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Making a Difference In Chilcapamba, Ecuador

Canadian Andrea Evans with the Morales Family in Chilcapamba, Ecuador

Canadian Andrea Evans with the Morales Family in Chilcapamba, Ecuador

Click here to launch photo gallery. (Photos of Andrea Evans with the Morales family including Luis Alfonso Morales Cushugua and his sister Juana, Juana Morales, pic of a painting done by a local artisan of one of the community meetings held for the Medicine to Chilcapamba program, photo of Andrea on an Ecuadorian bus, Ecuadorian children, Ecuadorian Yakchak – traditional healer). Photos courtesy of Andrea Evans.)

It’s always uplifting to hear about people from your own country doing truly good and helpful things, being decent global citizens while travelling abroad. Andrea Evans is one of these inspiring people. She’s the traveller in the photo above, posing with the Morales family. She was a 22 year old Engineering student at the time she got the idea to start a foundation called Medicine to Chilcapamba.

When I interviewed her to find out what motivated her to do this, Andrea told me that she was haunted by the image of a local indigenous woman in her bright and colourful dress eating the food that was meant for her baby while her baby lay listless behind her. She saw this while on a tour led by local indigenous leader, Luis Alfonso Morales Cushugua.

Andrea met Alfonso by chance, while waiting for the bus in Chilcapamba. He introduced himself and invited her to go to his house for lunch and meet his family. At the time Andrea was doing a volunteer stint, working as a lab technician in the local Chilcapamba hospital. But it was only when she met and had lunch with Alfonso and his family, heard about the issues and saw the whole community that she decided to go above and beyond her original volunteer placement and create a new program to help them.

‘Medicine to Chilcapamba’ was formed in 2005, in partnership with Luis Alfonso Morales Cushugua and his sister, Juana Morales Cusugua as a sresearch and participatory global health program, run in cooperation with the local hospital, funded by the McGill Faculty of Medicine. Each year, using bursary funds, a Canadian student can stay in Chilcapamba and doing global health programs identified by the locals as needed and wanted through a series of community meetings held throughout the year. This community led program and has had great success.

In addition to the success of the program, there have been some surprising developments not imagined at the outset. This program greatly influenced Andrea’s decision to switch from engineering to medicine – she’s now a 2nd year med student at McGill. The success also has had a tremendously positive impact on Juaua, hired to be the local coordinator. Andrea speaks with pride of the day she heard the news that Juana had been elected by her community to be President when Alfonso’s term was over, in large part because of her role in this program and the fact it gave her the confidence, public speaking and advocacy skills to be seen as a leader in her community. This level of recognition is a tremendous accomplishment for a woman, let alone a single woman without children, in rural Ecuador. “That was the moment that I realized that this program was helping the community to think differently” says Andrea.

When I first saw Juana , she was addressing our tour group in the local school, explaining the volunteer programs in the local school. She impressed me immediately by her confidence and glowing pride in her community, and I could tell that she was very intelligent and well spoken even though I couldn’t understand much Spanish at the time. She wore an elegant outfit that blended traditional wear (the blouses, jewelry and a scarf) with western business suit attire and I was amazed to see such a classy women and strong female leader in such a rural place.

Alfonso Morales, her brother, is also a fascinating person. He gave an excellent tour to the group I was travelling with for the photography and writing workshop I attended in August 2009, treating us to a traditional lunch made by him and his family, and showcasing how they live a largely self sustaining lifestyle in Chilcapamba. Through him I learned how they have almost entirely eliminated using plastic by developing ways to use Agave cactus fibre to make soft white woven fabric bags and sandals, tough and durable braided rope and containers, spine needles and fibre thread, and even dental floss. While time consuming to make these things from natural materials, they save in terms of money and the environment in the long run, since they don’t have to pay for garbage pickup (the natural materials are compostable) or use water or electricity or chemicals needed for recycling plastics. By preserving and adapting this ancient craft, Chilcapamba is a community to admire in terms of living an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Andrea told me that Alfonso is the UN Representative for Ecuadorian Indigenous Peoples, which explains how he came to be so well travelled and aware of other cultures. He is the type of man who seems to really see the people around him, listening carefully, exuding a quiet intelligence and optimism that seems to bring the best out of others around him. I really enjoyed talking with him.

After seeing this interesting, thriving community and hearing about all the volunteer programs going on in the area, I wanted to know more. So I stayed behind to ask our tour guide some questions about the volunteer programs. That’s how Alfonso put me in touch with Andrea.

It’s always heartwarming and touching to hear about successful volunteer projects that truly help smaller communities, especially when there is a connection back to your home country. I find her story inspiring and wish her all the best of luck in her future studies and with Medicine to Chilcapamba.

I wrote this interview up as articles for volunteer and work abroad magazines and hope it gets picked up by editors as impressed as I am with Andrea, Juana and Alfonso’s efforts. Andrea wrote an article about it as well, published in the McGill Student newspaper http://reporter.mcgill.ca/2009/05/four-kids-two-dogs-a-piglet-and-a-chick/

For more information about the program Medicine to Chilcapamba, feel free to contact me for Andrea’s contact info.

2 comments to Making a Difference In Chilcapamba, Ecuador

  • heya great little web-site you got there :-) I work with the exact design template on my website yet for whichever explanation it looks to load better on this blog eventhough this site has a whole lot more material. Have you been applying any sort of plugins or widgets which will quicken it up? If you could possibly reveal the names so that I might use them in my own blog so twilight eclipse supporters could watch twilight eclipse online trailers and clips quicker I’d personally always be thankful – cheers in advance :)

  • Hi Taylor – thanks. Glad you’re enjoying my site. To make my site ‘light’ and easy to load, I made sure that all my banner images were web optimized (71 dpi) before loading them into the theme folder and I use the ‘shadowbox’ plug in for wordpress.

    I use Adobe’s LightRoom for my photos, which has a great module for making and exporting web galleries. Here’s a great little tutorial that describes how to make web galleries and use Shadowbox http://www.layersmagazine.com/installing-an-image-slideshow-in-wordpress.html

    I hope this helps you out. Let me know how it goes.

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