Friday, December 4, 2009

Rotarian Marta in Guayaquil

This week has gone by so fast; here we are packing up for our journey home. I wanted to share the amazing things that we experienced this week.

Monday, we were taken to Hogar de Cristo to see the Microcredit Bank in action. Monday is the day that the women have to check in, report on their financial activities of the week and make their weekly loan payment. It was so interesting to be able to sit in on this and get to talk with the women. They told us about their loans, which vary from $80 to $300, and what these loans have meant to them and their lives. The funds are used to sell pillows, blankets, and plastic ware, and to prepare food and other miscellaneous things. We were driven to visit 3 of the business that these District MicroCredit funds are helping. Boy was I proud for all of us in our District. Such a small amount can make a huge difference in the lives of these Ecuadorians.

Tuesday we spent the whole day visiting Father Simon at Isla Trinitaria. The Team each went to a separate classroom and taught, shared and visited with the teachers and children. Father Simon had a visit from the a TV news crew. A very positive article was written about him in the a magazine that came out the Sunday before we arrived. The news crew came into the classroom that I was visiting. Father Simon told the reporter about the support he receives from our District in San Diego and I was interviewed on TV regarding him and his work. I told them our Rotary foundation works under the idea of "Dar de si antes de pensar en si" and if anyone personifies that, it is definitely Padre Simon. He is always giving and never thinking of himself. It was great to have Father Simon share the story of his Paul Harris Fellowship and certificate with our GSE Team. He has it in his office for all to see.

That afternoon we met with PDG Ricardo Koenig, who gave us a very touching presentation on the work he is doing with gangs in Ecuador. I took great notes on this one for all of you. Again, Rotary in action changing lives for the better. We were all very touched with his presentation and the amazing results that he shared.

The next day I was taken to see the Rotary City that was built with enormous contribution from our District. There are over 300 homes that have become a wonderful community now 6 years later. The Club here is so proud of their work and so grateful to all of us for helping them out. They have a great school that I got to visit and are in the process of building a high school and a senior center. Again, I took great pictures for all of you.

Yesterday we spent the day visiting the community of Duran, where we visited the Rotary school Amor, Esperanza y Fe. Great project. They promote their school as being trilingual as the students there have the opportunity to learn both English and Quichua. The students performed some dances and songs for us. They sang the Ecuadorian national anthem to us in Spanish and Quichua which was amazing.

We then went to an all boys homeless shelter that our District helped out many years ago with machinery for the school's workshops. We were invited to have lunch with the boys which was so special for all of us. We all sat at different tables and had the opportunity to get to know some of the children better. I was able to have a deep discussion with 2 boys at my table and shared a lot. One boy recognized the Rotary wheel on my shirt and name tag. It was also on the machine that he works on in the workshop. It was a great experience sharing with them what Rotary means to me.

This week we got to know members of 4 more clubs in Guayaquil in addition to building stronger friendships with our friends from Puntilla and Hugo (of course). Tonight is our farewell paella dinner hosted by Rotarian Rafael and Sara Quintero. Hugo has also been telling us he has quite the surprise for us tonight - we can't wait to see what he has up his sleeve. We were told that we cannot cry as we say good bye. It is not allowed. We will see, as I fear that lots of tears will be shed.

Thank you again, to all of you who selected me and made this trip possible. On behalf of my GSE Team, thank you for this truly and unbelievable experience. It has made me even prouder to be a Rotarian and represent all of you.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


(Check out more of our photos at Picasa)

Saturday morning promised a sunny weekend, set to unfold at the country ranch of District Governor Luis Villacres and his wife, Rosalia. Our team was joined by Secretary to the Governor Rafael Quintero and his wife Sara, along with GSE coordinator Hugo Klopfstein and his wife Susie. One could not ask for more generous hosts or better company for two days of rest and relaxation.

The hacienda consists of many patios, garden areas, and rooms to sleep at least 25 guests. We watched the sunset and chatted on the front porch before enjoying a fondue dinner made with cheese purchased fresh at a local stand earlier in the day.

Sunday morning, Rachael, Maddy and Heather walked to town to experience the weekly market. Hundreds of villagers travel hours to Pallatanga from surrounding mountain towns to buy fruits, meat, shoes, miracle homemade cures for headaches and foot fungus- everything a local family might need. We squeezed through the crowds, winding past huge freshly-slaughtered pigs (next to men swinging squealing piglets destined for a similar eventual fate) and bicycle carts with hundreds of recently-caught fish, eyes bulging with the rising heat. Fruits of every kind imaginable were spread out on blankets and makeshift stalls: babaco, uvillas, pitahaya, maracuya, naranjilla, taxo, grenadilla, and obitos. For a mere quarter, we purchased a 2-foot-long green bean pod. The vendor split it open for us, and inside were a dozen or so furry seeds, each the size of a skipping stone: we ate the sweet, cottony pulp and inexpertly spit out the seeds just like the locals.

A man walked by with a heavy sheepskin still dripping red along the edges; old women with black hats and bright skirts smiled near-toothless grins as we admired their wares. Children chewed contentedly on bits of fresh pork skin purchased from a snack cart, alongside a woman with long black braids scooping homemade ice cream from a burlap sack. This is no grocery store back in the United States! The market is alive with color, sound and smells; it is an experience to provide contrast and depth to shopping days at home, and one we'll not soon forget.

Marta in Pallatanga

I want to share with you about our relaxing weekend in Pallatanga. It is one of DG Luis Villacres retreats; a beautiful mountain home in the hills of Pallatanga. The view is spectacular, overlooking the mountains and valley. Our GSE group was joined by Luis and his wife Rosalia, Rotarian Rafael and his wife Sara and Rotarian Hugo and his wife Susie.

We arrived and all rested and enjoyed each others company letting the relaxation take hold. Rosalia, the ultimate hostess, then took me into town to get goodies for lunch and dinner. Everyone in the town knows her and Luis. They have owned the property for over 20 years, We had great conversations and Rotary fellowship. When it got a little chilly, Luis got his beautiful red poncho. I went to my bag and got my white poncho that I purchased in Loja at the Peruvian horse competition. I love this picture of us. I hope you enjoy it too.

Rosalia loves to knit, so Susie, Sara and Rosalia all showed Sherry and I how to knit scarves with our hands instead of needles or hooks. We both did quite well.

Later Saturday night Rosalia took us ladies for a drive around and took us to the place where they held the District RYLA camp. It is a beautiful lodge that houses around 100 guests. I can certainly imagine the fun that the students had there. It is still so amazing to me to be so far away from home and our Rotary world, yet it is exactly the same here. The passion and love for serving is the same, only in Spanish.

Sunday morning Susie and I went to church with Rosalia. The morning was so beautiful with clear, crisp cool air. Luis shared with me that he is hoping to start a Rotary Club in Pallatanga. He invited his first prospective member to visit with us and we talked to him about Rotary. I asked him if I could share one of our District pins with him. I got the OK from Luis and pinned him. It was a great afternoon. Tonight we are headed back to Guayaquil for our last week here in Ecuador.

Friday, November 27, 2009


One hour south of Ambato we make our way in a loaded van through the twisting hills to another city in the Andes; Riobamba.Lorena Rivera, a former GSE member from an Ecuadorian teacher team, accompanies us on the southern trek to her city, which she affectionately calls, “frio”bamba.We drove through the main part of town, which looked like a smaller version of Ambato. Numerous small businesses line the streets alongside colorfully and creatively painted homes and street vendors sell fruit, ice cream and packets of nuts and other indistinguishable bags of treats only brave foreigners may want to try.We park outside a church and make our way to the backside of the building.We are here to visit a recently completed Rotary project - an after-school day care facility.The children are patiently waiting for us, and when we arrive they greet us with songs and a dance. They have words of thanks and flowers for the money that Rotary has provided them for this after-school program.

Later that night we meet with the Rotary Club of Riobamba for introductions and dinner. It is Thanksgiving for the US, but for us it is just another day and we feast on langostino (lobster) and fillet mignon. Turkey and pumpkin pie are hard to yearn for with this incredibly tasty meal. Another late night, and our arrivals to our host family’s homes are at 11pm. Our next day consisted of vocational visits to three institutions. The first was a visit to the private school “Despertar” (escuela particular). An Australian woman who sought a more child-centered educational program similar to schools in her homeland established this school 15 years ago. Lorena’s daughter attends this program. It is the only school we have seen with soap, towels, and a private bathroom in each classroom. School tuition fees are about $200 monthly. Gardens, play equipment, and clean rooms grace the inviting atmosphere of this school. Our next stop is a visit to a school for the cognitively and physically challenged students from ages 5 to about 21. The goal is to give students life skills and some students receive vocational training in agriculture, sewing or carpentry. Psychologists and specialists in speech/physical therapy provide services for students alongside teachers and university students who are teachers in training. Over 300 students gathered in the gymnasium for a “Rumba-therapia” session and we joined in on the musical aerobics program. To end our visits for the day, we head to the school for the hearing impaired. This school serves about 80 students ranging from kinder to 18 years old. Four teenage students entertain us with a comical mime about preparing for a date and the trouble that arises when the boyfriend flirts with another girl. The program gives instruction in sign language. An important goal for Ecuadorian sign language is for the creation of national language signs. Many regions have their own signs for words and colloquialisms in their area. Students also learn skills such as welding, pottery, and crafts.

Our night ends with a celebration called a pena in the Hotel Cotopaxi. We are joined by more members of the Ecuadorian GSE San Diego group from 2004 which included Lorena, group leader Rafael (Heather and Rachael's host dad in Guayaquil) and 3 other teachers. They have been getting together twice a year every year since their return from the states. Two musical groups entertained us with regional Ecuadorian music. We were on our feet dancing long into the night. The dancing and party finally closed down at 2am. Tomorrow we head to the country mountain home of District Governor Luis Villacres and his family for the weekend before heading back to our starting point of Guayaquil.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Message from the Rotarian: Ambato and a visit with the District Governor

We arrived in Ambato Sunday, mid afternoon. We had a wonderful drive through beautiful countryside. Our driver was great as he shared information on the villages we were driving through and the history of this beautiful country. We stopped at a basket stand where we saw many varieties of baskets that were being woven, from bassinets, vegetable carriers to sewing baskets. We then stopped to view a huge dam, that unfortunately, due to the drought here in Ecuador, was almost empty. I did find something unique there. There was a family selling ceramic coffee mugs with your picture on it. They would take your picture with the beautiful mountains as the background. Of course, I had to do this, especially with a price of only $5.00 dollars. The picture of the Team turned out great and I now have a very special memorabilia of our trip to Ecuador.

Our driver got a little lost in the city, so we asked a policeman for directions to our destination. They were so gracious when they knew we were Rotarians and offered to escort us to our destination, the Hotel La Florida. We were greeted by our Ambato Rotary Club host families. We each received a beautiful bouquet of roses, courtesy of their Club. We all went to our homes for family dinners with our host families.

Monday morning we met at the Hotel La Florida for our cultural and sightseeing day. We were taken to see the beautiful mountainside villages and stopped at Baños and beyond. We drove through many dark tunnels that did not have electricity and were only one lane wide. I will leave our adventures and discoveries of the day to the Team to write about. That was a fun adventurous day that ended with dinner at our host families. Of course, right after dinner, 7:00 pm, the lights went out until 11:00 pm. I went to bed.

Tuesday morning we all met at the Hotel and were taken to the Rotary school that the Club supports. We arrived there at 9:00 am, and were picked up at 12:30 pm. The school is high, high in the mountains, in the middle of a farming community. It was a great vocational visit. We all split up into different classrooms and taught, observed and learned about the school and how Rotary has changed their lives for the better. Again, the Team will share their experiences with you. I enjoyed watching our Team in action, with Heather sharing her postcards from her students to them and having the children write back. They were very creative in their writing and drawings. Maddy brought a great story book about Stella Luna the Bat and had a bat puppet with her. The children loved listening to her read and answer questions about the story as they got to hold the puppet. Rachael and I helped the higher grade teacher teach a geography class on Ecuador. I drew the map of Ecuador with all the provinces on the board, and Heather filled in all of their names and the products they were famous for. Rachael got to grade the students on their drawings and spelling. Sherri, who was a little under the weather, helped the teacher with some math work and the primary grade teacher with some crafts. We were treated to some hot tea and empanadas, that were brought in by parents of the children. It was a great visit.

When we returned to our Hotel meeting point, we met up with DG Luis, and his wife Rosalia who were on their official Governor’s visit to Ambato. That night we were taken to dinner with all of our host families to a great restaurant called Raices (Roots). We saw hamburgers on the menu and of course we ordered one. Not a great choice, but tasty. It is so bizarre to arrive at a restaurant and all of a sudden the candles come out and the power is out for 3 hours. We all had a great dinner by candlelight. Right when we were to go home, the power came back. Driving seems a lot safer with traffic lights working.

Next morning all of us, GSE Team and DG Luis and local Club officers, drove to see their Water Hydroelectric plant Matching Grant project. It is amazing, again, high, high in the mountains, at about 2900 meters altitude. The grant is with a Rotary Club in Germany. The water plant generates electricity, that is sold by the community and leaves them a revenue of about $1,000, per month that is used for their village. It is a great project.

We then drove down the mountain a little to another small village that the Rotary Club supports their school. That was an amazing visit, with 90% of the population dressed in their indigenous attire, and not speaking Spanish, but their language of Quechua. We were greeted by all as royalty. We then visited the schools and that is where I decided to deliver the beautiful bracelets that Dale Barnes gave to me from Interact Club. The children loved them. Even the boys wanted some for their siblings. We then passed out stickers to all of the children and the 2003 Rotary pins that were given to us by Russell Hampton Company. Thank you again Russ for arranging this for us. I took great pictures. We then went to lunch at a beautiful park overlooking the city.

That night, there was a joint meeting with the Clubs of Ambato and Ambato Cosmopolita, at the Hotel. This was the official visit by DG Luis to both Clubs. It was a great dinner meeting. We got all dressed up in our blazer uniforms and gave our full Power Point presentation. They all loved it and were asking a lot of questions about San Diego and our District. DG Luis spoke very highly about our Team and mentioned all of the positive feedback he had received from all of the Clubs we had visited in his District. He congratulated us on all the events and schools that we had attended and the positive impact we had left behind. We all received some beautiful wool Rotary scarves as thank you gifts.

Next morning, I received a call asking me to let the GSE Team Teachers go and visit their schools and for me to join DG Luis for his morning activities. Of course I accepted and was honored with the invitation and joined him and Rosalia. We were taken to meet with the Mayor of Ambato. He happens to have gone to school in Los Angeles at Hollywood High and 1 year of college at USC. He has fond memories of that. He was very gracious. We then visited with the “Prefecto”, which is like the Chief County Supervisor/Officer. They were both very grateful to Rotary and all of the great work that is being done in their cities and communities. We were then met by the press outside City Hall and were interviewed both on TV and by newspapers. We than walked to the local newspaper a block away, for more interviews and pictures. Our next stop was to drive high, high in the mountains, again at about 2900 meters altitude, to a farming community where the local Club has a matching grant for the irrigation of their crops. We visited that and were then treated to a surprise lunch by the local families, of Cuy, potatoes and potato soup. We were not planning on the lunch and it was an honor to be hosted by them in a very small brick building where they shared their plans for the project. We were then off to another lunch with our GSE Team and the local Rotarians at the home of a Rotarian. I was glad that I had not eaten a lot earlier, since the food was delicious and a lot of it.

At 4:00 pm, our ride to Riobamba arrived and we were off. This again was a great visit, with wonderful Rotarians dedicated to “Dar de si, Antes de pensar en si” Service above Self.

Monday, November 23, 2009

One Day In Baños

Our first day in Ambato started well, despite Sherryilynn feeling like she was on Death's doorstep and staying behind on our day of tourism. She decided to stay at the hotel and rest while the rest of us gathered in the morning and were met by our hosts for the day: Amabato Rotary Club President Fabian and Rotarian Guillermo. We traveled about one hour of of town to the lovely city of Banos which is perched on the slope of the active volcano for which the province is named, Tungurahua. Tungurahua means "throat of fire" in Quichua (Kitch-wa), the Incan language spoken by Ecuador's indigenous peoples. Besides offering the thrilling backdrop of a crater that occasinally spits smoke and fire, Tungurahua bestows high waterfalls, streaming thermal baths, dense jungly vegetation and deep river gorges that make a great playground for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Despite Rachael's desire to bungee jump of a local bridge along with other tourisits, our group remained more nature lovers than adventure seekers. A quick stop at the Sugarcane Stalls on the edge of town is where we tried local treats such as chewable sugar cane, sugar cane juice, and sweets made of guava. Within the town, the ladies were treated to a local taffy called melchocha that is softened and blended by swinging it onto wooden peg, usually mounted in the doorways of shops. We then visited the Basilica of the Virgin Saint of Holy Water and were treated to the beautifully echoed songs of the parishioners.

From Banos, our crew headed towards the upper Amazon region along the La Ruta de las Cascadas (Highway of the Waterfalls) for about 10km. Our first nature loving event was at the beautiful Manto de La Novia waterfalls where we took the engine powered tarabita (cable car) about 500m across - and 100m above - the Pastaza river gorge.

We then headed up the road for about 30 minutes to the village of Rio Grande. From there we hiked downhill for about 20 minutes to get to the base of the Pailon del Diablo (Devil's Cauldron). Marta chose the less risky (and drier) view of the falls from the suspension bridge while Fabian, Maddy, Heather and Rachael crawled their way up the side of the mountain to get the views from beside and behind the falls.

After a quick stop for dinner, the tired adventurers headed back to Ambato to prepare to get back to work the next day.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Message from the Rotarian: Part 2

Today is Saturday, 11-22-09. We just finished our second week visiting Ecuador. It has gone by so fast and has also been full of amazing activities.

In the past 2 weeks we have visited 11 Schools and medical facilites in Guayaquil, Cuenca, Loja and this week in Quito. All of the places we have visited, have been supported by the local Rotary Clubs. Each one has been unique and taught us so much about the teachers and students. In some we have been able to spend a lot of quality time with the students and teachers. In others, it has been listening to a presentation about the school´s mission and touring their facilities. That has been hard because we all would have enjoyed more quality time interacting with the teachers and students. Some of the locations are close to each other, while others require a lot of driving time. We usually travel in vans, with Rotarians as our guides. Like I mentioned earlier, the mandatory electric power outages statewide have affected some of our visits, both to schools and host families. You don’t realize how 4 hours of no electricity affects lives both professionally and personally. This has also affected our being able to update our blog for you. By the time we arrive home from our busy days, the power is usually out until 11 pm and then there is nothing to do other than sleep.

As the Rotarian in the group, it has been amazing to me to live the true meaning of Rotary. “Service above Self “is the credo here, as it is in our District in San Diego. As a Team, we have all been so fortunate to have met wonderful Rotarian families that have hosted us. They have taken care of us as if we were their family. Each one of us has been fortunate to stay in separate homes and had unique experiences with each of them.

This week was pretty full. Our days began at 8:30 AM, at the Hotel Sebastian, our meeting point. We would go out on our visits and return to the Hotel for a 1 to 2 hour rest then change into our blazer uniform and then be off to our night Club meetings. We visited the first 3 Quito Clubs´meetings 3 nights in a row. Their meetings start at 7:30 pm with fellowship, then the actual meeting starts at 8:00 pm, and dinner in served while the meeting progresses. Each night, we were all home at our host families no earlier than 10:30 pm. This made for long days. Thursday was special since we finished our vocational work early, were able to visit the ¨Medio de Mundo¨and then got home earily so that we could spend time with our families.

Today, Saturday, was a very special day. We were picked up at 8:30 AM, by the Rotary Club Quito Valle Interoceanico. We were joined by 6 Rotary Youth Exchange students from all over the world. I was surprised to find out that the District here has over 120 Youth Exchange students throughout Ecuador. So far we have met 8 of them. We drove about 1 hour up the mountains to the beautiful community of Nono. It is a small village of about 2000 people that is strongly supported by Rotary. We spent the whole day there which we started with a breakfast Rotary meeting. We gave our Power Point presentation which everyone enjoyed. We then toured their new cheese making factory, organic gardening project, community craft center that the local women are supporting by selling hand knit products and attended a presentation by the local High School. The Rotary Club helped build the school and has supported them since with equipment and sharing in the payment of the salaries of the teachers. One of the fun things the Club members and our GSE team did was plant some trees in the local park. Our Team got to plant an Oak tree and they made us promise to come and visit anytime we are in Ecuador. Rotary has had a huge impact on this farming community. The locals are very grateful for the help and are caring for everything that has been done here. They even have a local band that played for us today during the student presentation.

This week we were also interviewed by Rotarian Rosalia Arteaga for her TV show ¨Cara a Cara con Rosalia¨ which is set to air in a few weeks. We also did an interview for the countrywide newspaper ¨Hoy¨ which should be printing tomorrow. We are off tomorrow morning to Ambato. We will be greeted by District Governor Luis Villacres, as he will be making his official visit to both Ambato and Riobamba Rotary Clubs, where we will be visiting later this week.
By the way, the big hit has been our District pins and the District Calendars. I have been presenting one to each Club President and everyone really enjoys having a part of San Diego to look at every single month. Thank you again Escondido Club for this great project.