More than just a few extra days in Cariamanga

As I sit here and think about how incredible of an experience I have had during this summer with the Healthy Living Initiative; the most recent experience continues to resonate, which was my brief return to Cariamanga. It was a bittersweet good-bye to the rest of the group knowing that the main part of the summer was complete, but I would see all my new friends and colleagues back in Athens, a place so dear to my heart, in just a few short weeks.

The trip back to Cariamanga was uneventful, which for any traveling, is good traveling. It was a good flight, and when we arrived back in Cariamanga it was such a good feeling to be back there. I had grown so attached over the previous eight weeks and felt so comfortable being back. I was also very excited to get back to work in the communities. By the time I arrived back in Guara on Monday, I felt as if I had missed more than just 10 days worth of work. So much had happened!

Don José’s house that I had previously known was no longer there, and there was only a flattened piece of land with the areas for the foundation already excavated, and ready to be poured. The crew had been working hard to get this all ready, and they would continue working hard while I was there with them as well.

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Also, the “playground” of the school where I had previously made school tire gardens was no longer there. The gardens were doing well, however the Ecua-volleyball court had been temporarily displaced and now there was a flat, fenced in space for drying the adobe bricks they had been making, and we were going to continue to make to complete the house for Don José and his family!

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The brick making process is a very physically intense process, however it was a lot of fun! It was a very good group bonding experience and I was really able to spend a lot of quality time with Lucho, Don José and several of his kids during this process, from sifting clay, to mixing the clay and water in the pit that was made and then adding the straw binder to the whole mix to make the final material that we would place in the forms and then leave to dry.

It was much more than just making bricks, we spent hours, laughing, joking and telling stories about our lives to each other. There were even days when friends and community members of other areas such as Bella Maria came up to help!

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Also, being able to share meals with the family was so wonderful and the food was delicious!  Doña Hilda is an amazing cook! I was able to spend some breakfasts, every lunch, and most dinners with Doña Hilda and the family during my extra week and a half in Cariamanga, which made it even more personal helping with the construction of the house.  I was even invited to help cut sugar cane, and make “panela”!

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Panela is a raw block of sugar, which is made by harvesting the cane, extracting the juice and cooking down the liquid until the raw sugar block remains.

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In this process you are able to add various things as well for texture or flavor, and we chose to add ground peanuts to one batch!

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Each activity, each meal and each day that passed I felt more and more a part of this amazing family and so proud and fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of their lives. It was such an incredible experience that they allowed to me to be a part of the building process, and be with them during such an emotionally challenging experience.

I am very sad to be leaving Don José and his family, however it makes me even more excited to know that I will be back in Cariamanga, in just a few (9) months and I will be able to see them again! For now I must focus on getting everything ready for the next few months back in Athens to be able to better benefit the communities of Cariamanga when I return next year. As well as for future endeavors of the Healthy Living Initiative!

-Charlie

Charlie Fulks is a first-year International Development Studies graduate student at Ohio University. He will be spending the next two years working closely with the TDI on all their future endeavors.

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Reports From The Field V

It is around 8 o’clock in the morning and as we drive from breakfast to Guara, the community we are to work in, we are greeted by mist floating in the valleys. The scenery is very soothing and calming that it seems to have stepped out of a painting. When we get to our destined drop off points in order to hike to the more inland communities for our various activities, the dew on the grass and trees cling to our clothes and belongings. As we walk down the valley and hop from root to ground, we discuss strategies on how to approach the community members and make the activities community-led. This has become our daily ritual for the communities are dynamic and always full of surprises – good surprises.

The community of Guara is seated on a very mountainous landscape sweeping beyond what any eye can see. Green mountains hold each others hands as they reach for the horizon and touch the blue sky which is filled with beautiful white clouds. Trees and fields of corn and other crops grace the lee-sides of the mountains dancing to the sway of the breeze. Every person we bypass greets us with such openness and warmth. The dogs seem to be on edge more than ever for they bark out loudly as we approach various yards. We walk eagerly so as to get to our destinations faster, but to get away from the dogs as well. Don Darwin, our local coordinator, assures us that the dogs are more of guards than attackers so there is nothing to worry about.

We finally get to one of the houses after about 45 minutes of hiking. We are welcomed very warmly, and even if I personally have no idea what is been said, they are adamant on speaking to me. All I do is smile, nod, and focusing on the facial expressions of the speaker, I speak the little Spanish I know i.e. “si”, “no” and other agreeing sounds. After “talking” for about 5 minutes, our program director rescues me from my masquerade and I carry on to observing the conversation. I presume my crush-course Spanish lessons on YouTube did not pay off. THe challenges of not speaking the language is sometimes frustrating, but the Spanish speakers on the team are patient enough to explain every detail, and always encourage us (the non-Spanish speakers) to always ask questions. I presume by the time the summer is over, some decent Spanish will be spoken by many of us. This only shows that in as much as we are offering something to the communities, they are also giving us something live-sustaining – a new language.

The communities not only offer us the chance to practice Spanish, but their time as well. They are very hard working, and tend to leave their work in order to hear what we have to say. They are very patient and take their time to understand our various projects and usually offer their time to attend the various activities that we have set up. They also inform us how various projects done in the past aid them and that gives them the zeal to want to learn more from the current ones. This makes me realize that without the communities’ full involvement, the projects would not take much root. Am so glad that the communities embrace not only us, but our work as well. This gives us the enthusiasm to woke up each morning to do a great day’s work!

-Kombe

Reports From The Field IV

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

As we arrive in June and as the rains continue to fall, we have to take a look at everything we have been able to accomplish in Bella Maria thus far. Our goal of having 3,000 bricks made for the community center has been surpassed, so we think. This number may seem arbitrary, however it has been chosen because if we are to reach that goal, it will allow for a cushion in case some blocks are either misshapen, or damaged in the drying process. This is one of the things we hope to find out today, did we make it?

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After an hour and a half in the trucks, driving through one of the most beautiful landscapes it is the hot topic, “Do we have enough bricks?”. Of course we have all been counting in our heads for the past three weeks and all have a different total sum of bricks in mind, the variable which determines our fate is something that has been looming over our heads for days, weeks now, it is the rain. The rainy season which is normally over in April, has continued through May and during the entire duration of the “Service Learning” trip during the second week of May.

As we arrive in the community of Bella Maria, we see the community members hard at work. They have begun the arduous process of cleaning, shaping, and moving the adobe bricks. This a very important process for many reasons. For one, the blocks need to be consistent in the thickness of each block to ensure the quality and the stability of the structure. Another is when we move the blocks from one area to another to make space, we are able to see how many of the blocks are damaged, or misshapen. Also, cleaning off the bricks of any residual mud, dirt or any other material that could hinder the adhesion process later on, or could make it difficult when trying to make each layer of bricks level.

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As a group we all began to clean, shape and stack the bricks in new locations from where they were previously to aid in the drying process, and analyze whether the bricks were dry, still a little wet, or if they rain had not allowed them to dry hardly at all. We also dug new trenches, and cleaned out and made the existing trenches bigger and deeper to help keep the bricks as dry as possible. During this process we were able to get the dryer bricks to be stacked and covered securely, as well as move the bricks that were in spots that were prone to heavy rain and pooling. This was great in terms of seeing tangibly where we are in the brick making process. We were able to establish that not as many bricks were damaged by the rains, and we had achieved our goal to have 3,000 bricks and more than the needed 2,600 working bricks!

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Of course all this work has a timeline these days, when the rains seem inevitable. So of course, as we work we keep an eye to the sky to make sure that we can get all the bricks covered before the rains hit and potentially cause damage to any bricks. Of course, the rains arrived around the time we had expected, and we were able to get everything covered in time. Which, unfortunately significantly shortens our works days when the rains arrive early, or even when you expect them to in the early afternoons. Hopefully soon the rains stop for a little while and allow the bricks to dry, as well as giving the community of Bella Maria and us time to construct the community center. However, for now, it’s time to head back up to the top of the mountain and prepare ourselves for another day. Thankfully Don Victor has a vehicle capable of making it through the mountainous road in all weather conditions.

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Until next time!

-Charlie

Charlie Fulks is starting the first year of his master’s program in the International Development Studies program at Ohio University. This is his first trip to Ecuador with the Healthy Living Initiative and the Tropical Disease Institute.

Reports From The Field III

Wow! I have already been in Ecuador for 3 and half weeks. I can be really cliché and say “time fly’s when you’re having fun,” but you get the idea.  Working with the Healthily Living Initiative is very rewarding and I feel there are a plethora of opportunities for me to explore, as it becomes time for me to focus on the topic of my research. Throughout the time I have been here so far, we have already seen one group come and go. The Service Learning group where the first to come and work with us this summer and truly worked hard. This group worked in the community of Bellamaria on the construction of a communal house that will be used for several functions within the community.  The group worked in the adobe brick building process. This was not an easy task but everyone gave their best efforts to make the bricks. The process consist of shifting sand, mixing the sand and water until it reaches a mud like consistency while adding hay to hold everything together. After the mud mixture is ready it goes into a square-shaped mold to form the shape of the bricks.  The group worked everyday on the bricks. There was a small group who also participated in English and Computation lessons in the schools of Guara, Chaquiza and Bellamaría. The last day that the group was there the school of Bellamaria had a performance for the SL group that was delightful. Afterwards the SL group had their own performance for the community “The Chicken Dance!!” The schoolchildren as well as the rest of the community were laughing as the SL group preformed and everyone had a blast.

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In the evening we had a small going away party for the SL group at their hotel. We were caught by surprise when Don Victor, the man who knows everyone in our town and wonderful driver started singing and had a concert. Afterwards, there was a guitar that was being passed around while the musicians in the groups showed their talents. Esteban Baus and Peter Mather both took the stage and surprised us all with their solo performances.

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As time moves on, I am getting excited about the future and the research I will be working on. Like I said before there are so many opportunities to make an impact!

-Nelson Patterson

Reports From The Field II

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Working on the adobes has been tough, but very rewarding to see the progress we have made. As of now the part I like the most is the actual filling the molds with the wet cement-like mud, which are used to create the adobe bricks. It is fun getting down and dirty with mud and forming the bricks, plus your hands feel very smooth as the mud is an exfoliant. After being sick for the past few days I feel rejuvenated me and I have been very productive.  Today is also the last full day that the Service Learning team is in Bellamaria. We were given Service Learning t-shirts to where for today and tomorrow and now I can officially say I have gotten my first free t-shirt from Ohio University!!

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During needed water breaks throughout the day I talked with a few SL volunteers to see if they are enjoying the trip and the majority really had a great time! I am impressed how willing they are to work and push their comfort level by interacting with the community members of Bellamaria and trying their best to communicate with them.  Towards the end of the day much of the time was spent moving the adobe bricks so the rain would not destroy them. The adobe bricks are heavy and when they are not completely dry there is a risk of breaking them when picking them up so you have to be very careful.  The SL team and I worked on stacking the bricks and putting them in a place where the rains would not harm the hard work we have done throughout their week here.

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Tomorrow there will be a going away party for the Service Learning group and the community members! It should be fun seeing everyone interacting and dancing together!

-Nelson Patterson

Reports From The Field I

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Small farming communities are often assumed to be timeless. When I think of the community that I lived in for two years in Nicaragua, I think about the people and activities as being constant. This stereotype is not fully without merit. When I visited the community a few times after I moved to the city for my third year of Peace Corps service I would ask if there was any news, and a common response was “Gracias a Dios no, todo esta bien.”

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Coming back to the communities in Ecuador for my second summer I thought things would be similar. In my most skeptical moments I even thought that our work was kind of like Sysiphus, any progress we would make together throughout the course of a summer would fade away and we would come back only to do the same thing all over again. I have been very surprised however that things feel different working and interacting in the communities this summer. I was surprised and delighted that many people remembered me and some remembered my name. Especially working in Bellamaria, participating in the mingas with the community members and talking with them and hearing them, I feel that there is a greater ease in our relationship, that is between Healthy Living and the community members. People come up to me just to talk about anything and call me by my name and remember it. We are able to share small jokes, including the nickname of one community member bien “El Chivo Loco”. It is much like a courtship that has moved beyond the initial stages of being very self conscious and nervous, wanting things to go right but at the same time not wanting to give too much away at once, to the stage of a better understanding and the developing of a real history between the two parties. As much as our project has advanced in terms of infrastructure and the organizing of more projects, this is just as great a development for true trust and understanding between the communities and our team will be invaluable as we move on together on our project.

-Conor

Conor Tong is the project coordinator for the Healthy Living Initiative. He is a graduate student studying International Development at Ohio University. This is his second year going down to Ecuador with the Tropical Disease Institute.

Friday the 13th and our Open House

 

Friday the thirteenth, the day we were all expecting with a strange mix of excitement and dread. We were super excited about Healthy Living’s open house. The open house was HL’s closing event, where we would be showcasing what the team and the community members had been working on together for the past few weeks. On the other hand we were dreading two things: the bad luck of a Friday the 13th- which fortunately waited until the event was finished to manifest- and, more than anything, we dreaded the thought of having to say goodbye to the people of Chaquizhca, Guara and Bella Maria. People who had so warmly opened their homes, schools, and their hearts to us.

We arrived very early in the morning to set everything up, gosh I had like 300 drawings from the story telling and participatory project I was working on at the local schools. Lucky for me the children arrived shortly and came to my rescue. Later, some folks from our french ally institution Tsiky Tzanaka joined in, and we were done in the nick of time. The party started at around 10 in the morning, it was the perfect mix of a cultural fair and a gathering between good friends. There were booths with local produce and crafts, others with some creative work from the members of the HL team, and some from local partners and institutions. There were interactive activities like the solar clock, which aimed to show community members traditional alternatives to new technologies that have been forgotten; the family photo booth and community photo shows; the balance and jumping ropes for the children. I was in charge of the children’s room, where the drawings from the story telling and participatory sketching activities were showcased, along with art projects from the children’s class work. It was a very nice experience, having people come and explaining what the children and I had worked on for the entire month, why it was relevant and what was next.

Later on, there were performances from the children and community members. The best moment for me was when I found out the community members had set up a snack post with traditional Latin-American delights like empanadas and salchi-papas (fries and wienies); I always loved those back in Colombia and had missed them a lot. We concluded the event with a nice lunch and warm goodbyes. The children asked me “Lily, Lily!!! are you coming back next year?” I smiled cautiously and answered “God willing, I will try ” I was sad about the uncertainty of it all, but I felt worse about people who were probably asked the same question, but knew for sure they were not coming back. Still, whether we planned on coming back or not, we hoped that the communities had found our presence as enjoyable as we had found their company, and that our work had impacted their lives at least half as much as it did our souls.

Going home, Friday the 13th started kicking in: two vans had flat tires, we encountered all kinds of crazy stuff on the road, but at the end of the day there was nothing but satisfaction in the memory of that day. As we shared dinner and drinks we also shared warm and happy memories, funny anecdotes and jokes about some not so pleasant experiences. The open house had closed, but we hope that the hearts we tried to reach during our time there would remain open.

Apart from the display of children’s drawings, there are also other booths of Clinic, Entomology, Mammal, Entomology, Healthy Living, and some agriculture products and souvenirs bought to the Open House by local people. Let’s see what we have for the day.

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Link to the original post: http://oueduabroad.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/open-houses-open-hearts-and-bitter-sweet-farewells/

Focus Group on Healthy Housing

One particular thing about Healthy Living Project is that we have always used participatory approach while working with the communities here. This has been proved to be the appropriate method to approach the local people, who better understand their different aspects of life here and see things in a different way than the development experts or professionals. What we think may be good for them is not the same as what they think it is. Therefore, participatory approach is necessary to better comprehend the needs and necessities of local people and to bridge the gap in knowledge and understanding between local people and experts.

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The housing component is one of the five major components of HLP and has been the most critical part in our fight against Chagas and to improve housing and living conditions of the communities here. To engage local people in developing the idea of a healthy housing and living, we invited some women from the communities in Chaquizhca, Guara, and Bella Maria to conduct a focus group on Healthy House and Healthy Living.

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The participants were shown some pictures of houses in different conditions and were asked what they see in the houses that need to be improved. After the evaluation of houses, we went on gathering ideas of how a healthy house should be. They were divided in two groups and each one tried to sketch an ideal house that can keep the bugs away and help them maintain a healthy living condition. From their sketching, it looks like they already had a clear idea of the house they want. The most encouraging thing that we found is that their picture of the ideal house also fits the requirement of a healthy house that we think of, which is built of nice materials, has fence, no animals in the house, and has cages for animals and pets located outside the house.

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The focus group ended up with the question of how to build the house that has this ideal conditions and what kind of assistance that local people require from donors, organizations, and from us. The participants supposed that they can build their own houses or improve their current place if they have enough money, and of course they need assistance in building houses, but they also believe they can do it with their labor.

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It was such a productive meeting as we could better understand the needs of people in building the houses, how they want to build their houses and how we could help them in achieving the goal. We are also happy with the fact that three out of five women came to the meeting will become our health promoters, which mean they will spread the knowledge and information within the community. We believe they will be the positive deviants among their communities and will help to promote how to live a healthy life and the importance of having a healthy house. Way to go, health promoters!!!!

Visiting women’s workshop in Bella Maria

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, but to Development team members of Healthy Living project, there seems to be no off day as we all have a lot of surveys, focus groups and other work to facilitate before the end of the program this summer. And so we spent this Sunday visiting women’s workshop in Bella Maria so we can figure out what they think about the activities they are doing at the workshop and how they expect the workshop will become in future. We also want to help them out with the workshop if they need any promotion or any assistance with their business.

Some of the stuff made by women in Bella Maria

As we have been so connected with the communities here and more and more engaged with the project, all the work and facilitation does not seem that hard anymore. It is always nice to meet with local people here as they always treat us with the best they could and makes us feel like home. And so this visit to Bella Maria was actually great to all of us. The women’s workshop is located in one of the women’s house in the community and is the place where the women get together every Sunday, sometimes with their kids and husbands, to share their ideas of how to make beautiful handicrafts and jewelry to generate more income for their families. We can see that this activity serves as many purposes for the women: it is not only a means to generate income but also a meaningful way for women who want to work and share their ideas to make a better life and future for their families and the community.

Working on ideas to expand the business of women’s workshop

However, what surprised us most are not the beautiful stuff that they made and how much they enjoy the activity but their clear vision of how they would like this workshop to become in future. They do not only see it as a women’s activity but a potential business, which they want to expand in negotiation and distribution. To make this come true, they are thinking of having a space to display their items in Cariamanga, one of the biggest cities in Loja province, so they can distribute the products to bigger population. It is not only a dream as they are really working on the ideas of logo and the message they want to deliver. While working with them on the image of their group activity, the women were very active and gave us a lot of ideas on how they want to develop the image of their business. What we are trying to help them is to realize their ideas, including designing the logo, making promotion for their products, and packaging.

Well, people may think that our Development team is helping the communities to figure out what they should do to improve their living conditions, but actually we are also learning while working with the communities. That has made our working process more stimulating and fulfilling. There is always something interesting about the communities, their thoughts and ideas that we have not learned before every time we work or facilitate an activity with them; and all of those things, together with their nice gestures, just make us want to stay longer and work harder for the project. Yeah, that’s why working on Sunday is not bad at all. 🙂

a great view on our way back, one of the reasons that keep us excited when going to the field everyday 🙂

Yes, participatory sketching works!

We had two days in a row working with children in different schools, one in Guara and one in Chaquizhca. Last year I visited the school in Guara twice for health education and so this time we came back with the booklet to see how well they remember the information. We were surprised that they could remember almost everything as they were drawing the answers to the evaluation questions. We used storytelling and participatory sketching to help them absorb the information more easily, and it works! The children are really interested in drawing and coloring is probably their most favorite thing to do. There were not a lot of students in the Guara school, about 10 in total but they were all very engaging and captivated with the booklets we delivered to them and with the drawing and coloring activities that we facilitated. Some of the drawings are so good that you hardly can tell it is from a 6-year-old girl, every picture that they draw just makes us more proud and happy about the process that we were going through. More than that, we feel more than pleased that the information from the booklet would be helpful to keep them away from Chagas disease and to live a healthier life. 🙂

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the booklet and drawing of one student

 We did the same activities with the school in Chaquizhca. The only difference is that there are many more students in this school than the one in Guara, which makes it more difficult for us to facilitate. However, we also received quite satisfying responses and beautiful drawings. We are happy with what we have got so far from both schools. There will be another activity in the school in Bella Maria next week and that is supposed to be done with storytelling and participatory sketching this summer. I am glad that we have made some impression about Chagas, which would help them to live healthier.

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On the other hand, knowing that I will hardly see these faces again after this summer, it is really hard when they come and ask every morning: “When are you coming back to our class?” Although I may not ever come back here to see them draw and color and ask me questions again, I hope they will remember me anytime they look at the booklet and remember the information I tried to remind them of through participatory sketching. That would be the biggest reward ever for me and the Healthy Living team after all our hard work and efforts to get the community to become more engaged in our fight against Chagas disease. I hope what the children have learnt will last long in their memories and will be helpful for them long in their lives. There would be nothing better that I could wish for the children and the communities here, and that is also what I have been trying to do with all my heart.

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