Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008


Jess and I had the opportunity to explore el Museo Nacional del Banco Central today which tells the history of Ecuador. One of the things I kept wondering was why would anyone go to the jungle and decide that was the best place to settle down and build a community? While it is rich in resources and a good water source, there are dangerous animals, muddy lands, and thick vegetation that makes it difficult to travel, farm, or build. So if wanderers were looking for a good place to settle down and make a community... why would they choose the jungle? Why would you?

When 2+2 != 4

My team project is to work on a healthcare infrastructure for the Quichua community on the upper Napo River in Ecuador. After flying to Coca, Ecuador, we took a 2-3 hour canoe (gas-powered) ride to Sani Lodge, one of the only indigenous-owned lodges in Ecuador. Sani Lodge is owned by the Sani Quichua community who has a community center about 30 minutes away from the lodge. To get there, we need to paddle a few minutes to a stream, then gas-power to a station where we switch to a larger canoe/boat and go a bit further to the community center. A cooking area is in the center with a school, building for community meetings, community clinic, and futbol (soccer) field complete with bleachers around it. They are in the midst of building a new structure to start producing chocolate. The clinic itself is small and was funded by an oil company when they made a deal with Sani to fund several projects in return for digging to see if there was oil underneath their land (but not to drill for it). The clinic was also given money to purchase medications and supplies which the community deposited into the bank and used the interest to extend the period of time they could purchase supplies. While basic supplies are covered solely by this fund, many of the medications are paid for by the community as it is used. However, Sani has all but run out of the funds to purchase supplies and cannot afford to stock up on medicine (as seen by the sparse and only cabinet in the center in the photograph to the right). The medications are sold at a cheaper price for about 2x the stock amount (versus 10+ x) by a Spanish-founded nonprofit group called Sandi Yura. Sandi Yura offers courses on healthcare to "los premedores de salud" (health volunteers) on different areas.

Jess and I brought Sani's promedor de salud (Blanca) medical supplies which we got donated by Wound Technology Networks (based in Hollywood, FL, USA) and backpacks for easy portablity (remember! Sani is in the Amazon and a lot of healthcare is done via backpack medicine - traveling quite large distances through the jungle or via canoe to the patient). We were pleased to discover that the promedor already knew how to use most of the supplies (all wound care, mostly first aid, supplies), but saddened to discover that her volunteer work was strained by lack of additional manpower, money, supplies, and knowledge. She explained that although Sandi Yura gave some courses, they were not enough for what the community needed, and pregnancy/maternal care and good sexual education/puberty education for children were greatly needed. We decided to talk to Sandi Yura directly about why they did not offer these courses and what we could potentially do to help, but when we had the chance to speak to the Spanish president, we found contradicting information. We were told that classes on maternal care, pregnancy, youth education on washing hands, sexual education, and teaching children on puberty were already in practice and that Blanca had already taken the courses and should be teaching them. She became very defensive and said that Sandi Yura was doing all they could and we needed to work with them. We asked what we could do and how we could help, but instead of giving us an answer, she replied that whatever programs we wanted to do, we needed to run by them first. We thought that working with an already established organization would be a good plan, so we agreed to contact one of the people she suggested (she did not want to talk to us about it herself). As soon as we ended our conversation with her and walked out of the building, however, a large group of the Sani community and leaders of other nearby Quichua communities (they had just had a meeting), approached us and had our guide translate the following. They explained that Sandi Yura did NOT in fact provide those courses and had a very very large fund which they received to help the Quichua but that they did not, in reality, see. Asking us for our help, and telling us they needed the projects we had spoken to them about directly, they expressed their concern about Sandi Yura and how they did not see any of the money.

Now from the above description, it seems pretty obvious that Sandi Yura was a corrupt organization. However, it is not that simple. Sandi Yura is a nonprofit group that provides all their services for free. A lot of their work is dependent on the promedores doing their jobs as well. As they train select individuals from the communities who are then responsible for teaching the rest of the community, a hiccup can occur anywhere along the way. In addition, a lot of the teaching the promedores do occur at town meetings, which Sandi Yura's president explained were often cut short due to impatience and not wanting to listen. As a result, it is possible that Sandi Yura is doing their job, but there is a problem in their delivery. In this situation when 2+2 does not equal 4, what are we to do? Our next step is to ask Sandi Yura for their budget, annual report, and exact programs they offer. Hopefully they will also have statistics on the number of promedores they train on each topic as well so that we can deduce where the failure of the program is occurring.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Child Labor

Quito seems fairly well developed with widespread plumbing, well-paved streets, lots of small and large businesses, and a good public transportation system (observe in the photograph to the left the clean, shiny appearance of the public bus which costs $0.25). There are little to no beggers on the streets, police are widespread, waste is controlled, and everyone is dressed in warm clothing. You can almost convince yourself that you are in America. However, the children and senior citizens working in the streets rudely awakens you to the inequality between economic classes.

Before I go further, I want to mention that I am not presenting the full picture. There is a lot I do not know about the economic status of Quito and Ecuador as a whole. I only know the little I have studied and the even less that I have seen. There is also the large issue of things are not as they appear. In addition, I have been exploring the tourist traps (such as El Museo Casa de Sucre in the photo to the right - Antonio Jose of Sucre's house turned museum - a Venezuelan general that was key in Ecuador's independence) which of course will be more developed, safer, and cleaner than other areas (it is highly recommended that I not go out after nightfall and avoid many places due to the increase in danger - though both Jess and I have felt fairly safe).

Going back to development, it was really the children on the streets alone or in groups selling candy or polishing shoes instead of being in school or being at home with their families that got to me. Jess and I were walking through a park and heard a chorus singing. We followed our ears to a Christian young adult chorus wearing bright orange shirts, singing songs of worship in Spanish. Their bright shirts attracted our attention and we were listening to the music when we noticed a group of small Ecuadorian children sitting politely on the curb looking up at the primarily caucasian students singing praises of worship. As the choir looked out at the audience in front of them and towards the heavens, they did not seem to notice these children looking up towards them. As I took photographs of the children, their attention turned towards me and they headed over with their small toolboxes of shoe polishing materials. First, they asked for $1 for me taking a photograph of them. Then they tried to polish my sneakers. I gave them each a quarter for letting me take pictures of them and chatted with them a bit about the chorus. They told me the chorus was from America and they were singing about God. They loved the songs and were listening to them. The next day (today), I went to Old Quito and ran into many more children polishing shoes and selling candy. One little girl that I was not able to get a picture of to my regret (I am still getting reacclimated to feeling comfortable taking pictures of strangers in disadvantaged states and asking them questions about their lives - it is necessary for journalism and great for insight and development, but some associate it rude probing and that is a whole different topic altogether), tried to sell me candy. She said it was $1 (though I realized later that she must have only known how to say $1 in English), and the candy was well packaged, so I decided to give it a try. I gave her a $1 coin (the $1 gold coins are extremely popular), and she started giving me handfuls of the candy. I was surprised at how much I was getting and told her I did not need as much. She continued to give it to me, so I just asked what her favorite was and asked for that and then gave her some of it in return. Families must often send out their kids because they know how hard it is for people, especially foreigners that are not used to seeing children work on the streets, to turn down children. However, by buying things from these kids, am I only encouraging for them to continue working versus going to school? Or if I were not to contribute, would they starve? When you don't know, how can you make the best decision?

Refer to Jess's Blog for Fun Details on Our Tourist Travels :)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

And Off to Ecuador! Random Thoughts..

These are just random thoughts I had during my flight. I will update with actual blogs in the near future :) the photos below may or may not match the writing... the picture of the cars/mountains is of Quito! quite developed.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Flight 931, American Airlines, Seat 11A

Travel Companion, Jess Lee, Seat 11B

Itinerary: Boston (Logan) > NYC (La Guardia) > Miami, FL (MIA) > Quito, Ecuador

Time of departure from Boston: 11am, Thursday, June 19, 2008

Missed connecting flight to Miami by about 5 minutes

Standby flight delayed

Missed connecting flight to Quito from Miami

Given free voucher to stay at Dadeland Courtyard Hotel 30 minutes south of MIA + $10 dinner, $10 lunch, $5 breakfast vouchers

Flying has never scared me because I started when I was so little. It was always very natural and I didn’t think anything of it. Choosing a seat is an interesting process. Noone usually wants to sit in the middle because you have nothing to rest your head against as you do on the window seat nor do you have extra leg room or ease of not having to bother other people to go to the bathroom as you do in the aisle seat. The window seat has another benefit of a great view, but then you have to bother two people to do your business. Growing up, I always wanted the window seat. I slept pretty much the whole flight, even when it was a long one to Korea (my mom says I used to sleep through meals so she’d try to wake me up because she thought I needed food). I loved looking out the window, especially during takeoff and landing. As I got older, I decided that the aisle seat was the best seat because I hated inconveniencing people, especially when they were sleeping or had drinks/food trays on their tray table. The worst is when you really have to go but everyone has trays and there is no good place to put your tray to fold up the tray table to get out! Granted, the best situation is when you get 1-2 seats in addition to your own. With an entire half row to yourself, I can curl up into a ball and sleep lying down. With 2 seats, you can share the middle seat with the other person, giving more elbow room and perhaps a place to rest your feet.

On this trip, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting at the window seat from NYC to Miami and Miami to Quito (dear Jess suffered the middle seat, though we will switch on the way back). I feel like I have been on a plane forever, as Monday morning I flew to DC and then back on Tuesday to fly out on Thursday and get delay after delay and then missed flight and then delay to still be flying on Friday! I’ve discovered the difficulty of taking photographs from an airplane window. Many of them are dirty, but beyond that, I seem to have extreme difficulty getting the photographs to not appear washed out. Of course there is always photoshop, but is there a trick? Perhaps I should use a smaller aperature… I’ve taken a liking to taking photographs of clouds from the ground, so naturally, I started taking pictures of clouds from the sky. Clouds are like snowflakes, none seem to be exactly the same. My favorites are those big fluffy clouds that seem like big comfortable down quilts or pillows. I just want to jump into them and be enveloped into heavenly goodness. Too bad that if I were actually to jump, I would end up permanently enveloped by wood and dirt. Right now, there is a full moon right outside my window which shines down on the clouds, slightly illuminating them. You can barely discern the clouds, it is like a sea of waves or whipped cream. The contours create shadows that make them more visible. Lightening strikes in the distance occasionally lighting up the entire sky. Seeing the lightening from above is brilliant. It is like seeing heaven when you see the lightening from the level at which it originates. The contrast between the part of the sky with lightening and the part that does not is striking. You are seeing two worlds at once. As the clouds change, it turns into a mountain of snow. When you see the wispier clouds, you can see the land below it. Right now we must be above water or jungle because there are no lights. Occasionalyl you see a small strip of light or even just one dot of light below. Such a contrast between flying over America. We must be flying over Central America right now. It has been about 2.5 hours in our 3.5 hour flight, so we are probably flying near Costa Rica at the moment.

Whenever I try to photograph the moon, it comes out extremely small, like a dot in the sky. I wonder about the moon. It lights up because of the reflection of the sunlight not because the moon itself shines… but if the sun is hitting the moon, wouldn’t the entire sky light up? For example, if you took a flashlight and shined it on a ball in a dark room, not only would the ball light up, but so too would the path of the light itself… I probably learned about this at one point… but I completely forget.

Behind us in line getting on the plane, Jess and I saw a few people wearing collared shirts that said something about global health. I asked what they were, and apparently they are part of a mission trip with about 25 doctors, dentists, and pharmacists to Ecuador to work with the Quichua community! They are going for one week and it is a mission trip by the Christian Association for Medical Professionals or something like that. The woman I was talking to also had her daughter with her who is in her 4th year at dental school. The woman, however, did not seem to know anything about the Quichua and wasn’t sure how to pronounce the name. I suppose if you are going to a community for one week and just treating them as quickly as you can and doing routine things you don’t really need to know too much about the community. However, I think it is almost a sign of respect. Besides being fun to learn about other cultures, it makes you think of the group more at your level. It is so dangerous to think of the developing world as a group of people that we need to help and save. I had a job interview recently and as my resume is filled with international development interest, they wanted to clarify that I would not get to do international development work. I was a little confused because a lot fo the work they were doing was international and looking at global collaboration. I mentioned that international development to me was not foreign charity and blind aid, but rather cocreation and co-development. My interviewer then agreed that I would be doing some international development work. We talked about how the term and topic “international development” has turned so much to the idea of charity and giving. It sounds so great, but when a group does not have to work for something, they end up taking it more for granted and can end up relying on it. This becomes dangerous especially with political instability where it is not unheard of for political tension to cause a ngo to withdraw from a country. In addition, lack of co-creation means lack of culturally-appropriate development. What works in the US may not work well in a different country. In fact, it most probably will not. With medicine, it is a little different as for many diseases, the treatment is the same. However, you do have to consider the community’s own medical practices as well as any stigmas or beliefs against western medicine. In addition, it s great that medical professionals donate their time to go to developing countries for a week or for maybe even a month, but without a healthcare system developing within the country, they will always rely on foreign aid. There are so many different issues and problems tied around each other. You can’t solve one problem without working on another.