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.

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.

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.

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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 🙂

Con nuestra labor, sin chagas en Ecuador!!!!

All the participants in the project, both from Ohio University and la PUCE arrived over the weekend, and it seems like the population of Cariamanga, or at least the area we are staying in has risen considerably as a result of their arrival as one cannot walk in Cariamanga without seeing a team member. On Monday we had a meeting in another hotel in Cariamanga with all of the participants where the different components of the project were explained to those who had arrived. Yesterday we went back to the communities, but this time in a whole fleet of different vehicles, school vans (called bananas by the team), SUVs and the tried and trusted pick up trucks driven by Don Victor and Eduardo. We left Cariamanga at 6 in the morning, after a rally cry led by Dr. Grijalva: “Con nuestra labor, sin chagas en Ecuador!” We arrived at the school in Chaquizca, where members of the Healthy Living team were greeted by students at the school we had worked with in the previous weeks. We had breakfast at the school including cereal, eggs, coffee, juice, bread and fruits; then split up into our fumigation teams to head to Guara.

Each team included members of a national health group that works in fumigation, they work both with chagas and malaria prevention, undergraduate students from Ohio University, students from la PUCE and members of the OU Healthy Living team. Our team arrived at Don Milenio’s house in Guara and proceeded to walk up, a direction that we would become very familiar with over 5 hours, to our first houses. We first arrived at the house of Don Sirilo, a very friendly man who welcomed us warmly with lemonade. He had a nice, adobe house and kept chickens and pigs outside of the house. After talking briefly with him and his wife, we went back down the hill to his daughter’s house, where we drank more lemonade, interviewed her with a socio economic survey while the other members of the team looked for chinchorros and fumigated the house. We then went back to Don Sirilo, and while Daniela did the interview, I helped looked for chinchorros. His house was very nice and clean and we found no chinchorros on the inside, however, while walking on the porch I spotted one on the outside wall. The chinchorro had likely just landed there from the fields and bushes near the house, and confirms the theory that while a house may be fumigated regularly, the chinchorros come back from the field to the houses once the danger is gone. We then spent about half an hour taking most everything out of the house so it could then be fumigated. While Marco, a PUCE biology student and John Jack got some good exercise by carrying a full tank of water out of the house, I had to deal with trying to get a defensive hen out of the bodega, trying to calm it down to prevent it from biting me. I tied her up outside of the house, and all the chicks that were inside the bodega before followed her out when they heard her voice. The fumigation was done by spraying the walls with the solution and giving attention to cracks in between walls where chinchorros may congregate. After the fumigation was complete we put the stuff back in the house, roughly where it was before and proceeded to the next house.

We took a slight detour through less walked upon paths going up hill over loose terrain to get to the next house, the house of Don Abram, which while classified for the project as part of Guara, is actually part of Luranda, which is in between Guara and Chaquizca. Here I interviewed Don Abram and we also talked about different foods that they eat there and he showed me his gamecocks that he had in bamboo cages, including a few that had already won a handful of fights. No chinchorros were found but the house, as all houses in the project was fumigated as a preventive measure. We then began a long trek back down to the highway, where we passed through woods, a creek, a pasture, where people attending the fields gave us oranges. We bumped into Don Sirilo again, who showed us the way back to the road, and while walking through his property, we saw a irrigation system called séquia, which channels the creek water in small canals above the fields, and when one wants to irrigate an area they dam the canal and make an opening in the side of it. We met up with Dr. Grijalva who drove us back to Chaquizca where we recuperated before taking a “banana” back to Cariamanga.

Written by Coner Tong

Healthy Living Team – First day in the field

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In Chaquizca

We woke up to a chilly, misty Andean morning to begin our first full day of research in the communities. We left Cariamanga for Chaquizca, where we arrived at the school and then split into our different groups to do our designated activities. Lily conducted her activity at the school for her project on local stories. She had all thirty students illustrate responses to the stories that they had compiled the year before as they split into groups and collaborated with each other, using crayons and colored pencils to draw their responses to stories such as La paloma llora and El conejo y el zorro. Lily talked to the teachers who had positive responses to the concept of involving local stories in the curriculum for it inspires critical thinking and pride in their communities.

Claudia, Ing. Darwin and I visited two houses in Chaquizca that had consistently tested negative for the presence of Chagas vectors to see if there are common characteristics to their houses that inhibits the vectors from having a presence in their houses. Our first visit was with a man who lived next to the school named Don Alberto. He seemed very aware of the need to prevent against Chagas disease as he fumigates his house regularly and cleans it daily. We then went in the truck to a community on the edge of Chaquizca going back towards the highway. There we met Don José and his family, who were in the process of making a dulce block locally called panela, which is made out of sugar cane that he grows on his property. The process seemed similar to making maple syrup, a large fire is made below large trays where the liquid caña juice is placed in order for it to condense. When it is sufficiently thick, the liquid is placed in block molds to cool. Don José said that the blocks, along with other crops that he cultivates are taken to the ferías libres held in Cariamanga on Sundays. Don José and his family were also very aware of the need to prevent the presence of vectors in their household, claiming that they fumigate the house regularly, keep animals outside of the house and go to the doctor or other place to be taken care of when they feel sick.

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Claudia and Susan working with community

Miks, Guillermo and Susan went to the house of Don Fernando, a large landholder in the community of Chaquizca. They went on a long drive through the land and met up with him in an orange grove on his property. According to Miks, they ate the best oranges that photosynthesis has ever produced they talked about his impressions of the community and the project. He emphasized that education was important for the community and also that he was interested in giving legal status to the farmers who lived on his land.

Written by Coner Tong

Photo by Susan Pomar Queirolo