Guest Post: CHOICE Humanitarian, Progress in Ecuador

The Advancing Life Foundation, the charitable giving entity of ASEA LLC, has partnered with us to build a vocational school in rural Ecuador. This school will be the first of its kind in this area and give opportunities that will have life changing implications.

The building will be in the Intag region, a remote farming and mining community in the Andes in northern Ecuador. Its roughly 17,000 inhabitants sparsely populate mountainous agricultural lands. Most college-age youth in the region, as high as 90 percent, are not attending college because the area simply does not have educational institutions.

“Most of the young people have migrated to other places because we do not have sufficient educational opportunities in our town,” said Councilman Marcello Vergara.

The vocational school will not only provide immediate opportunities for higher learning; it will create greater long-term self-sufficiency as students learn valuable skills. Graduates are expected to be able to significantly increase their contributions to their communities as well as increase their income, some by as much as two or three times.

In addition to donating funds, two groups of volunteers have traveled to Ecuador to help work on the structure. Working side-by-side with CHOICE Ecuador personnel and locals, the first group of volunteers for ASEA began construction this summer.

Though the work was grueling, the smiles were broad and the laughter was loud. Experience the details of the first expedition here. And stay tuned for information from the second expedition and construction updates.

Learn more about CHOICE Humanitarian

Progress in Ecuador: Expedition Update

After much fundraising and preparation, 30 selfless humanitarians set off to Quito, Ecuador with the Advancing Life Foundation and CHOICE Humanitarian to build a vocational school for the struggling Intag region. The trip was more than a year and a half in the making.

Photo Slideshow

Ecuador - 2017 July Expedition

With a mixture of excitement and anticipation, the group spent their first day learning about Ecuador with a trip to its namesake, the equator, and a large handmade craft market. In the evening, to fully appreciate the country’s diverse scenery, the group turned in near a lake overlooking the Imbabura volcano for the first night.

Day two ushered in a busy itinerary where guests would meet their host families, experience the culture in welcome performances from local villagers, and shake hands with government officials. The dancing and laughter was the beginning of a weeklong bond between volunteers and villagers.

ASEA Triple Diamond Paul Taira works to build a fence during the Advancing Life Expedition to EcuadorAs the sun rose on day three, the hard work of building the vocational school began. The task at hand for our first expedition group was building a 100-meter (328-foot) fence along the perimeter of the school. The work was grueling and required everyone to be in tune with one another to get things done in a short time. All the while, our volunteers stayed focused and humble as they worked alongside locals.

Michael Auras from ASEA’s European office shared, “Working next to an 84-year-old man and a group of young boys showed me how grateful locals of all ages are for the vision of the Advancing Life Foundation and the way the vocational school will improve things in Ecuador for generations to come.”

Senior Men in Quito

Some of these young boys, ninth-grade students, drove from a school over an hour away to help with the project, with the hopes that one day they might have the opportunity to attend the vocational school and take their education further than they ever thought possible.

As work on the fence progressed, so did volunteers’ relationships with the people they were working with. 9th grade boys from Quito
“The interaction was not always easy,” expressed Michael, “but we shared signs and gestures of encouragement, appreciation, love, sympathy, and support. When communicating with these wonderful people, a smile and a hug was the purest expression of unity and sympathy—no words, just understanding on a higher level.”

Participants also had opportunities outside of building to interact with the community. Women and girls of the surrounding towns gathered for some education on feminine hygiene, and they were supplied with reusable personal-care packs. Little girl from Quito

Sandy Mott from ASEA U.S. corporate office loved this experience. “We painted finger nails, jumped rope, laughed and learned,” she said. “It was so sweet to see how quickly they trusted us and wanted to get to know us. Even without speaking Spanish, we made a significant connection!”

On day four, CHOICE Humanitarian arranged a special celebration for the elderly in the community, which turned out to be quite the side-splitting experience. Just picture Sandy and one of the seniors trying to pop a balloon sandwiched between their bellies as they danced!

Sandy Mott Dances with a senior from Quito during a game.

Between the dancing and the games, volunteers and the locals were grinning ear to ear. Each senior was given a special gift as a token of appreciation and gratitude for their stewardship in Quito. Hugs and laughter were exchanged freely as the music carried the night away.

Kim Larsen, chair of the Advancing Life Foundation, said, “It’s humbling to know that, because of the advantages we’ve had, we are able to broaden horizons through the donation of time and resources. We can’t even grasp the importance of this one school and how it will continue to empower and create change for these people here.”

Kim believes that this center will be the model for other rural vocational centers in rural areas of Ecuador. She explained, “We have peaked the interest by many levels of government who will keep a close eye on the impact of this school.”

The work continued on the perimeter fence. Brick loads were hauled from place to place, large rocks were moved and removed, hills were summited, and trenches dug.
women haul rocks up a steep slope during the Advancing Life Expedition in Ecuador
As the volunteers labored away with the diligent villagers, Michael observed, “They are a powerful people, with a capacity beyond what they can imagine themselves. But when we worked hard along with them, it was amazing how easy they caught fire, were interested, were inspired, and how they started to look beyond what was their perceived horizon.”

Experiences like this have a way of bonding people together and refocusing their perspectives. Michael, for instance, walked away knowing, “it only takes one person; it only takes a very small effort and a simple act of kindness to give hope to others.”

ASEA volunteers with CHOICE Humanitarian and villagers from Quito, Ecuador who helped build the fence.

ASEA and The Advancing Life Foundation would like to extend a special thank-you to CHOICE Humanitarian, our volunteers, and all of our generous donors who made this trip possible. The second group of volunteers for this expedition leaves soon, and we can’t wait to continue the progress that’s already been achieved with our dear friends in Quito.