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FCC Plano Continues Work In Pijal Centro

{Originally posted August 14th, 2013}

On Thursday, FCC Plano continued its work in the community of Pijal. "Pijal" was pretty spread out among the mountains. The area consisted of numerous villages, with a total population of about 4,000 people. The focus of this mission trip from FCC Plano was Pijal Centro, which had a population of 2,200 people.

Third Day: August 8th

As they did on Wednesday, FCC Plano continued construction of the new preschool center, served medical needs, served optometry needs, and taught a Vacation Bible School in the afternoon. (Well, some actually worked most of the morning for VBS. They were busy tracing and cutting out 60 whales to be used in conjunction with the afternoon Bible lesson of Jonah and the Whale.)

The eye clinic was in a different location from the previous day. It was held in a building in Gonzalez Suarez that houses government offices and other agencies. The team especially liked this location because it facilitated flow much more easily.

After check-in and a period of waiting, the process in the eye clinic was interesting. First, a chart was shown to the patient. It was a standard eye chart, but not the one with letters and numbers. They used the one with “E”’s facing different ways. If a patient passed this test, he or she was free to leave. If not, they were measured by a refractor brought by the team. Children were handled differently. They had their eyes dilated and tested.

It was sometimes a challenge to explain why a young person's eyes had to be dilated and they couldn't see well for a couple of hours. Understandably, that was a little scary for the person undergoing such a procedure. It was explained that young people's eyes needed to be dilated because their eyes adjusted too quickly to get adequate measurements. Thus, the dilation was needed to turn their eyes into "old eyes" temporarily.

The refractor measurements were input into a special computer program written by two ophthalmologists and an engineer. This program took the measurements and put them into a prescription. Further, it matched the prescription to one of the 4,100 pairs of donated eyeglasses brought by the team. These eyeglasses were arranged by prescription, so the program also gave the team the location of the needed eyeglasses. It then removed the particular pair of eyeglasses from its inventory list.

Finally, members of the team would work with the patients to make sure they received the correct pair of eyeglasses which were comfortably fitted to the head. As mentioned in the previous post, this was done by testing the person's reading. If they couldn't read, the test was ingeniously conducted by seeing if the person could thread the eye of a needle in good light. The thread was never as big as a camel, though it may have been if Pastor Doug had had his eyes checked, especially if Shari, the number one jokester in the group, had been the one doing the checking.

FEDICE usually works with community groups. However, Brooke's father donated $1,000 for the aid of an individual family or person. Before FCC Plano arrived, FEDICE asked the Pijal community to identify a member of the community who especially needed help. They identified Cecilia, a single mother of four. She is also disabled, though it's not immediately apparent.

Cecilia has been living in her mother and father's house with her children in a small space under the stairs. However, the parents were ready for her to move out and she really had nowhere to go. Another $4,700 was donated because it was decided that the community could build Cecilia and her children a simple two bedroom one bathroom house.

On Thursday morning FCC Plano helped move cinder blocks and other construction materials into position to construct Cecilia's house in a symbolic gesture to show the construction would soon be taking place. The community says they should be able to finish the house within a month. All they lacked was the money for materials and now they have that. It was a very emotional scene, as Cecilia repeatedly thanked the group for their generosity and kindness.

Part of the FEDICE team had been working in a partnership with an organization called Bridging Cultures since Saturday. Their work was in an African-Ecuadorian community called Pusir Grande about two hours north of where FCC Plano was working in Pijal. After finishing their work, they stopped in Pijal on the way back to the airport to see the work going on there. They were very impressed with all facets, especially the VBS. Allison, especially, was a wonderful teacher and really had a gift for making the Bible stories the team taught come alive theatrically.

The Bible story on Thursday afternoon was Jonah and the Whale. Allison went around begging, borrowing, or stealing rugs and other materials to drape across the church pews to make a whale belly. This helped graphically illustrated the story for the children. Each of the children entered the whale belly as Jonah, to their delight.

After the Bible story, all the children went downstairs to work on crafts. The first craft was to decorate a simple canvas backpack the team had brought for each child. The number of children attending VBS Thursday had swelled from 36 at the end of Wednesday's session to 55, so it was good the team had the foresight to bring backpacks for a large number of kids. They decorated their backpacks with their names, outlines of their hands, etc., and the phrase, "Jesús me cuida." (Jesus cares for me.) They also decorated their cut-out whales with, "Dios me cuida," (God cares for me) among other things.

After VBS, the children were taken to the soccer field to play games. Some children ran and played games such as a version of tag. One game was played with a parachute. Children held the edges all around the parachute and several balls were placed in the middle. The kids had fun trying to keep the balls aloft by jerking the parachute into the air. It was sprinkling when they started playing, but soon began to rain harder. The children with the parachute were unfazed. They simply crawled under it for protection.

The rain wouldn't stop, so everyone soon moved into the new but, as yet, unfurnished preschool. There, they played "Duck, Duck, Goose", "Monkey In The Middle", and other games in the various rooms. The adult leaders didn't know the Spanish word for goose, so "Duck, Duck, Goose" became "Pato, Pato, Conejo" (Duck, Duck, Rabbit). Of course, if unsupervised for any length of time, games incorporating balls soon degenerated into contests to see which boy could throw the ball hardest at another boy. Boys will be boys, all over the world.

Fourth Day: August 9th

Friday was the last day for FCC Plano to work in the community of Pijal, so the mission group had to start winding down their activities. Though FCC Plano had brought snacks and sandwiches to eat while working on Thursday and Friday (avoiding the need to waste time returning to the hotel for lunch), they still felt that there was so much left undone. The eye clinic alone had to turn away 50-100 people waiting in line when the team simply ran out of time. One lesson learned was that it was simply impossible to fix all problems on one mission trip. It was part of learning the simple but difficult fact that one is not in control, despite what citizens of "advanced" countries may want to believe.

Closing ceremonies were held from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Various community leaders spoke and thanked FCC Plano and FEDICE from the heart again and again for the help and care received.

Doug Deuel announced that FCC Plano had made a three year commitment to Pijal and that they would be back in 2015. Needless to say, everyone present from the community was surprised, overjoyed, and enthusiastic. But Pastor Doug did have one string attached. It was that the group would have to have coffee one day in Cecilia's new house.

There was a graduation ceremony held for the eleven children who were going on to Educación Inicial (Kindergarten). There were only three sets of caps and gowns, so the children took turns wearing them until all of the graduates had received their graduation certificates. They were so cute, and the parents naturally took pictures to capture the moment for posterity.

After the graduation, the community wanted to give each of the mission group members a token of their appreciation. The mission group members were lined up on one side of the room and shot. Just making sure you're still awake. Actually, they were lined up and each was paired with a child from the preschool who stood in a facing line. At a prearranged signal, all of the children shouted, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" and draped a colorful tote bag over the neck of "their" mission group member.

Encarnación Chicaiza then announced that they had a hand made set of the beautiful clothes worn by the indigenous women of the area. They would be given to one member of the mission group by a child. The child went straight to Brooke and presented her with the set. Brooke's waterworks began working overtime and soon there were few dry eyes in the building. You see, Brooke had come to Ecuador under very stressful circumstances. A loved one had been diagnosed with cancer.

One other thing FCC Plano did was donate $2,000 to help with an income-producing project soon to be undertaken. The women's association in Pijal plans to make and sell cheese. There will be more written about this in the future, when FEDICE helps organize and implement the project.

While the closing ceremonies were going on, a small drama was taking place elsewhere. An elderly woman who had been served in the medical clinic earlier was found up the hill leaning against a wall near where the eye clinic had been housed that day. Isabelle, a member of the FEDICE team, called Marilyn, another member of the FEDICE team, who happened to have her car that day. By the time Marilyn arrived, Jan la medica (doctor) and Hailey una enfermera (nurse), along with other members of the FCC Plano medical team, were also on the scene.

It was determined that the woman had severe dehydration and had over medicated herself with two ibuprofens instead of the one prescibed, resulting in double vision and weakness. Jan retrieved the medicine and vitamins that had been given to the woman in the clinic for fear she might over medicate herself again in the future. Marilyn drove her and her entourage to as close to her house as the road would allow. When she felt a little better, they helped her walk the rest of the way up the very steep hill to her house. Her husband was home and told the medical personnel his wife refused to drink more than one glass of water in the morning and one glass in the evening because she said it made her cold. The only advice the team could offer was to drink more liquids, but they knew the advice might go unheeded. Although Jan recommended she go to the emergency room at the government hospital in Otavalo and Marilyn offered to drive the woman, the husband declined. It most likely was because it would have cost $7.00 for her to return to her home by taxi.

So, in the midst of celebration, the mission group from FCC Plano had a vivid reminder of the poverty and level of education of some of the people they had come to serve.

Mission Group From First Christian Church, Plano, Texas, And The FEDICE Team

Top Row: Chet and Silveria Hufstedler, Corey Coufal, Jess Deuel, Grace Burrell, Kevin Rogers, Doug Deuel, Jenni Milligan, Tabi (FEDICE), Brooke Eung, Perla (FEDICE)

Middle Row: Luis (FEDICE), Blanca (FEDICE), Lisa (FEDICE), Beth Rogers, Isabelle (FEDICE), Jan and Ronnie McGough, Paul Gutshall, Patty Wagner, Linda Conkright, Mike Gutshall, Mary Ruth Burrell

Bottom Row: Shari Reynolds, Allison and Jeff Lau, Glenn (FEDICE), Hailey Sisson, Ed Wales, Marilyn (FEDICE, not shown)

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