The difference between a struggling family and a flourishing family is often just a single opportunity. Paula Pavon is one of many enterprising women from the Mestizo community of Pucura working to improve the lives of their families through community initiatives. And with the charitable building of a new vocational school, these women are seeing success in their small businesses.
Years ago, Paula’s husband Fernando started working as a bricklayer to provide for their little family. When construction work was scarce, he also performed small electric jobs. Paula earned extra money for her family doing agricultural work, but the need to be at home to care for her children cut that short.
Life improved for Paula when she formed a group with the women in her community to boost rural tourism. It wasn’t until CHOICE Humanitarian helped them strengthen their rural tourism initiative that the business began to thrive. CHOICE helped the women’s association of Pucura improve its services of accommodation and attention to foreign and national tourists. Now Paula and her companions receive extra income to improve the quality of their family’s lives and the conditions of their homes.
Since then, Paula and Fernando have also been able to obtain a loan from a bank and have rented a store in the center of the parish to run a small bakery. Fernando is looking into ways to manage and improve the family business while Paula continues to strengthen her rural tourism enterprise and they are hopeful that these two small businesses will succeed. Paula can now afford to provide a better education for her children, something that was only a dream a few years ago.
With the decision to build the Ecuador vocational school, Choice Humanitarian and Advancing Life Foundation have contributed to an increase in the number of tourists to the community. This contribution is allowing the women who host the tourists in their homes to earn money, hone their hospitality skills, and provide needed updates to their homes to accommodate future guests.
Months of fundraising and preparation came to fruition last summer when two groups of 50+ volunteers headed to the Intag region of Ecuador with the Advancing Life Foundation and CHOICE Humanitarian.
The Project: getting started on the construction of a vocational school, the Inta-Cara Advancing Life Center.
Although the need for further education in this part of the world is great, many of the local governments were hesitant to trust that this was really happening in their community. This also led to hesitance in putting their budgets toward the building of the school.
But when the first group of expeditioners arrived and began the work. the reality became clear. Government leaders have now pledged their commitment to the project and are directing budget money in 2018 to help further the cause. They have even committed to develope the public road to the school.
There’s an excitement and an energy that surrounds this project. By the time the second group of expeditioners arrived in August, even more communities had pledged commitment to the project.
The scope of people being able to come to the center has expanded. Those who have gone on Ecuador expeditions thus far have described the experience as life-changing; others said it was like coming home. All made unforgettable connections with people, regardless of language barriers, and said they’d do it again.
At our convention in 2017, our goal was to raise $100k, which ASEA pledged to match up to $100k. During the event, associates contributed by purchasing swag, participating in a silent auction, and filling up the donation box, totaling $99,485.45! ASEA matched it at the full $100k bringing the convention total for the Advancing Life Foundation to $199,485.45!
To complete our fundraising goal for the year, we’d like to bring in an additional $100k before next year’s convention in September.
You can donate to the Advancing Life Foundation on our website or in your virtual office. Make it simple—opt to add any amount you choose to your monthly autoship!
The Excursion Before the Expedition
Rainstorms welcomed the Advancing Life Foundation’s second group of expedition volunteers as they arrived in Ecuador to continue work on the vocational school.
The group arrived on a Friday and spent Saturday exploring the town of Otavalo with a trip to the Center of the Earth Museum and a craft market.
The drizzle continued on Sunday as expeditioners drove through the cloud forest to Pucara to meet their host families. They were welcomed with a beautiful cultural celebration with dancing and a candid explanation of what the vocational school will mean to the community.
“Some of the families that live near the job site said they loved to look for the bus every morning to see us coming to work, to see those that are making their dreams of education come true,” said Advancing Life Foundation board chair KimMarie Larsen.
The villagers shared some good news during the welcome reception, too. “The Inta – Cara Center’s reach is being expanded to another area, which means it is now available for almost 30,000 people,” KimMarie said.
Tackling the Job
Hearing that their efforts were going to reach even more people than initially anticipated boosted our volunteers’ excitement and made the labor easier to prepare for, even if it might rain the whole time. To everyone’s surprise, Monday rolled in as the storm rolled out. Call it a coincidence or a blessing, but everyone was relieved to be avoiding a muddy workweek.
Volunteers started digging trenches and moving bricks and rocks. After a hard day of hands-on work, our group welcomed the opportunity to take a break and visit the neighbors, who taught everyone how they grow and harvest coffee. It’s inspiring to see how hard the villagers work just to enjoy the same luxuries we so often take for granted.
ASEA Marketing Manager Hannah Mangum loved interacting with the locals. “We went to a home where the mother, who was my exact same age, took us around their property and walked us through a normal day of life for them,” she shared, “It was really eye-opening to see how they live; how it differs from my normal, day-to-day life.”
Foundations Poured and Moments Shared
On Tuesday, work on the perimeter of the school continued. Expeditioners mixed cement and built the foundation to the front and side fence. Just like the first expedition, the group had the opportunity to work with a group of high school kids from a neighboring community. These boys are tough and resilient, hoping to someday benefit from what the vocational school has to offer.
The afternoon and evening on Tuesday were spent with villagers teaching women about women’s health, playing soccer with the men, and ASEA Associate Andreas Hammer teaching the children how to play tennis.
The best parts of the trip were unrelated to sightseeing. The best moments seemed to be the small, genuine ones. Not forced and unplanned. “The impromptu soccer game that we got together on one of the evenings was a much more meaningful experience than any of the sights we saw in Quito,” ASEA’s legal counsel Ben Tyler shared. “I’ll always have a special feeling for the rural people of Ecuador.”
Work Rewarded with Warmth
The back-breaking physical labor continued Wednesday but was rewarded with a much-needed dip in the hot springs later that night—the first hot water the volunteers had access to since arriving in the village.
It was hard leaving the school on Thursday after all the progress the volunteers made. With some of the first bricks laid on the front fence on the property, their work on the school for this expedition concluded.
Ben brought his son along for the expedition, who was especially sad to be finished working. “I was worried he would get bored or frustrated with the amount of work,” Ben said. “When we came back from the village after five days of working, my son turned to me and said that he was bored with sightseeing and wanted to go back to the village.”
Expressing a Sense of Accomplishment
With their hard work behind them for the week, it was time to celebrate! What better way to do so than celebrating the 116th anniversary of a community called Plaza Gutiérrez. The experience in this area was unlike any other.
Plaza Plaza Gutiérrez is home to many indigenous people of Ecuador. Volunteers sat down with the villagers to learn some of the skills that have helped keep their community thriving, like making thread from the Agave plant to crochet bags, place mats, hats, and carpets.
Hannah described what it was like getting to know the people in Plaza Gutiérrez: “Life is simple. They don’t have much, but they are as happy as can be.”
And what better way to end the night than another evening of dancing! Maybe one of the best things about being immersed in a new culture is some of their quirky traditions, like when the villagers of Plaza started singing The Crazy Cow! Picture it: one person holds a makeshift frame above his head that is lit on fire, and as it burns they dance like a crazy cow to the song.
Sights and Sounds as Souvenirs
On the drive back to the hosts’ homes, the clouds stitched together like a blanket tucking in the sky. Flickers of light started illuminating the jungle. Lightening bugs were putting on a magical show as our volunteers reflected on their beautiful adventure.
“You can travel, you can visit, you can even talk with people in a different culture or area of the world,” says Ben, “but until you have lived and worked and sacrificed alongside someone working toward a common goal, you haven’t really understood what it is like to really be a part of a community.”
Friday, our group of selfless volunteers prepared to say goodbye to the beautiful land and culture of Ecuador with some last-minute sightseeing. Even in the presence of some of the most incredible sights in the world, none of it compared to the actual service project itself.
Ben explained why he thinks this is: “Spending time working and sacrificing for a group of people has a way of linking you to them that transcends any other experience.”
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
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.
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.
As 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.”
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.
“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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.