Inta-Kara five years later: Opportunity takes root

In the lush, fertile zone of Ecuador’s Intag region, agriculture flourishes. Economic opportunities, however, have been slower to take root. Much of the population lives at the poverty line and nearly half of all people depend solely on agriculture. With little opportunity for education or work, the rising generation has been pushed to larger urban centers to find their livelihood. Yet, its beautiful location and the unique cultures of its humble people make it clear that it is a place where opportunity belongs.

Five years ago, the ASEA Advancing Life Foundation and its partner CHOICE Humanitarian connected with the people of this charming mountain region. Thanks to the backing of generous donors and devoted volunteers, our young foundation was able to commit to an ambitious local solution. Rallying local and national leadership involvement, we began work on the Inta-Kara Advancing Life Center in 2017.

Watch the video from our first site visit in 2017:

Up and running for a joyful return
Tens of thousands in donor funds, paired with thousands of on-site volunteer hours, led to the school’s opening in the fall of 2019. Despite pandemic precautions setting in almost immediately, its first two years of operation have produced 156 graduates and offers five accredited courses.

In honor of the five-year anniversary from the campus groundbreaking, this past January ASEA executives Tyler Norton, Chuck Funke, and KimMarie Larsen visited the school and surrounding community. They immediately stepped into lives lifted by education and generosity. Of those first students of the Inta-Kara Advancing Life Center, many had immediately put their certifications to work to start a local business. As ASEA executives visited these graduates at their homes and businesses, they witnessed generations of challenges giving way to swift and infectious hope.

Successes from the culinary program
With the kitchen facilities finishing construction in phase two of the build, culinary courses finally began at the end of 2020. Since then, graduates of the program have been busy plying their new trades.

Graduate Fabiola Quilumbaqui opened a restaurant to employ local women in need of work. Today, the restaurant hosts and caters large events, bringing in revenue to the surrounding villages and providing for employees’ families.

Likewise, single mother Fabiola Cuascota enrolled after losing her job and completed her culinary education. She then started a restaurant out of her home. This home business provides the income she needs to provide for her children.

One couple opened a coffee shop in Apuela after the wife completed the program. Her husband was able to return home from a job in Quito to partner on the project and be with family. Their education in food preparation and safety helped them renovate their shop’s kitchen to updated safety protocols. Classes on restaurant management helped them create a menu that has increased business.

A mother and daughter whose cleaning business foundered during the pandemic graduated together and opened a catering company. They now make meals for more than 350 children every day in local schools and daycares.

A warm community welcome
The three ASEA executives began their second day with a trip to the operating Inta-Kara Advancing Life Center. When they arrived, the school was energized with crowds of smiling people! More than 250 locals had shown up to celebrate the five-year visit. With balloons, live music, and festivities in the air, our grinning travelers participated in a traditional indigenous blessing on the land where the school stands.

Eight leaders from the surrounding GADs (decentralized autonomous governments) expressed their appreciation and gratitude on behalf of the people whose lives have been improved thanks to the school and its training programs.

Congratulating the graduates
In between several festive performances of song and dance, the Advancing Life team helped to present students with personalized certificates to celebrate their achievements. CHOICE presented gifts to the team and gave a special gift to each of the eight GADs of the Ecuadorian local leadership. A delicious lunch was catered by current culinary students of the school, which included beautiful carved fruit centerpieces and red pepper floral arrangements for each table. After the meal, the students and staff gave an exclusive tour of the school before presenting one final surprise.

A dedication to remember
After showing the team around, the staff gathered around a conspicuous covering hanging on the workshop’s outer wall. In a motion that seemed to make every effort and advance of the past five years official, the covering was pulled away. In its place shone a metal plaque honoring the multiple organizations who had united to make this day possible. Placed at the center, supported by the names of local community organizations, read “ASEA Advancing Life Foundation.”

Current plans will admit more than 300 students to the school each year, and the number of vocational certification programs will rise to seven. The school is open six days a week for anyone in the community—not just for certification courses but for events, meetings, and classes. Housing and business development around the school has improved, raising the value of the entire area and elevating the overall quality of life for everyone.

The ASEA Advancing Life Foundation thanks its many donors and volunteers from the past five years. Your physical and financial contributions have laid foundations, built walls, filled classrooms, and blessed communities for miles and for generations!