): Top Japanese Distributor & ACF Ambassador
Koji Nagao (Japan): Keiko’s husband
Teri Tomlinson (Orlando): Top US Distributor & ACF Ambassador
Amy Lefkowitz (New York): US Distributor & ACF Supporter
Ilene Cavagnuolo (New York): US Distributor & ACF Supporter
Tina Puma-Breitfeller (New York): US Distributor & ACF Supporter
Elly Molina (Washington): US Distributor & ACF Supporter
Byron Nernoff (New York): US Distributor & ACF Supporter
Kay Nernoff (New York): US Distributor & ACF Supporter
Tak Wakimoto (Utah): Japanese Interpreter & ACF Supporter
Cristina Alvarez: (Quito) ACF Ambassador & Ecuador Liaison
Enrique Alvarez: (Quito) Cristina’s husband & ACF Partner/Volunteer
Emilio (age 8) & Matias (age 5) Vera (Cristina’s & Enrique’s two sons) (Quito)
Laurie Miller, Larry Evans & Director Paul Leon (Vilcabamba): One World Vilcabamba Co-Founders.
In all of 2013, The Board of Directors of the Andes Children’s Foundation announced the final dates for the Educational Mission Trip #7 to Vilcabamba, Ecuador – March 10-15, 2014. Distributors and ACF supporters from around the world were invited to join the Mission Team and experience the beauty of Vilcabamba for themselves. By becoming part of Mission Team, they would have a direct impact on the Children of the Vilcabamba Valley. The Team assisted in the delivery of much needed equipment and support to the area schools. Their valued time in the Vilcabamba Valley allowed the Children of the Valley to hope for a much brighter future with better educational opportunities and resources than they would have without their support.
Vilcabamba, Ecuador, is home to the legendary Centenarians of Vilcabamba – people who live long and vibrant lives well past 100 years of age. These people live free from the diseases of aging that plague our modern world. In Vilcabamba, the vegetation is greener and the sky is bluer than what you have ever seen. The air is crisper and cleaner. The food is the freshest. The water is rich with naturally occurring minerals that enhance your body’s health. Anyone who has traveled to the Vilcabamba Valley has returned changed forever. This was a trip of a lifetime for all who attended.
Participating in Mission Trip 7 were ACF Co-Founders and Trustees Craig Keeland and Terry Minke along with 9 members of the US and Japan family of ACF supporters including their guests, 4 members of the Quito, Ecuador family of ACF Director & Ambassador, Cristina and 3 members of the One World Vilcabamba family, a local Foundation with whom we work in partnership to help the Children of the Valley.
On the 5-Day trip, the Team visited two locations in Ecuador that were very diverse opposites: Quito, the thriving metropolitan city with over 10 million population and much the same issues faced in the major cities throughout the world but with ample opportunity for educational advancement. Then off to Vilcabamba, high in the Andes Mountains, a 1-hour plane ride and 1-1/2 hour taxi ride to one of the more remote regions of Ecuador. There the Team experienced a culture that is family-oriented, healthy and happy, living a village-like lifestyle where the whole valley is connected socially, culturally and spiritually. What was lacking when ACF first arrived in 2003 was educational opportunity because the Ecuadoran government was unable to provide educational resources to such a remote area. In the 6 previous Mission Trips, ACF and its Missions Teams have provided so much for these children that during this visit we only needed to supplement their technology needs by providing 12 laptops and a few incidental item.
The first night’s stay in Quito was a short one with just 3 to 4 hours rest before having to get up the next morning at 3:30 am to catch our domestic flight to Loja which was scheduled for a 5:45 am departure. After almost two hours delay sitting on the tarmac, we were airborne by 7:30. During the beautiful 1-hour flight to Loja we were all treated to an extremely rare sighting… an erupting volcano. Not a violent eruption only a few puffs of smoke that sent a flume of smoke about an estimated 5 – 10 thousand feet into the air. Once we arrived in Loja, we were off toward Vilcabamba via small pick-up truck taxis’ that took us up and over two mountain ranges and through the industry city of Loja.
Once in Vilcabamba, the Team stopped at our first two schools we had planned to visit and then to the lovely Hotel Izhcayluma, a nicely appointed bed and breakfast run by German residents of Vilcabamba. This hotel features a breathtaking view of the entire Vilcabamba Valley. An afternoon of massages and rest was welcomed by all and we were treated to a “Welcome” Dinner together in the open-air veranda dining area overlooking the beautiful valley at twilight. A deserved night of peaceful rest with a gentle rainfall just outside our cabanas was enjoyed by all.
Over the next few days the Team visited 10 of the 14 schools supported by the ACF, a sugar cane operation deep in the rain forest area run by local farmers, the cathedral in the village square, several restaurants on the square and many shops. At each of the Vilcabamba Valley schools, ranging in size from 12 to 400 students, we were met by the grateful and excited children, administrators, school directors and teachers. The Team had an opportunity to hear directly how the Andes Children’s Foundation is having an impact on the schools at the “Reception of Administrators, School Directors and Teachers” at the beautiful Hotel de Vilcabamba in an outdoor pavilion and patio area with a garden-like setting.
Our plans to make a couple of excursions, including: a 2-hour hike to the “Fountain of Youth” waterfall just outside of the town of Vilcabamba where the group would have experienced the life-giving mineral waters of Vilcabamba for themselves and a trip to the top of the Andes Mountains to the “Condor’s Nest” – the mountaintop estate of the late ACF Director Jaime Mendoza, did not materialize due to the rainy season. We did, however, ended up spending more relaxing times at the wonderful spa at the hotel and in the village square shopping for local artisan items.
While visiting the schools, each Team Member was given the opportunity to present a laptop computer to the students and teachers and had time in a few of the venues to interact with the students in their schoolwork, playground fun and even some sporting activities. Each student and most of the teachers and administrators received t-shirts and backpack tags with ACF logos. Each school also receive a special gift and a Japanese cultural presentation from Keiko & Koji, which was translated from Japanese to English by Tak and then from English to Spanish by Cristina. The children loved their gifts and the interaction with the Team members and I am sure hearts were forever connected. I personally was able to reconnect with several students, teachers and administrators with whom I had formed a bond through the years. Joyful moments, tearful emotional rushes and forever memories were experience by the entire team during those 2 days of bonding. I know I can speak for all the participants when I say “It’s times like these that make life worth living and make memories that will last a lifetime!”
Our final evening together in Vilcabamba ended with a beautiful “Farewell” Dinner back at the hotel. The evening and the entire trip was dedicated in memory of Butch Cavagnuolo, a lifelong companion to Ilene and fabulous “young” man whose life had been devoted to his family, his relationship with other distributor worldwide and was a great personal friend. Butch had told me years ago that he wanted to go to Vilcabamba with me someday. Well that day never came in reality, but for eternity he will look over the beautiful valley of Vilcabamba and recall a moment in time when his wife Ilene made the journey of a lifetime for him. Ilene, God allowed him to be there spiritually, I am sure of it. We all felt his presence.
On the fourth day of the trip, we had lunch at our favorite spot on the square and took in our final taste of Vilcabamba while enjoying a serenade by a local musician and singer. As a special unexpected treat, Larry Evans, who knows one of Vilcabamba’s most famous centenarians, made arrangements for all of us to meet him just a few blocks away from the restaurant. What a great opportunity to see and talk with this fine gentleman who really had a “way with the ladies” in our group. I think he was interviewing a few of them for his next wife ☺. Off to the airport by 2:30 and the return flight from Loja to Quito was made without a hitch and we arrived back in time for a special evening “Celebration” Dinner at the beautiful Hotel Rincon del Puembo just about 30 minutes from the new Quito International Airport. The food was fabulous and the company was even better. Tear-producing laughter, excitement about the experience and a new sense of camaraderie completed the evening’s activities. One more day of adventure awaited us.
The final day of the trip was spent touring Quito, the capitol city of Ecuador. We visited the “Center of the Earth” (Centro del Mundo) monument where east meets west and north meets south at the equator, the Virgen de Quito (Virgin Mary Statue) that sits at 10,000 ft elevation in the middle of the city, the Centro Mercado (Central Marketplace) where local artisans sell their wares, Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus Cathedral, a beautiful cathedral lined with gold and even had time to enjoy an ice cream snack for lunch and early dinner on the run at a major mall in downtown Quito, before heading for the airport for our various departures home to the US and on to Japan for Keiko and Koji.
A Big “Thank You” to ALL of the Participants:
To Craig: Thanks for your compassion, world vision and desire to “give back” that makes all of this possible.
To Cristina and her family: Thanks for the wonderful planning and arrangements for accommodations, purchasing of equipment and printing of t-shirts in Quito and your dedication to the success of all of our mission trips since the very first one. Thanks to your two boys for allowing me to pretend I am their grandfather while I am away from my grandkids.
To Keiko and Koji: Thanks for going the extra mile (actually 25,000 miles) to help us make this trip so successful and adding the Japanese sense of hospitality and cultural exchange for the people and children of Vilcabamba and for truly making this part of the world vision for the ACF.
To Teri, Amy, Ilene, Tina and Elly: Thanks for continuing to be the foundation that you are for the US group and for the endearing relationship I have had with each of you through the years. Teri, a three-timer and the others as first-timers, you guys made the trip not only successful but also fun for us all. Our great late-night conversations were enriching for us all. Group hug!
To Byron & Kay: What a great couple and newest addition to the family and now veterans of the Vilcabamba Experience. Byron’s joke-telling at dinners and great sense of humor entertained us all. Kay’s added value of being able to speak Spanish proved priceless and helped to make Enrique, Cristina’s husband who only speaks Spanish, feel more part of the group and your help at the airport to get everyone headed in the right direction when Cristina’s family crisis occurred at the very end of the trip was truly appreciated by us all. Both of you showed such love toward the children and your participation in the dancing at the schools will give us all something to remember ☺.
To Tak: You da man!! (Just ask all the ladies that were along with us on the trip). It was great getting to know you better. Thanks for translating and taking care for Keiko and Koji so that their experience was a better one. Now just start working on your Spanish so we won’t have another dinner of laughter that kept me in stitches for almost 30 minutes, due to the misinterpretation that led to the Enrique – Koji food fight ☺☺☺. I’m still laughing about it.
To Laurie, Larry & Paul (One World Vilcabamba): Thank you again for all of your local help in Vilcabamba for making this trip successful. Our partnership in helping the children of Vilcabamba is growing and beneficial for us both.
If you are interested in participating in the next Mission Trip in December of 2017, contact via Email Info@ACF2000.com