Feliz Año 2017

Dear Friends:  Well, Año Viejo made up for all we missed at Christmas. At least that was the case for me, as Michael decided not to make the long, panting hike up the mountain to join the end-of-year procession that lasted all afternoon and into the evening, through heavy fog and sprinkling rain, and finally included about 1000 folks (almost all in incredible masks and disguises). Michael and Paiwa, visiting for the holiday, stayed happily by the fire, but I joined them later for an important event at our house.  It was a wonderful experience! This annual celebration on the last day of the year is apparently unique to the community of Quilloac, made up of about eight or so comunas – distinct hamlets, each with a theme they were to act out with disguises and masks. We hiked to each comuna, where a stage was set for a short program before we marched on with those comuneros joining. I confess I couldn’t tell one theme from another, but the masks and costumes were very funny – many men dressed as women and maybe women dressed as men – harder to tell. Those in disguise stayed in character all day – giving speeches at each comuna – (someone dressed as an elder speaking in high, quivering voice, for example). Many jokes in Kichwa passed me by, but the crowd loved every minute, and for me the visual spectacle made it all worthwhile. This guy below pushed a stroller with two “babies” the whole day.  

But by the end of the day, after climbing up over 11,000 feet and shooting all day, I was too tired and cold to wait for the performances at the end point- the Quilloac school complex – and to hear who had won prizes for the best themes.     

I have to give credit here to my excellent assistant, godson Luis Gabriel, ten years old, who took charge of my pocket camera and charged up the mountain ahead of me to shoot photos as I was left breathless on the roadside.. (That is his mother Mercedes behind him on his right – an old friend, early scholarship graduate, lawyer, with other community leaders who invited me for this event. What I missed later was the burning of the giant effigies at midnight, after the performances and music and dancing. Earlier I’d seen students building them.

  

But then we had our own event back at home. Paiwa had found a small monigote in town (a cousin of Spongebob Squarepants) and brought it to Michael to make an effigy. It worked perfectly with the Trump mask he’d found last week. They dressed him up with my garden gloves and made a bonfire ready to light when I got home about 7:00.

 We were in bed with our books by 9:30 or so, but awakened abruptly at midnight with volleys of bombas – some sounding as though on top of our house – and fireworks near and far that went on for about 15 minutes. Then all was quiet and we knew 2017 was here…

Cañari Women’s Scholarship Foundation

scholarship meeting boost

Dear Friends: Without looking at the calendar I seem to have an internal clock that tells me the day has come to write the annual fundraising letter for the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation. So let me start as I did last year, by introducing our scholarship women. The photo above was taken at our June meeting, right before I left Cañar, when the gathering brought together both our graduates and present scholars – an amazing group of women!

2015 marks the tenth anniversary of the scholarship program in Cañar, and we are thrilled to have twelve graduates and ten women presently studying (I count and see not all are present). I’m particularly pleased to report that every graduate is employed, almost all in their chosen professions and in their home communities: lawyer, agronomist, nurse, economist, dentist, psychologist, nutritionist, veterinarian, and more. In many cases they are the first indigenous woman in their fields.

overview meeting croppedOne purpose of the meeting was so our graduates could inform and inspire incoming and present scholars: to urge them to keep studying no matter what (marriage, childbearing, failing to pass courses); to keep their eye on the prize of becoming a professional indigenous woman; and to describe life in the post-graduate, working world. It was a wonderful celebration that began with a communal lunch, followed by testimonials (a tradition in Cañari meetings) and a few tears (also a tradition).paiwa sara meeting copy

Three years ago, President Correa’s government announced that higher education at state universities would become tuition-free. This was the good news. The “bad” news was that every student aiming for university had to pass an exam similar to the SATs in the U.S. The law took effect suddenly, and Cañari students, along with rural students everywhere in Ecuador, were ill-prepared to take these exams, as were their teachers to meet new instructional standards. Chaos ensued, with thousands of students failing to pass the exams, and more applying for “free” education than places were available.three in a row copy

Our Cañar board of directors considered options. Even the best students at local high schools were not getting into university. We thought about giving stipends for prep courses, but were stumped at the thought of trying to decide who should receive such help. But we did agree to give a scholarship to any woman applicant who was accepted into a university, rather than require that they complete the first year (our previous rule). For two years, as young women came knocking on my door, I listened and made notes as they told stories of failing the exam multiple times, feeling adrift and out of school when all they wanted was to continue studying. It was heartbreaking, but slowly the situation resolved: teachers learned to instruct toward the exams, students learned how to take the exams, and market forces weighed in with a new industry of test-prep courses of varying qualities named for Albert Einstein, Copernicus and Stephen Hawking.

This year we have ten women holding scholarships. Some had begun courses before the exam requirement and applied mid-stream in their studies. Others took the exam two or three times and finally got a score that allowed them to enroll. (Different degree programs require different scores.) And others benefited from the higher standards demanded of teachers (while raising their pitiful salaries so they didn’t have to work second jobs), and passed the exam in their last year of high school.

Vicenta & mom copy

Families are crucial to the success of our program, and they support their daughters in many ways: sending food, giving encouragement, babysitting. Most scholrship women are the first in their family to go beyond high school (or 8th grade) and you can imagine the tremendous pride at the moment of graduation. P1060156

All the women study full time at state institutions, most at the University of Cuenca or the Technical University in Riobamba. They live away from home in rented rooms with shared kitchens, coming home on weekends and holidays. The Foundation gives each woman a monthly stipend of $100 or $120 to help cover fees, room and board, travel and other expenses for the five years of most undergraduate degree programs. We also provide a one-time $500 to each woman for thesis and graduation costs, which means our support for each woman averages about $1500 a year, an amazingly low cost for a university education in any country. Since 2012 we also offer our graduates a stipend for master’s degrees.

A huge thanks to all of you who have supported the scholarship program over the years. We are proud that the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the U.S., which means your contributions are tax deductible. We have no administrative costs other than this mailing, so every dollar goes directly to the women. I would also like to thank our Portland board members Charlotte Rubin (our trusty treasurer), Francie Lindner and Laura Foster. In Cañar our board of five is elected from the women graduates, with a token (very good) man, the husband of one of our earliest graduates.

Please make your checks to CWEF and mail to 2020 SE Ash Street, Portland, Oregon 97214, and you may request a thank you letter with IRS receipt.

You can also donate through PayPal, by clicking the button here:


Best regards, Judy Blankenship,

President, Cañari Women’s Education Foundation

Cañari Women’s Education Foundation

November, 2013.  Every year at this time I send out a fundraising letter for our Cañari Women’s Education Foundation, a 501(c3) non-profit program supporting university education for indigenous Cañari women. Some of you will receive the letter via postal mail; some through my e-mail list, and others will learn about it through this blog – so please excuse the duplication of efforts. If you would like to contribute, contact me for further information: judyblanken@earthlink.net. (Or reply to this blog.) Your donations are tax deductible.

present studentsDear Friends:

It’s that time of year again! Thanks to all of you, the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation continues to thrive, with twelve graduates working in professional careers, seven full-time students, one master’s student, and many plans for the future. In the above photo you’ll meet our present scholarship women, at various stages of their university courses: (from left to right) Juana (veterinary medicine), Luisa (medicine), Maria Esthela (nursing), Nelva (social communication), Mariana (public health/nutrition), Mercedes (laboratory clinician), Transito (nursing), and Mercedes (accounting). Pakarina, not pictured, started in September in architecture.

All the women study full time at state institutions: the University of Cuenca, or the Technical University in Riobamba. The Foundation provides a monthly stipend of $110-$120 to help cover fees, room and board, travel and other expenses. (President Correa’s government eliminated tuition in state schools in 2012, making our dollars go further.) Undergraduate degree programs usually last five years, and the women must live away from home while studying, most in rented rooms with a shared kitchen.

Our program also provides $500 to each woman for thesis and graduation costs, as the universities try to squeeze every penny from students as they get closer to finishing. This means our support for each woman averages about $1500 yearly, an amazingly low cost for a university education in any country.

It’s always gratifying to check in on our past graduates, so I’ll give you a few updates.

CarmenCarmen Loja, with a degree in economics from University of Cuenca, is now director of her hometown branch of the oldest savings and loan cooperative in Cañar. She heard about the job on the radio, sent in her resume, and was interviewed by members of the coop, competing with several others. She won the position “on her merits,” the executive director told me (significant in a country where indigenous applicants are almost always at a disadvantage when competing for jobs with non-indigenous). Certainly the fact that Carmen is a native Quichua speaker gave her an advantage (all our scholarship women are bilingual Quichua/ Spanish). Before I left in July, she proudly told me that she has brought 400 new members into her branch.

pacha 2Pacha Pichisaca now runs her own dental practice in Cañar, and here she is attending to a woman from her village. I was amused on the day I took this photo. After tentatively knocking and asking if it was okay if I photographed her and her patient, Pacha said, “Yes, yes, come in!” Her patient sat up and grinned at me, and the patient’s husband, sitting nearby, recognized me and asked if I would come photograph their five-day San Antonio fiesta next year. So unlike a visit to the hallowed dentist’s office in the U.S.!

lunch

This is the eighth year of our program in Cañar, and many of our graduates are the first indigenous women in their fields. Last January, some of them gathered to throw a welcome-back lunch for me. Pictured above are (l-r): Pacha (dentist), Obdulia (educational psychologist in hometown high school); Mercedes (first Cañari woman lawyer); Alexandra (agronomist and teacher, bilingual school); Mariana (literacy teacher); Veronica (bank customer service representative); Maria Chimbo (certified public accountant); and Margarita (eco-tourism in rural communities).

kids in patio

Meanwhile, the next generation is coming up fast. Here, the sons and daughters of some of our graduates amuse themselves on our patio during our lunch. The women and I had a good laugh, remembering the early days of meetings trying to talk over the cacophony of crying babies; then, chaotic gatherings with laughing or screaming toddlers running around. Now, those babies are sedate little primary school students. One excellent ripple effect of our program is that our scholarship women tend to marry fellow students, have smaller families, and are committed to providing their children with educational opportunities unknown to them.

Veronica Paucar

An innovation this last year: the Foundation voted to support our graduates gain master’s degrees. We offer up to three scholarships a year in the order of graduation. Verónica Paucar (r) is working on an MBA at the University of Azuay in Cuenca, and Alexandra Solano and Mercedes Guaman have applied to programs in Quito. All are low-residency courses, lasting two or three years and requiring the women to travel to Cuenca or Quito once a month for weekend classes. As in the U.S., our graduates find they need more than a B.S. or B.A. degree to get ahead in their careers. The master’s courses are very expensive and wouldn’t be possible without our help. The Foundation provides $1500 the first year, and $2000 the second.

A huge thanks to all who have supported the scholarship program over the years. Every woman knows that it is you – friends, neighbors, family, contributors, champions – who make their educations possible, and each one feels a personal connection of gratitude. They welcome you to visit Cañar to meet them, and I to visit Michael and me in our “house in the clouds” – any year between January and July.

We are proud that the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is an official 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible. We have no administrative costs other than the postal mailing, so every dollar goes to the women’s education. You will receive a warm thank-you letter with your IRS receipt.

Judy Blankenship, President, Cañari Women’s Education Foundation