Marilyn Cooper, Long-term Volunteer
How would you describe the mission of our partner in Ecuador?
FEDICE (Fundación Ecuménica para el Desarrollo Integral, Capacitación-Educación or Ecumenical Foundation for Holistic Development, Training, and Education) works for the holistic development of rural communities by helping people help themselves. A Christian organization with a mission based on Christ’s teachings, it seeks justice, peace, and equitable development. FEDICE helps indigenous and rural communities to overcome the vicious circle of poverty by promoting human development, raising awareness of social and economic change, creating jobs, and improving family income.
How do you fit into their mission?
My work with FEDICE includes teaching English to pre-school children, adolescents, and adults in communities; helping with groups and individuals that come to volunteer; and doing other duties as assigned.
Speaking English helps people get better jobs in Ecuador. Although children and youth are taught to read English in school, most children are uncomfortable or unwilling to speak it. By starting from an early age, the pre-schoolers hear and learn sounds and words of this difficult language while having fun. This may help them in their later schooling to enjoy learning a different language and to have better pronunciation.
As for adults and youth, their English teachers stress grammar, reading, and paperwork. Many teachers do not pronounce English very well, never having had an opportunity to spend time in an English speaking country. When I work with adults and youth, I stress pronunciation and oral use. My hope is that they may get over some of their fear of using English when given the opportunity.
What led you to engage in this calling?
When I was in high school, I did not know what I wanted to do as an adult. It occurred to me that I might be a missionary, but I did not know a thing about how to do that. And I didn’t speak any foreign languages. It never occurred to me that I might attempt to learn another language or that I could talk to a minister. In high school, I moved from several different churches in an attempt to find one that I liked. In college, I quit going to church. (I resumed regular church attendance after I married in my mid-30’s).
The thought of mission work was laid aside, only to resurface in retirement. On a vacation my husband and I took across country, it came into my mind that I might do that, but then I thought that it might not be possible because Glenn would find it difficult. When I talked to him about it, he said “Why not? It sounds like an adventure.”
So I began to study Spanish in earnest and started the process with Global Ministries to apply. Having been on several mission trips with our church before retirement, with a group of women from another church, and with our new church when we moved after retiring, I had an idea that I might help with FEDICE in Ecuador.
Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?
"Share with the Lord’s people in need. Practice hospitality." -Romans 12:13.
What are some of the challenges facing FEDICE?
Among other goals, FEDICE’s first priority is to find additional resources so we can continue working with people from the communities. FEDICE’s staff wish to continue to work among the people from the communities, with volunteers (like my husband and I), and with the people from the U.S. who help FEDICE. Also, our Executive Director, Blanca Puma, wishes to improve FEDICE’s projects with the communities. Not only do we wish to help the people to continue to produce better quality goods to sell, but to help them find the best way to sell these products. And lastly, it is very important to all of us to sustain a good relationship between FEDICE and our friends from the U.S.
What lessons have you learned working alongside the people of Ecuador?
This is a hard question to answer. Have I had a big “Wow!” moment of revelation? Maybe not, but I know I need to be flexible. People here are not driven by their watches the way I tend to be. Coming an hour or more late is not unusual for a presentation in the communities. Being on time is more unusual. But one needs to also be aware of the situation and the people. I am usually expected to be near on time for my English classes.
I have learned that I am not in control. That was given up very early. I live in a Spanish speaking country. I am not bilingual nor completely fluent, but my Spanish has improved a lot over the time I have been here. Yet, people who talk to me need to speak slowly and use simple vocabulary or I just do not get it. In many social and work situations, I have learned to be patient with myself because I often do not understand. People here have come to my aid by taking time to accompany me in many situations. I also thank people who correct my Spanish. Maybe I will learn from their comments how to better my speaking.
And maybe I have learned to take opportunities that are offered. Glenn and I never dreamed we would live with another family. We did not think we would stay in Ecuador longer than around 15 months. But God opened doors for us. We made friends who had somewhat difficult lives. Living together with them made our lives much easier and theirs too. We have formed a partnership, or like we say, a family. After being here around 10 months, it just felt comfortable to consider staying longer. Our work was valuable and it was fun being here.
God made it possible for us. We needed a house with two downstairs bedrooms. Houses here are built with the bedrooms upstairs and common areas downstairs with space for a tienda or small retail area. The house we live in has an office and two bedrooms downstairs. It was the only house we found that was suitable for the two families to live together and it had the view of the volcano, Imbaburra, that Glenn wanted. God truly provided for us and we felt the message that we were doing good work here.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I've also shared a recipe from my friend Isabell for Sopa de Quinua, which is a soup based around the local staple of quinoa.