Mission Trip 2016


Reported by Cristina Alvarez, December 16-20, 2016.

ACF Mission Team:

Craig Keeland (Texas):Entrepreneur & CEO of CK Companies, ACF Co-Founder/Director/Trustee
Chase Keeland (Texas): Honorary Ambassador and son of Craig Keeland
Adrian Mendoza (Guayaquil): Honorary Ambassador and son of founder, Jaime Mendoza
Cristina Alvarez (Quito): ACF Ambassador & Ecuador Liaison
Enrique Alvarez (Quito): Cristina’s husband & ACF Partner/Volunteer
Emilio (age 10) & Matias (age 7) Vera (Quito): Cristina’s & Enrique’s two sons
Cathy Barriga (Quito): Assistant Travel Planner to Vilcabamba (Aunt of Cristina Alvarez)
Maria Clare Rivadeneira (Quito): Official Photographer (1st Cousin of Cristina Alvarez)

This “Surprise Santa” visit to Vilcabamba was a last minute decision made by Craig Keeland to surprising the children of ACF supported Vilcabamba Schools (10 or 13 schools visited). Among the gifts provided to the children were:

Over 1200…

  • ACF Logo Backpacks
  • ACF Logo T-Shirts
  • ACF Logo Baseball Caps


  • 10 Skills Games for Each School with Training Classes for Teachers
  • 20 Soccer Balls

The Founders and Trustees of the Andes Children’s Foundation would like to thank Cristina Alvarez and her family from Quito for the years of service to ACF. As a teacher herself and owner of a private school in Quito, Cristina has come to appreciate the many hours of service, many US and Ecuadoran volunteers and thousands of pounds of school supplies that ACF has been able to provide the children in Vilcabamba. Her love and dedication to the children in Vilcabamba has resulted in a legacy that will endure forever in that remote village high in the rain forest of the Andes Mountains of South America. teacher introduced her to the children of Vilcabamba. Enrique Vera, her husband has also been very instrumental in helping to secure supplies and equipment from vendors within Ecuador to help save ACF thousands of dollars in import fees and more expense items if purchased in the US.

If you are interested in participating in the next Mission Trip in December of 2017, contact via Email Info@ACF2000.com

Reported by Cristina Alvarez, ACF Ambassador and Ecuador Liaison

Since December is a month of joy, sharing and giving, Craig Keeland and the executives of the Andes Children’s Foundation made a last-minute decided to visit the children and ACF-supported schools in Vilcabamba to let them know we care and that they are special to us.

Craig, Terry Minke, ACF Co-Founder & Trustee, Kim Uyehara, Craig’s personal assistant, my husband, Enrique and I started planning and analyzing what will the children use individually and when we had a conference call, we all decided to take each student a backpack, a t-shirt and a cap (over 1200 gifts in all) and two soccer balls per school. Enrique, our associate partner in charge of getting the things for the schools started contacting vendors to see which one would be the best in quality, prices and timing. He visited some of them and after comparing quotes and samples, we chose the one that had provided us t-shirts and caps for the last years and we placed the order (10 days in advance).

Having special curriculum for the students to use in the school and outside of it and following the ACF objectives regarding education, we wanted to get something for the school/teachers to use in order to improve the children´s learning and the development of their skills. With that in mind, I relied on my experience with the methodology schools are using to develop all the skills that education requires nowadays. Being aware that today the world demands different learning styles and methodologies, I proposed the ACF to implement a skills development plan which I named “Have fun while you teach and learn” and contacted one of the best Ecuadorian producers of didactical material (teaching and learning games). Using recommendations from some institutions and colleagues, we contacted and met Darwin Pabon, an architect specialized in teaching and learning methodologies and didactical material who at the meeting understood all the things I needed for the plan and then presented me a quote; started developing and creating the perfect sets for each school. Since it is a material that has to be used properly to have the expected results, it was very important to train the teachers and teach them how and when to use them. Darwin offered to travel to Vilcabamba (a 12-hour road trip) to train the teachers in an interactive workshop.

Two days before the trip to Loja, everything was packaged and shipped to Vilcabamba and everything was arranged for the Christmas visit.

Sunday, December 18th:

On Sunday December 18th, Craig Keeland, Chase Keeland, Enrique Vera, Cristina Alvarez, Matias and Emilio Vera, Maria Clara Rivadeneira (photographer) and Cathy Barriga (assistant) boarded the airplane to Loja ready to give our best to the children in Vilcabamba.

At our arrival, Polibio Leon and Hernan Sanchez, our preferred drivers and Adrian Mendoza, Jaime’s Mendoza our co-founder’s son who kindly traveled from Montanita – Guayaquil to Loja to join the mission and help us arranging what was necessary with the local people who were waiting for our arrival after a 2-hour trip up and over the two mountains between Loja and Vilcabamba.

Upon arrival in Vilcabamba, we checked in at the Izchayluma Hotel, had breakfast and started our journey. Our first stop was the waterfall that made Craig, Doctor Pedersen (co-Founder & Trustee) and Terry Minke fall in love with Vilcabamba and all its surrounding nature. Adrian and Victor, a Mendozas’ lifetime employee and friend had everything set for this adventure. We were able to breathe fresh air, see wonderful natural landscapes, eat oranges from trees, walk under the shadows of the trees and have the experience of being showered by a powerful waterfall.

After that, some of us walked around the plaza and some went horseback riding and then we all met at the Plaza to have some snacks and get ready to go to the Condor’s nest Jaime Mendoza’s dream home and organic farm about 9,000 feet above sea level, to admire all the beauty of the valley and to visit Jaime Mendoza’s sacred ashes which were buried there in 2011. At the end of the day, we all had dinner at the hotel and got everything ready for the next day.

Monday, December 19th:

At 7:30 am Enrique and the drivers started loading the pick-up trucks with the backpacks, t-shirts, caps and the didactical material for the first rural schools that we were going to visit.

The first school that we visited was “Miguel Carpio Mendieta” in Cucanama Alto, a small elementary school with 8 students. The students were very happy with their new backpacks, t-shirts, caps, didactical material and soccer balls. We talked with the teacher, the children and we all play a small soccer match with the new ball.

The second elementary school was “Francisco Javier Salazar” located in Linderos with 8 students of all ages. We were happy to see the teacher again, and we felt pleased because we could see that the equipment (computer, projector and printer) that we gave them in the last visit (2014) is in good conditions and has been properly used. The children were happy with their new things and since soccer was their favorite sport, we all kicked the ball.

The third school was “Cuerpo de Paz” located in Santorum, a very small rural school with 5 children. This was the first time the ACF visited this school and since we entered the facility we could feel the passion and the devotion the teacher had for those children, all the decorations and the art work (painting) were handmade and were created by the teacher and the students. All the kids were very happy and thankful with their new things. The best moment in this school was when we gave the teacher all the didactic material for the school. When she started to open the box, she was so thankful and excited that She said that she had received the best Christmas present because she was using what she could find in the location and its surroundings to create games and develop the student’s skills. We talked and play with the students.

After this wonderful experience, we went to the fourth school “Piedad Burneo de Ojeda” located in Moyococha with 8 students of all ages. We gave the students and the teachers the things we had, we played soccer and continue with our visits.

The 5th school was “Gonzalo Abad Grijalva” located in Tumianuma. This is a special school for its view, location and staff. After we gave the 20 students and the teacher their things, the children sang Christmas Carols in a small thank you event they have prepared for the ACF.

Our 6th school was Pedro Lopez Medrano located in Comunidades, a small school with 10 children of all ages. The teacher and the students were very happy when they received their things and again, we enjoyed playing a soccer game (girls vs. boys). In 2014 The ACF gave this school; desks, computer and a 4×4 m white board. All this things were in good conditions and are been used.

Our 7th school was “Julian de Rua Pizarro” a rural school located in Yamburara Bajo with 12 students. We were happy to see that the facility’s roof was fixed, the small orchard was in good conditions and the equipment we have donated them was been used. The teacher and the students were thankful and happy with their new things.
The last school of the day was “Jose Vicente Andrade” located in Mollepamba. This is a Saraguros children school and is one of the first schools that the ACF helped since this project started. All the things that have been constructed and donated are still working and used. The children were happy and thankful with their things and we played our final soccer match.

With the feeling of success in the first part of our mission, we all went to have lunch in la Terraza. After this we prepared and set everything up for the “teach and learn while you play” workshop held in the taxis office that was kindly provided by Polibio and Hernan.
All the teachers were on time ready to learn new things and very excited to have this new material available in their schools. The training started with a welcome message from the ACF and a motivational message from Darwin Pabon, the creator and owner of the company “Manitos Creativas”

In the 3-hour training session, the teachers interacted with the instructor and played between them as if they were the students in order to learn how to use all the pieces. They were impressed and excited to see how teaching and learning could become fun and at the same time give great results. At the end they were thankful and all the teachers gave the ACF a thank you message and received a training certificate issued by “Manitos Creativas” and the ACF.
To finish a very productive day, we all went to eat a special dinner at a new hotel and restaurant called “El Descanso del Toro” We all were tired but excited and happy because the second part of our mission was concluded with success.

Tuesday January 20th:

At 8:00 am we met at the hotel’s restaurant to have breakfast and plan our day. We checked out from the hotel and load all the things that were left in the taxis.

Our first visit was to the 9th school on our visit, “Rosa Cevallos de Ludena,” located in Carango. Since it was the first time we visited this school we stablished a relationship with the teacher and found out what their needs were (the roof is about to fall). The teacher thanked us for the student’s things but especially for the material and the workshop. We talked and played with the children. As a thank you gift, they gave us fruit from the area.

Our next stop was in the 10th school “Manuel Riofrio Mora” located in Yamburara Alto, a big elementary school with 250 students divided by levels in different classrooms. We have always visited this school and have donated them equipment and things for the children however since this school has always been assisted by the government and has a big number of students, this time we only gave the students their backpacks, t-shirts, caps and soccer balls.

They were very happy and all of them wore their things in that precise moment, since they were having a Christmas event with all the parents and teachers. When we finished giving away the gifts, the Director of the school gave us a thank you message.

After this visit, we went to the 11th and final school on our visit, an elementary school “9 de Octubre” located in San Pedro. This school was also one of the first schools that the ACF has helped since the Foundation was founded back in 2003. We were happy to see the same teachers and staff but missed our friend, Gonzalo, former director, who retired a year ago. We gave 80 students their gifts, the new director gave a thank you message and the kids were very loveable thanking with big hugs to the entire mission group.

Since a few backpacks and small t-shirts were left, we went to a daycare center and gave the small preschoolers backpacks and t-shirts.

After we finished, we went to have lunch on the square, an ACF tradition, and then with the “mission accomplished” feeling, we made the return 2-hour trip back to Loja airport and flew back to Quito and from there everyone returned home with a feeling of gratefulness and joy which is the hallmark of the season.