First Christian Church of Plano, TX, arrived at the new Quito Mariscal Sucre Airport late Monday night to begin their mission trip to Ecuador. They were led by Pastor Doug Deuel, who has been working with FEDICE and the late Victor Vaca for the past 18 years or so. The group consisted of 24 people of varying ages. However, one person sadly had to drop out at the 11th hour due to health reasons.
First Day: August 6
When the group arrived at the airport in Quito, the X-ray operators found some very strange images in some of the baggage. The images looked suspiciously like bugs, and some members of the mission group were detained for questioning. After all, one can never be sure where the next biological attack may be coming from. It was determined that the "bugs" were actually 4,100 pairs of folded eyeglasses. That answered one question, only to bring up another. What was the mission group doing with 4,100 pairs of eyeglasses? Were they going to resell them, causing a sneak economic attack? The explanation that the group was going to conduct a free eye clinic in a rural area turned out to be sufficient. (In order to properly fit 400 people with eyeglasses without being able to make any, approximately ten times that number, with varying strengths, need to be on hand.)
After things were straightened out at the airport, which didn't take too long, the group boarded a chartered bus and were driven to their hotel in Otavalo. They arrived about 1:30 a.m. and stumbled to their rooms and beds.
A hearty breakfast was served at 9:30 a.m. Then, at 11:00 a.m., the group met with staff members and volunteers of FEDICE in order to be oriented. Blanca Puma, Sebastian Caiza, Lisa Renz, Marilyn Cooper, Isabelle Tyrasa, and Glenn Hebert all spoke about the different functions performed by FEDICE, from animal husbandry and agricultural training, to loans, to teaching bible studies, English and sex education, to organizational finances of FEDICE. Remarkably for a group with sleep deprivation, few, if any members, nodded off during the almost two hour presentation.
Of course, it was now time for lunch. Ecuadorians are big on not missing meals. After lunch, it was time to hop the bus and check out the work sites. One little surprise mission groups to Otavalo in the last three and a half years have faced is that of lifting Glenn out of his wheelchair and on to the bus, and FCC Plano was no exception. Thanks to several strapping young men, they handled the surprise with grace and aplomb.
The first site FCC Plano visited was the site of construction of the new preschool center in Pijal Centro. The community has been working diligently to get this center ready in time for classes to begin on August 19th. FCC Plano would paint the school and do some other finishing work, alongside the people of the community, of course. This type of cooperation is what is known as minga, a quechua word meaning "to work together for the common good".
FCC Plano also brought a medical team that would examine students of the preschool, brothers and sisters of the students, and, lastly adults. This team would also be at this site, but located in the old preschool center. Donated medical supplies would also be dispensed as needed as long as they held out. The medical team was headed by Jan, with Rebecca staffing the pharmacy.
The group then went to the Methodist Church in Pijal. The eye clinic was slated to move to a different location each day, but the Methodist Church would serve as the first day's location. After inspecting the premises, Paul, who was heading up the eye clinic pronounced them fit for the team's needs.
Then it was back to the construction site, where an opening ceremony had been prepared. A great community leader, Encarnación, had been the driving force behind getting a new preschool center built to replace the old, tiny, dilapidated center. During her remarks, Encarnación said that she was thrilled when Victor Vaca came last year to evaluate the possibility of helping with a new building. Yes, she was glad to know that FEDICE might very well lend support. But she was more thrilled because she remembered him working in her community, when she was a student at this very preschool center, 25 years ago.
Encarnación was looking forward to working with Dr. Vaca for years to come. Then he passed away in February and she was devastated. Besides grieving for Victor, she worried about what would happen with the new preschool center, which had been started. She was relieved and overjoyed when Blanca assured her that the staff of FEDICE was committed to continuing the work begun by Violet Groth and Victor Vaca so many years ago. "And now," Encarnación said with tears in hers eyes and referring to FCC Plano, "you are here!"
The pastor of the Methodist Church in Pijal Centro also had some moving words during the ceremony. She had been asked to bless the tools that would be used for construction during the week. She held up a hammer and told us she wanted to bless more than the tools. She asked Doug, who is very tall, to stand beside her. Like the vast majority of indigenous people in the Andean region of Ecuador, she was short. She put her small brown hand in Doug's large white hand and noted the difference in appearance. Though the hands are different, she said, they both work for God, just as all hands present would work for God this week. Therefore, she not only blessed the tools, but also blessed the hands that would wield those tools.
Another thing mentioned by several speakers was that the community consisted of three different cultures - Otavalo, Cayambi, and Mestizo. Yet, they have been able to work together to improve each other's lives.
On the way back to the hotel and dinner, we made one more stop. FCC Plano also brought a team of VBS teachers who would conduct a Vacation Bible School. We stopped to see the Evagelical Church in Pijal Centro where they would be teaching.
After a rather long day on short sleep, it was time to go back to the hotel for dinner, relaxation, reflexion, and sleep's oblivion.
Second Day: August 7
FCC Plano got to work after breakfast and a short bus ride. The eye clinic team was first dropped off at the Methodist Church. The rest went to the construction/medical site. The construction crew got right to work. All they had to do was pick up the brushes and rollers, open cans, and stir the paint. Meanwhile, the medical crew needed slightly longer to set up a registration area, a waiting area, two exam rooms, and a pharmacy. Some wished they had thought about setting up yesterday afternoon. Still, it didn't take them that long to get organized and start seeing patients.
At the opening ceremony yesterday, Encarnación had reminded people that students at the preschool center would be seen first, followed by their brothers and sisters. Finally, adults would be seen. Not everyone was at the meeting, so word had to get around by mouth. Either it got garbled or, in typical Ecuadorian fashion, some people figured they could ignore the rules. Brothers and sisters started coming before all of the preschool children had been seen. Some elderly people came, too, but had to be politely turned away until the next day. The reasoning behind segregating by age group was that the team had different procedures and medicines for different age groups. Having to switch back and forth slowed them down. But they worked through the problems like troopers and were able to treat 23 children in a little under three hours.
Ecuador has free health care. Unfortunately, some people live in such rural areas (like the one in which FCC Plano was working) that it's even hard to get bus service, the cheapest form of transportation besides feet. So this medical service was a real boon to this community of 2,200.
The painting crew worked fast, if not furious. They completed the first coat before lunch. The building went from a plain white to a pretty pink and blue theme. Many members of the community worked with the team, making the painting go that much faster.
Over at the eye clinic, they were able to fit 97 people with glasses. They charted the eyes of many others. At first, mostly younger people came for the eye exams. A part of the exam, like all eye exams, tested ability to read with glasses of different strengths. As long as people knew how to read, there was no problem. However, later in the day, older women were coming in who had never learned how to read. How to test them in this phase of the eye exam? Fortunately, Lisa, a staff member of FEDICE, came up with a solution when she thought about why these older women needed to see well. It wasn't because they wanted to read. It was because they wanted to continue to embroider the beautiful blouses that indigenous people wear. A needle and thread were found and it was decided that, when a woman could see well enough to thread a needle, she had the right pair of glasses.
A similar situation occurred in the medical clinic. After a volunteer translator had carefully written medication directions and explained them to a parent, the lady said, "Okay, I'll give these to my daughter to read." At that point it dawned on Tabi, the translator, "Hey, not everyone can read." After that, she was careful to explain directions over and over to a patient or parent to make certain they understood.
In the afternoon, some of the FCC Plano group split off and taught a Vacation Bible School. They started off with 23 children in three groups and had 36 kids two hours later when the VBS ended for the day. Word travels fast in the communities of Ecuador. There were crafts, games, and songs. Nine or ten women from the community joined in and were extremely helpful with teaching the children the games. Also, Allison told a bible story to each of the three groups in turn.
Later, when asked how their day went, each member of the FCC Plano group said it had been wonderful. That was good because, though some people might move around, the group as a whole would serve God in the same ways for the next two days.