Saturday, August 13, 2016

Luchando y logrando -- The first workshops

Finally the workshops have begun!  It has been so amazing to see everyone's skills and preparation come together seamlessly into something tangible.

Last Thursday (August 4th) we had the first adult workshop, led by the vice president of the foundation who is also a psychologist. This past Tuesday we had the first youth workshop, led by the other psychologist we've been working with.  Together they prepared a power point to guide the sessions, defining various forms of violence, where they come from, and how to identify them.  We discussed personal experiences, and the participants were incredibly open.  It was clear that they were motivated to learn more and to put this information into practice.  The youth session was even more interactive than that of the adults, so that they could really understand the important nuances of the terms and relate the sometimes difficult information to their own lives.  As the workshops continue we will dig deeper into more specific themes and give resources for reporting incidents, but these first workshops were dedicated to creating a solid basis of information and piquing their interest.  

Because the sustainability of this project is of the utmost importance, Annette and I have taken a backseat on many of the preparations. In doing this it will ensure that the members of the foundation are fully equipped to continue preparing and running the workshops after we leave in two weeks.  Thus, we have a bit of extra time on our hands.  Besides attending the workshops we have also been working on creating concise training materials for the university volunteers that we had planned on doing earlier in the summer.  It will include a brief overview of child development, strategies for working with children, and specific expectations of this daycare.  Hopefully with this training the volunteers will be more effective in teaching and supervising the children so the two teachers can focus themselves more fully on the curriculum and other necessities of the program.  In this way, the foundation will be able to grow in many ways - from the actual daily running of the daycare to the larger impact it has on families in the community.

We can't wait to see how the workshops continue in these next weeks and to hear about them far into the future.  However, one thing is already clear: all our efforts this past year were worth it.

The last day of the daycare before the August vacation

The first workshop

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Our project finally feels like it's coming together!  We have been kept very busy these past two weeks buying materials and meeting with academics and talking things over with the foundation.  We have now contracted a psychologist and a lawyer to give the workshops to parents and youth for the month of August.  The topics for the parents' workshops include: the psychology of violence in general; specific types of violence, their effects, and how to break the cycle; child development; addictions and their impact on violent behavior; the legal implications and resources for sexual abuse; the legal implications and resources for domestic violence; and the rights of the family.  For the youth group, the psychologist will cover sexuality instead of child development, and the lawyer will only give one session regarding the police, drugs, and domestic violence.

The workshops will be relaxed and interactive with a focus on the real-life applicability of the information and what resources are available in the community.  After each workshop we will sum up the information given in a pamphlet for the participants to keep, and there will be assessments throughout the course of the program to gauge the efficacy of the workshops.  After the pilot program ends in September, a new group of parents and youth will begin the workshops throughout the course of the school year, augmented by a few other themes.  The participants from this summer's pilot program, joined by every year's new group, will act as community ambassadors, employing the information from the workshops to their own lives as well as spreading the knowledge to their neighbors and friends in informal ways and through formal events in the schools.  

The passion we have seen from all involved to get this project off the ground has been so inspiring.  Next week we will continue with our preparations to make sure the start of the program in the first week of August will go smoothly.

Emma working on the project plan outside of our house

Annette and Emma with the university volunteers and the daycare director
Without all of their advice and support none of this would have been possible

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Spreading our reach

Our first month has been full of many changes and exciting developments.  We had another meeting with the foundation's president and vice president on Sunday and we are now going to be able to expand even further the new plan we made last week.  Instead of training the university students, the foundation is going amend the whole university volunteer system so that they only accept psychology and education students.  With this issue fixed, we are going to work on improving the training that they give to the parents of the children who attend the daycare.  Currently there are five mandatory talks on any subject from domestic violence to oral hygiene.  We all agree, however, that just giving parents information about different subjects with no structure will not provoke a real change in practices.

We will thus be running a pilot program this summer to educate adults and middle-school aged children about specific obstacles to peace, and enable them to combat these obstacles in their own lives and in their communities at large.  Over six weeks of biweekly workshops, we will focus on five areas that the foundation has identified as preventing peace in this community: 1) domestic violence, 2) addictions, 3) lack of education, 4) gender violence, and 5) discrimination.  Then the foundation will continue this program during the school year long after we are gone. These workshops will be targeted to educate children who attend local schools and are particularly motivated to learn, and to educate the parents of the preschoolers at Burbujitas de Luz who also show motivation to learn and act.  The foundation members have contacts with professionals who can lead these workshops and we will create a syllabus and a manual based on these sessions so that the participants can then assist in training the next year's group.  These 'peace promoters' will also create events in their schools or their neighborhoods to inform and engage others.  There will be continual assessments of the efficacy of the program by checking in with the parents, and the foundation is committing itself to increase their fundraising efforts in order to continually support the actions of the peace promoters.

We are so excited that our recent seed of an idea - to enhance the training of the university students - has transformed into something with so much potential.  Our connections with this foundation have certainly been invaluable.  They told us that our presence here has sparked them to realize what next steps they want to take and has inspired them to begin pursuing their larger goals for the foundation.  Now we can work together to achieve these dreams.

You have to look / You have to sit without hurrying / in order to see. / The road is short / and the marvels many
One of many sources of inspiration we have received throughout the changes in our project

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sigue, no más -- Moving forward

Our second and third weeks here in Ecuador have brought quite a number of unexpected turns to our plan. We knew from the beginning that we would have to be flexible and that no matter how much we prepared we couldn't do a real needs assessment until we got here. Even so, it was still unsettling to realize as we attended the daycare every day that there were significant issues that would make extending the hours of the center an unnecessary and potentially risky endeavor. The need for afternoon care does exist for working parents, but must be addressed from a place of stability. On top of a number of logistical challenges, the biggest functional barrier is that our partners here do not own their own land yet, so they cannot justify expanding before they have enough permanent space to run the program. In addition, the members of the non-profit foundation that run the daycare have made it clear that they believe there is no expressed need for evening care by the parents of the children who currently attend the daycare. Although this need does exist in the wider community, parents of children in this particular daycare have not asked for extended hours.  For us, this was the most important piece. All the other obstacles I'm sure we could have worked through, but once we realized that the need we assessed from the US did not in fact manifest in the way we thought, we knew that we had to reavaluate everything.

Our meeting with the foundation made it clear that they are still interested in exploring a mutually beneficial relationship for this summer and beyond. They came back to us last week with an idea for a different project that more accurately addresses the current needs of the foundation. Essentially, they expressed that we could be most useful through mobilizing youth here and in the US to help fight intrafamilial violence and support the daycare. There is already a program through the University of San Francisco Quito that sends about ten student volunteers to the daycare every semester, including the summer semester, to learn about social justice issues. It is clear, however, that these volunteers are not being used to their full potential. Therefore, this summer we will be compiling training materials for working with children as well as materials for the sensitive but important topic of domestic violence. We will make a hard copy to be kept at the daycare in addition to online resources so that the volunteers can access them. Hopefully we will also be able to distribute these resources to other preschools and daycares in Ecuador. Our longer term goals will be to create other connections in the US through a cultural exchange with our high schools that would further the English instruction at the daycare and expand the network of the foundation, which the foundation has also expressly requested.  This summer though, we will be using our time, resources, and connections to improve the existing programming and advance the larger goals of the foundation. Now let's get to work!

The children at Burbujitas de Luz working together to build a structure while improving their fine-motor skills

The view on our walk around the reservoir as we think through the evolution of our project

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Los primeros pasos en Ecuador -- Our first week

We arrived in Ecuador on Saturday night to the open arms of our host family.  After acclimatizing to the altitude and getting acquainted with Cumabaya (or reacquainted for Annette), we got in contact with the president of the foundation that runs Burbujitas de Luz.  We toured the facilities, met some of the children, and then got right down to business with the president and the vice-president/main teacher in the preschool.  Sitting down in the office with the sounds of kids playing next door, we discussed the viability of our program.  We learned about how daycares in Ecuador are run and how this daycare stands out.  The non-profit foundation devotes itself to providing quality childcare for families with limited resources.  The daycare focuses on all aspects of child development through play, with the overall wellbeing of the child as the foremost priority.  They are even strict with the parents so that this type of treatment and care is reinforced in all parts of their lives.  We hope that our program, as a part of this foundation, can continue this mission.  It's safe to say that we had a lot to think about when we got home.

The rest of the week we helped out at the daycare as teacher's assistants, along with the numerous volunteers from the University of San Fransisco here in Quito, in order to learn more about how it runs on a daily basis.  We got to know some of the volunteers and learned about how the University works as well.  The teachers and the cook gave us great examples for how best to manage the children in a fun way.  Wednesday was El Día del Niño (Children's Day) and we had a lovely party with some treats, and sang songs and danced all day long. The children were so happy and we realized even further what an important role this daycare plays in the lives of the children and the huge difference this attention and joy can make.

The town of Cumbaya also has so much to offer.  We went to a market yesterday with rows and rows of fresh fruits and vegetables, and freshly caught seafood.  Hopefully we can incorporate some of these resources into our program.

Next week we will continue going to the daycare and will also meet with the foundation to discuss our plans in greater detail.  It's been hard work but we are so excited for everything to come.

Annette on our scenic walk back from the daycare in Santa Ines

Our first day in Cumbaya with Mica and Nancy, our host sister and mom

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Thank you, Davis 100 Projects for Peace!

This year, Annette and I received a $10,000 grant from the Davis Foundation to promote peace in the world.  Every year the foundation funds at least 100 projects from affiliated colleges all over the country, and with the help of the Dean of Fellowships at Connecticut College we worked throughout the past year to create a program and apply.

The seed for our project was planted last spring, when Annette returned to visit her Ecuadorian host family that she stayed with during her gap year.  Knowing about the grant options offered at the College, she asked about the community's needs.  She was most struck by the fact that many families need afternoon and evening care for their children, but that most preschools in the area close at noon.  She then decided to try to address this need with the connections she'd made and their expertise.

Back at school, she enlisted my help to formulate the grant proposal.  Because of our connections with Burbujitas de Luz, a preschool in Santa Inés, Ecuador, we were able to design an extension of their daycare services.  We will be hiring a coordinator with experience in early childhood education, and it will be staffed by volunteers from the local university in order to make this program completely sustainable after we leave.

Aided by our Spanish language skills, our love of experiencing other cultures, and our determination to make a difference, we hope to effectively learn from the inspiring child care providers and social justice activists at work in Ecuador in order to use our funds in the most effective way possible to fulfill their visions for their community.

We are two weeks away from embarking on our journey and we are so excited to start working!  We hope to return humbled and accomplished, leaving behind a sustainable program that helps working parents in this community provide for their families.
 Annette with her host family in Spring 2015
Annette and Emma adventuring in New London, Connecticut