29 11 / 2013
Last spring, before leaving for our prospective countries in July, all the Minerva Fellows took a course entitled “Social Entrepreneurship.” In this course we learned the importance of helping people in impoverished places work with what they have to create businesses and an income. As my fellowship placement did not require that I do this, I knew that I wanted to help motivate people of Estero in ways to improve their income and lives in any way I could. I also know how happy the people of Estero are and do not want to interfere with that happiness through introducing competition and greed. However, upon living in this town for the past 4.5 months, I have noticed some extremely talented and hardworking people. One in particular is a man named Carlos. He lives in his mother’s house with his own wife and kids, his mother, father, and two brothers. This man has recently built a workshop next to the house and makes incredibly beautiful and luxurious jewelry. He makes mostly earrings, but also necklaces (and I’m sure really any type of jewelry). The jewelry is made out of pearl shells, coconut shells, and compressed wooden branches that are found in the sea (he calls it “coral”). He sells to the tourists, but because his house and workshop are outside of the main part of town, many tourists do not know of his jewelry. I am currently making signs to help direct tourists to his shop, to help him gain some local support.
More so than this, I am helping him create a business through his talent. My parents recently visited Estero (more about their visit in another post), but beforehand I sent some of the pictures of his earrings to my mom. She loved them and sent the pictures around to her friends. They all loved them and gave her a few hundred dollars to buy a myriad of pairs for themselves and for gifts for $20 a pair. When I told Carlos that my mom was coming and wanted to buy many pairs, he quickly ran out to his workshop to make more. I then surprised him by making business cards for him with pictures of him at work and pictures of the jewelry. I am working on selling the pieces at Union this winter (through the help of my friends still at school), and planning on going to Quito with Carlos to help sell his jewelry to hotel gift shops and stores. They are all extremely unique and take much time, talent, and patience. When I told Carlos that I wanted to help sell them at my college and in Quito, he could not believe it. When I showed him the business cards, he was speechless, but quickly went back to work to create many more. This is a motivated, passionate, and talented man who deserves to share his gift. I want many people to know his jewelry and hope to help his business and success as much as possible.
29 11 / 2013
12 11 / 2013
Last week a new baby boy was born into a family I am very close with. And my “host sister” is due to have her baby any day (she is actually late, so any minute!). I want to write about this because it is very exciting for the families and for myself to witness. Although there are many young pregnancies in this town, and barely anyone gets married, there is always support everywhere you look. The new baby boy who was just born now lives with his mother (Morena, about 19-20 years old) and her mother, Nubia. It is only the two of them as the other daughter lives in another town to go to colegio, and the fathers are not in the picture. But when this new mother gave birth, everyone in the town was there to support her. There’s a drink that people make in this town called “Curata” that is made out lots of alcohol and herbs and is put in a jar for people of the town to come over, drink, and comfort the new mother and her baby. When Morena gave birth, people were constantly at her house and keeping her company throughout everything. It was really beautiful to witness. Although she has such a small family and the father was not there, she never felt alone.
In my household there is about to be a new baby as well. The curata has been made and everyone is now just waiting. Merecedes, the mother, is not genetically a member of the family. Her story is another heart-warming one that really makes me smile about how loving the people of Estero truly are. The baby’s father is my host-mom’s son, but he lives and works in a town about 14 hours away. My host-mom took in Mercedes and her 5-year old daughter earlier this year and has treated her like her own daughter throughout everything. They even took in Mercedes’s younger brother to live here, and he as well is treated like their own son. Although Mercedes’s husband is not currently with her throughout the process, she again is never alone.
Along with this, two of the becados have had babies within the past year, and each have continued their schooling and continue to receive great grades. The newest mother of the two had her baby in August. Everyne was really nervous and upset about this, because she is known to have the highest grades of all the becados (almost perfect scores in every class. Well even though she missed a few weeks when she first gave birth, Andrew and I recently went to her school to get her grades and they are still near perfect. Her mother takes care of her baby while she is in school and she is constantly supported and pushed by her family and her community. The other becado, whose baby is now 9 months old, is taken care of by the becado’s mother and sister while she is in school during the day. The support from these families is wonderful, and although I do not condone teenage pregnancy, it really is great to know that these girls are not giving up on their education or dreams solely because they are new mothers.
However, not everyone has all this support and it is definitely important that these girls have options and the abilities to pursue these options. Every other week, Andrew and I have a ¨charla¨(sexual education class) in the ¨subcentro¨(health center) for the becados and other youth. The doctor there has lesson plans for them and afterwards Andrew and I are there to answer questions and clear anything up. The problems that occur are that the options that are available to prevent pregnancies are not used or used well. Condoms are given out for free in the subcentro, but are only available when the subcentro is open (during the weekdays and only until around 4pm). There is nowhere to buy condoms in the town. And most people do not plan ahead. During the charlas, condoms are only handed out to the males present and not to any of the females. Birth control is also available for free in the subcentro, but this is also not frequently utilized. Many girls are scared to ask for birth control as there is a stigma about this in the town. People often question ¨Why would you not want to be a mom?¨. I, too, have been asked quite often as to why I do not already have kids, or why I do not want to stay in Estero and have kids here. Abortion is also illegal in Ecuador, which does not allow for many options for a young girl with big aspirations. I am currently working on pushing some of the girls who do not want to have babies yet to begin using birth control or to carry around condoms of their own. It is important that these girls know and can obtain all potential choices. These are their bodies and they have the rights to all possible options.
That being said, I am extremely excited to welcome Mercedes’s baby into my family, and am so happy that everyone else in the family and the community is ready to support her as well.
06 11 / 2013
I’ve gotten into a pretty steady nightly routine lately. Every night after we finish working with the becados (around 6pm), I watch the men play soccer for a little, go home, shower, eat dinner, play with the kids in my house and then go to one of the men’s house/tienda to watch TV with some of the guys in town (usually a comedy named “Secretarios”, the news, and a singing show called “Yo Me Llamo”—- the contestants dress up and perform as a famous singer). I watch TV with a group of guys who I have become quite close with.
In this group is one of my 5th grade students. In Estero, the 5th graders usually range from 8-10 years old, but this particular student is 16 years old. Despite being twice as old as his fellow classmates, this teenager continues to go to school everyday without shame or embarrassment. I applaud him for that. But even though he continues to attend school daily and has not given up or dropped out, this teen cannot read. I am working with privately to learn how to read (he is not embarrassed to talk to me about his illiteracy, but finds shame in allowing any of the older guys know about it), but it really bothers me that he is simply unattended by his teachers. And the 5th grade teacher is also the Director of the school, and she doesn’t even notice or attend to his illiteracy.
Although many more students his age are beginning to go on to high school, there are still so many kids, teens, and adults in this town that are completely illiterate. I hope to help change that while I am here, but I am also proud to see that it is the kids that want to learn. This teen’s family does not push him or attend to his illiteracy and this happens so often in this town.
The other week, I went to work with the 10-year-old girl I had mentioned in earlier posts. She told me to come by at around 9am on a Saturday after she finished washing the family’s breakfast dishes. I came by her house, helped her finish up, and was then told I could not work with her that day. Her brother came over to me to tell me that she was not allowed to go to the library. Her mother had decided that she needed to stay home and do chores instead. To her, the priority was to clean, not to learn. And in a town like this, where people have difficulties seeing into the future, her chores had taken priority over learning to read. I was really upset that I couldn’t work with her then, but we have found a way to work around each other’s schedules. It upsets me when the parents lack an interest in their children’s education, but hopefully my being here and helping can help to change that. These kids all know I am here to help and they are definitely starting to take full advantage of that. I could not be prouder and happier in so many ways for the future of these children and the people of Estero de Platano.
22 10 / 2013
Sometimes I wonder what I am doing here in Estero. I often find myself in awe of the town, the people, and beauty, and wonder if I really am here helping these people, or simply just living amongst them. I spoke to my brother the other day, and he helped me come upon an important realization. I am helping them. By talking to my brother, who is always very insightful, I recognize now that my presence here does help these people in more ways than I’ve acknowledged. While here living and working with these people, it is important to notice the short amount of time I have in this small town. I am already a third of my way through, and I want to ensure that I am doing all that I can while physically living here. There certainly are things this town needs to enter the 21st century, such as Internet and cell phone service. Although I do want to help install these things, I think there are more important things I can do while living amongst these people. I hope to return to Estero as often as possible after this year, and know that I want to continue to support the town and the people after I leave. But for now, I am working on projects that need my full time attention and presence.
I want to help these people become completely self-sufficient so that someday in the near future there will be no need for volunteers. But for now there is that need. Adults and children alike cannot read. The doctors and teachers only work here while waiting for better jobs. I am firsthand teaching kids to read from the most elementary levels. I am pushing students to go on to high school and university, while helping and working with many high school attendees. I am helping these students give back to their community and lead the town in ways the youth have yet to do. These young people are becoming inspired to get a better education and use it for the growth of their community. They have high hopes of going on to university and returning to Estero as doctors, teachers, nurses, etc.. It is becoming much more common to attend high school, as more and more youth are both attending and graduating.
Many of the younger children already have hopes to attend high school, which was never really a possibility before. Although it is still expensive, far, and difficult to attend colegio (high school), many Estero families are now realizing the importance and working harder to send their children off. And because many more young people are getting a better education, many of the adults want that as well.
My hostmom is currently taking classes to learn how to read and write. She is about 50 years old, has five children, 8 grandchildren and up until recently could not read or write anything. Her youngest son (13 years old) is the first in the family to attend high school. I could not be more proud of her and where her family is headed. This for me helps represent how much more the realization for an education is being realized. She loves showing off her notebooks and the work she’s doing, while also never ashamed to ask for help. I work with her after her class, and it is so inspiring to witness her pride and delight.
I know that sometimes I wonder if I am really impacting this town or these people, or if they can simply do all this on their own. I truly believe they can do everything on their own, but it will definitely take time. For now, I am here to push, to inspire, to teach, and to learn. It is very easy to slip into a lazy and dismal state, and I am hoping to push these people and myself away from that.
Ï´ll end this post with a quote I found a while back that always inspires me to push outside of the box continue doing things that sometimes frighten us. Sometimes it really is a great thing to step outside of your confort zone. That´s when big, exciting moments happen.
¨So this is the part where I´m supposed to tell you its not scary. Well, it it. But fear is natural, fear is good— it just means you´re growing.¨