It’s true what they say — time flies when you’re having fun. It seems like just a few days since my Mom and I made an early trek to the Portland International Airport and I boarded a plane to Atlanta to embark on a new adventure. In reality, it’s been over a month and as I write this letter, it’s hard to choose what experiences to share with you — there have been so many in my short time in Ecuador.
Upon arrival in Quito, I was greeted by FEDICE’s executive director, Blanca Puma; one my fellow volunteers (from Oregon also, no less!), Lisa Renz; and a friend of FEDICE’s, Freddy, who was kind enough to join the late night expedition and also heft my heavy suitcases into the back of the “camioneta”.
Driving from Quito’s new airport to Blanca’s house in Cotocollao (a neighborhood in North Quito), I had no idea what my life in Ecuador would be like. I was simply hoping the first few days would not include the same altitude sickness that plagued me the last time I visited Quito (and thankfully, my prayers were heard on this note!). But, as President Rafael Correa’s motorcade passed by us on the road, and one of his guards tapped the side of our car, I decided that this “presidential welcome” must be a good sign!
It certainly was. In my first weeks I was fortunate to visit several of FEDICE’s partner communities in Pijal, Romerillos, San Francisco and Otavalo. Many of you are familiar with FEDICE’s work, but for those who are not, FEDICE is an Ecuadorian non-profit with a mission to empower indigenous and under-served communities in Ecuador via economic development tools, social programs and professional training. I am working with them for a year as a Global Missions Intern with the United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ. The organization was built on a foundation of social justice, equity and opportunity. A side benefit (from my perspective, anyway) is that most of the participants in our programs are women, who are gaining leadership skills and parity in their communities (and families) because of their increasing economic power and contributions.
As I endeavor to stuff my brain full of Ecuador’s language, culture, FEDICE’s institutional knowledge and the region’s political landscape, a few observations have seared themselves on my heart and in this letter; I’d like to share them with y’all. For those of you who are coming to Ecuador this year, I hope this gives you a peek into FEDICE’s work and the natural splendors that await you.
1) The very idea that from the United States hard work brings with it rewards is not a universal truth. In many of the world’s nations (and, indeed, recently and increasingly in the U.S.) hard work is just hard work; a means of survival. It doesn’t increase your economic security. It doesn’t build a better future for your kids. It certainly doesn’t leave you fulfilled and stimulated at the end of the day. Organizations like FEDICE work to challenge this systemic breakdown and make the connection between hard work and reward a tangible one for more of Ecuador’s people. They do this by offering the simple, yet profound gift of opportunity; tools with which to capitalize on it; and resources to sustain achievement and positive trend lines.
2) A smartphone will occupy a toddler, whether you’re in Portland, U.S.A. or Pijal, Ecuador. The Internet is quickly changing the face of international development and mission by amplifying opportunity with global access and connectivity. This shift is a major game changer. In Pijal, most citizens don’t have a computer, but increasingly have access to the Web via smartphones. In addition to keeping the kids busy so Mom can be attentive during trainings, I’m excited to see how this radical connectivity will accelerate the impact FEDICE has in partner communities and the economic impacts it brings to a nation where underemployment is common.
3) Development doesn’t always come with a fairytale ending. Sometimes there are unintended consequences and many times success is followed by new challenges. For instance, after surveying partner community members, FEDICE was encouraged to hear more “luxury” foods like beef, oils and sugars were now affordable to participants in our programs. However, we also realized that alongside economic power gained, there is now a need for understanding human nutrition and the detrimental health effects that can come with increased consumption of these options. As FEDICE evolves as an organization, we are working to address these “advanced” needs from our partner communities. We have some exciting additions to our programming in 2014 — stay tuned for updates from the field!
Bethany Waggoner serves with the Ecumenical Foundation for Integral Development Training and Education (FEDICE) in Ecuador. She works at strengthening capacity building of those organizations in areas of communication and finance.