Rev. Daniel (Danny) Couch and Samantha (Sammy) Sadel, representing Bridging Cultures, visited Ecuador November 18-24. Danny is a pastor at Central Christian Church in Weatherford, Texas, and Sammy is a member of the same church. Central Christian Church is one of eight churches in Texas and Arkansas that support Bridging Cultures. Their focus at the moment is partnering with the citizens of Pusir Grande in the Chota Valley of Ecuador to exchange cultural experiences in order to increase understanding between vastly different cultures. There is also a component of aid.
The purpose of this week's trip was to plan and prepare for two groups Bridging Cultures will be sending to Pusir Grande in March, during spring vacation in the US. They have partnered with FEDICE and are receiving valuable assistance and guidance as to how to organize and work with villages in Ecuador toward goals of self-sufficiency and alleviating poverty. FEDICE, for its part, is very gratified to be able to help serve an Ecuadorian population with which they have not worked with in the past.
Marilyn Cooper and Glenn Hebert, volunteers with FEDICE, met Danny and Sammy on Monday night at the airport in Quito and drove them to their home to spend the night in Otavalo. Following breakfast on Tuesday morning, Marilyn took Danny and Sammy to visit two of the preschools where she teaches English for FEDICE. Marilyn normally teaches a total of four classes in three different preschools on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sammy in particular loved this activity. Though she teaches high school English, she also loves to be around little children. She said that she could have stayed there all day!
But Marilyn was also determined to show them a little of the tourism of Otavalo. As soon as they returned, they hiked over to Peguche Falls from Marilyn and Glenn's house, despite the fact that members of the FEDICE team had already arrived for a scheduled lunch at the house. Glenn was assigned to entertain those who chose not to walk to the falls.
After lunch with Blanca Puma, Hugo Pacheco, Lisa Renz, and Luis Jara Roman, all from FEDICE, everyone drove to Pusir Grande in the Chota Valley. This community is very poor. It doesn't receive much from the various government entities. It is almost entirely agricultural. But, with the aid of Bridging Cultures and FEDICE, the community is transforming itself from a collection of people who didn't have much hope and didn't really work with each other, to an organized, vibrant community that is learning how to better provide for themselves and that is developing greater self-esteem and pride in their work.￼
With the blessing of Bridging Cultures and their contribution of funds, FEDICE organized a group of 47 women in the community to create and implement a money-making project. Each participant was given $200, to be reimbursed to FEDICE at the end of one year. If everything goes well, and FEDICE is reimbursed after one year, each participant will be eligible to receive larger amounts of money in order to expand or implement new projects.
Besides the projects, the group has also been taught how to save as a cooperative unit. This will aid them when future emergencies arise, be it a sick member, a dead animal that needs to be replaced, etc. This process developed by FEDICE has been very successful in other communities. In fact, one community now has a fund of $70,000 and FEDICE therefore no longer needs to work with them.
The group of women in Pusir meets with a representative of FEDICE, usually Hugo Pacheco, once a month. This month the meeting was scheduled to coincide with Danny and Sammy's visit. Many of the women explained their projects and how they were making, and expected to make, differences in their lives.
Lisa Renz has expertise in making perfumes, a meat enhancer, and a cream used by mechanics and others to cleanse their hands of grease. She offered to teach the group how to make and sell these things. They enthusiastically accepted the offer.
When it was Danny's turn to speak, he told the group about a group of women in his own church. The women in Texas have heard about the women in Pusir and have decided to organize along the same lines. He pointed out that the group of women in Pusir should be extremely proud of themselves because they have inspired a like-minded group in the US.
After the meeting, Danny, Sammy, Blanca, Lisa, Hugo, and Luis went to a nearby hotel because they would have more meetings with the citizens of Pusir on Wednesday morning. Marilyn and Glenn drove back to Otavalo, dropping off Cosmé Yepéz at his home in Ibarra. Cosme is a FEDICE board member and a civil engineer. He had come to share his expertise on a building that Bridging Cultures is helping to build in Pusir Grande. It will function as a place to teach shop and computer science.
Besides the meetings in Pusir on Wednesday, there was another reason for Sammy and Danny to stay overnight. They delivered medical supplies donated by Bridging Cultures to the medical center in Pusir Grande. These consisted of medicines and vitamins for the children.
On Wednesday afternoon everyone met again at the home of Marilyn and Glenn. The purpose of this meeting was for FEDICE Board President Sebastian Caiza to share the philosophy of FEDICE, and also provide more in-depth information about the organization. When Sebastian finished his presentation, the floor was thrown open for an exchange of ideas. When Sammy learned that Sebastian's community has a summer camp for kids, she immediately began thinking about how this could happen in Pusir Grande. She teaches at an international boarding school and knows the value of cultural exchange. A great idea that Sammy had was to bring the Pusir Grande children to meet the children of San Rafael/Tocagón (where Sebastian lives) and/or vice versa. It was a very productive meeting.
Danny and Sammy had more meetings with FEDICE on Thursday. After that, they did a little sight seeing on Friday and Saturday before heading back home on Sunday. We at FEDICE wish them well and trust that their visit was productive.