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.

Advancing Life Updates from La Concepción

It’s been more than a year since a group of ASEA volunteers embarked on a CHOICE Humanitarian expedition with the Advancing Life Foundation to help the people of La Concepción take important steps toward improving their community’s quality of life. Since that time, CHOICE Humanitarian has shared updates to highlight ongoing progress, facilitated in large part by contributions from the Advancing Life Foundation.

The progress report gives a detailed view into what the Advancing Life mission looks like in action, i.e., how an age-old cycle of poverty is broken. By assembling willing hands to construct resources according to community plans, the expedition pushed progress considerably closer to completion. What would have taken the hardworking Otomi people a year to build without assistance, volunteers helped them complete in five days!

As an example: Where generations before have relied on recurring daytrips to retrieve minimal water—and have necessarily limited their water usage to survival-level consumption—a community cistern changes that course for future generations. With this small update to resources comes an ability to produce, to plant, to provide, to push forward.

Making a Difference

All around the world, the ASEA Advancing Life Foundation is helping to break cycles of poverty, abuse, and suffering. We’re doing it through small-scale local service days, large-scale disaster relief, and on-site building projects.

After Advancing Life’s first humanitarian expedition to Mexico, associates and corporate continued to band together. We raised $20,000 in two days for earthquake relief in Ecuador. In the last year, the foundation has facilitated several local ‘Have an Impact, Make a Difference’ days, a concept that took hold after ASEA Founder Tyler Norton introduced it at Convention. Envision Conferences became the hub for these days of service, with attendees in Dallas, Mexico, and Europe raising funds and doing service for local charities. Corporate employees also joined together to benefit their local communities.

“The Advancing Life Foundation is something that we’re very humbled by, that we have the opportunity to reach out to so many people in so many different parts of the world,” said ASEA CEO Charles Funke.

Now Advancing Life is well underway with its next major expedition. We’re heading to rural Ecuador with CHOICE Humanitarian to build a vocational school, the first of its kind in Ecuador. Interest in the project is high enough that two separate groups of self-funded volunteers will head out in July and August of 2017.

The Intag region, where the school will be built, is a remote farming and mining community in the Andes mountains with roughly 17,000 residents. Few get the education they need. As high as 90 percent of college-age youth are not attending school simply because the area doesn’t have educational institutions.

This need matches Advancing Life’s elected focus for its next major project. “We felt strongly about doing something dealing with education this year,” said Advancing Life Chair KimMarie Larsen.

Once completed, the vocational school will provide immediate opportunities for higher learning. Graduates’ skill sets will allow them to benefit their communities while giving them long-term, self-sufficiency—estimates suggest incomes will increase by as much as two or three times.

To date, the Advancing Life Foundation has raised $86,698 of the needed $100,000. ASEA associates across the nation have donated thousands of dollars from team challenge fundraisers, and individual donations continue.

“Every dollar helps create change,” Larsen concluded. “We are extremely grateful for all donations, regardless of size. We invite everyone to be part of this change.”

Advancing Life Foundation: Another Step Forward in Ecuador

As progress continues on the Advancing Life Foundation’s vocational school project in Ecuador, hope is emanating from the community for their children and future generations.Locals’ feelings of excitement were evident when CEO Charles Funke and Advancing Life Foundation Chair KimMarie Larsen went to Ecuador in January. There, they met with local government official and looked at the future building site of the vocational school.
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A Culmination of Kindness in December

What was just a small bit of inspiration at the beginning of the year blossomed into a flurry of impact by its end. In January of 2016, ASEA’s Advancing Life Foundation was only 8 months old and sending a group of 35 volunteers off on its first official Advancing Life expedition to the village of La Concepción, Mexico. Future expeditions were already planned and fundraisers were underway, but something was still missing.

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Empowering Communities & People

Since its inception, ASEA has had at heart the best interests of others. “Early on, the tagline for our flagship product was Advancing Life,” recalls Founder Tyler Norton, “so when we needed a name for our charitable giving initiative, that was the most fitting name—it’s about how we can help advance life in the world.”

ASEA’s Advancing Life Foundation was born in 2015 during Convention that year, and attendees raised nearly $30,000 to donate to relief efforts in Nepal following a devastating earthquake.

“It’s been amazing and humbling to see what people are willing to do,” observed Kim Larsen, Advancing Life Chair.

Associates joined forces with corporate employees and CHOICE Humanitarian for Advancing Life’s first humanitarian mission earlier this year. For five days, the team of 25 volunteers completed nearly a year’s worth of work in La Concepcion, a village of 400 in Central Mexico. Working alongside locals, they built 10 water cisterns, 8 indoor stoves, 8 outdoor ovens, and 5 chicken coops.

“It was more like helping distant relatives than a community that you didn’t know anyone in,” observed Paul Tiara, Triple Diamond Executive and expedition volunteer. “Fundamentally, we are all brothers and sisters, and when we lock arms together and contribute to helping improve the lives of others, the entire world can become our extended family.”

At our 2016 convention, ASEA wrapped its arms around the extended world family again with a goal of raising $20,000 for earthquake relief in Ecuador. We raised more than $37,000, including the $10,000 ASEA corporate threw in to match the first $10,000 from associates. The initial $20,000 went directly to earthquake relief. The excess is going toward Advancing Life’s next project: building a vocational school in Cotacachi, Ecuador.

“I’m so impressed with our associates and their generous donations,” said Kim.

ASEA’s goal for the vocational school is to raise a total of $50,000 by the end of 2016. We’re coming in ahead of schedule. By the time June was out, just six weeks post-convention, donations had totaled $32,926.

“If we continue on this pace,” Kim concluded, “we will exceed our goal and be able to do more for this area in a shorter period of time. Small actions combined together really do bring about change in the world!”

The expedition to Cotacachi to begin construction on the vocational school is set for July 22-29, 2017.

Although this is a lush, fertile zone where agriculture flourishes, 87 percent of the population lives in poverty, and access to education is a challenge. The innovative vocational and training center that Advancing Life volunteers will build with the support of CHOICE Humanitarian will provide opportunity. It will be a place where youth and underemployed adults can live, study, and gain a nationally certified vocational certificate in masonry, carpentry, cooking, or tourism, helping to elevate opportunities for more than 1,500 families.

In addition to large expeditions and fundraising, the Advancing Life Foundation embraces one of Tyler Norton’s personal mottos: Have an Impact, Make a Difference, with services days planned throughout the year that coincides with Envision Conferences.

We welcome all to share the vision and do what they can to have an impact and make a difference.

Cheryl Chambers

I love this company ASEA and all it stands for and its Ethos! It just gets better and better how they take the lead, and we support the ASEA’s Advancing Life Foundation efforts. It was such an honor and treat to participate in the Have an Impact, Make a Difference Day. ASEA chose to partner with GRACE, a Grapevine, Texas-based non-profit relief agency which provides food, clothing, financial assistance, and other vital necessities to people who are struggling with a limited income or recent emergency. It felt so good to be part of a team performing the simple act of donating toiletries and building the kits.

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