I want to begin by thanking all of you who contributed to Cañari women’s education this past year –– family and friends, friends-of-friends, acquaintances and others. By the generosity of your continued support, our program grows with new scholars and new graduates. To you, our great supporters and only source of funding – a huge THANK YOU/MIL GRACIAS!
The photo above was taken at our all-scholarship meeting in June, just before I left Cañar. Not everyone could attend, but the group is representative of our thirteen current scholars, twelve graduates, and members of our local committee (back row, left, our treasurer, María Esthela Maynato, who manages the program when I’m in Portland; and bottom row, second from left, Mercedes Guamán, lawyer, one of our first graduates and president of the committee).
2015 marks the tenth anniversary of my alternating north/south life, and managing the scholarship program when I’m in Cañar is one of my greatest pleasures. (Before 2005 we had two wonderful volunteer coordinators, Marta Alban in Quito and Lucia Astudillas in Cuenca). Because we pay the monthly scholarship in cash, I’m able to regularly see the women and have a chance to hear how things are going with their studies, living situations, childcare, and so on.
Or, if the women can’t come personally – all are in universities from two to eight hours away – they send their parents and sometimes even grandparents. Meeting the families gives me a glimpse into our scholars’ backgrounds, as well as a chance to accept the inevitably thank-you gift: a sack of potatoes, fresh beans, corn or peas, or a cooked guinea pig, live rooster, and once a rabbit, who lived in our patio for a few weeks.
Cañari culture is based on reciprocity – if you give, you must receive in return. Quite a few parents and grandparents are illiterate, and as they laboriously write their signatures on the receipt, I’m reminded that in only three generations Cañari families have moved from a subsistence farming life to one where their daughter or granddaughter might be a lawyer, doctor, nutritionist, accountant, dentist, veterinarian, ecologist, architect, engineer, or nurse. This is real social change.
We are proud that our graduates are 100% employed – most in jobs serving the local communities, and many as the first indigenous women in their fields. Here’s some news:
I recently caught up with Obdulia Castro, who graduated in psychology four years ago from University of Cuenca. It turns out her office is only ten minutes from my house, at the asilo de ancianos, or elderly care home. She is in charge of in-take evaluation, determining if an elder is appropraite for the facility, and the only one of her team of professionals who speaks Kichwa. Delighted with her new laptop, she asked me to help her connect with Facebook, or “Face” as it’s called in Cañar.
Pacha Pichisaca graduated a couple of years ago from dental school, and after a year doing her rural service, she opened her own office in the center of Cañar. I love peering into the open door of her clinic to see people waiting – both townsfolks and country folk. One day I walked in and asked to take a photo and Pacha and her young patient happily posed for me. With our foundation support, Pacha is earning the equivalent of a master’s – a certificate program to qualify as an orthodontist.
I’ve mentioned before that in addition to becoming professionals, Cañari women benefit from university by meeting good prospects for husbands, marrying later and having a smaller family. Or alternatively, as sometimes happens – early marriage and motherhood, but with a university-educated husband. This is the story of Transito Zhinin, who somehow during her last year of nursing school managed to get married, have a baby and finish an internship without missing a beat (but with great family support, I suspect). This all happened while I was in Portland, so it was a surprise the day she showed up to proudly introduce her new husband, Lorenzo, who graduated two years ago and has a job in a savings and loan cooperative in Ambato, where says she she’ll join him when she graduates.
Juana Chuma Alvarez is one of our newest graduates, in 2015 in veterinary science from University of Cuenca. She writes that she is working with a university program analyzing the efficiency of vaccines with cows, requiring field research. Juana joined our program when she was half-way through university, hearing about it from another scholarship woman. Our program is flexible in accepting both qualified applicants just admitted to university or those well into their studies who need help to finish. Juana is the oldest of several sisters, and at least two have applied for scholarships. At the moment we have a full roster, but as women graduate we will fill spaces with new scholars.
I met Maria Chimborazo years ago when she was a high school student in the village of Sisíd, where I was teaching photography. I hadn’t seen her since until she came by one day to say she was struggling to put herself through university. María said she is an “orphan” – her mother left her with an aunt years ago when she migrated to the U.S. and she doesn’t know her father. She is in third year of a tourism/hospitality program and we will support her until graduation.
Nina Naula (right) is at Central University in Quito, which makes her the scholar most distant from Cañar (8 hours by bus). She worked in Quito for a year while studying for the exam to get into an accounting degree program. Paiwa Acero (below), now in second year of civil engineering at University of Cuenca, one of the most competitive five-year engineering programs in the country to get into – and stay in.
Again, a huge thanks for supporting the scholarship program. The Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is an official 501(c3) nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible. We have no administrative costs other than this mailing, so every dollar goes directly to the women.
Please make your checks to CWEF and send to: 2020 SE Ash Street, Portland, Oregon 97214. (Add a note if you’d like an IRS receipt.) You can also donate through PayPal by following this secure link to the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation: http://bit.ly/1HQmUmB (especially useful for Canadian contributors, as our bank charges a $20 processing fee for foreign checks.)
Michael and I will be back in Cañar in January, when I’ll begin my Cañar Chronicles again. If you are not on my email list, please let me know at email@example.com and I’ll add you. I have lots of good news about the digital Archivo Fotográfico y Cultural de Cañar project that I’ll tell you all about in my first post.
Regards to all, with best wishes for a peaceful and productive 2016. Judy Blankenship
Judy Blankenship, President, Cañari Women’s Education Foundation, 2020 SE Ash Street, Portland, OR 97214
* * * * *
History of the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation
In 1992 I established a scholarship fund for women in memory of my good friend from El Salvador, Ana Margarita Gasteazoro. In the 1980’s, Ana had fought for social justice during the “dirty war” in her country. She was imprisoned for eighteen months without charges, sent into exile, and eventually settled in Costa Rica, where I knew her. Her interest in women’s education came from personal experience. When her Salvadoran father chose to educate her three brothers, but not Ana, he told her it was because she would marry and be supported by a husband, whereas he had to prepare her brothers to support their families.
Ana never married, but she continued to work for social justice and human rights until she died too young of breast cancer, aged forty.
After initial projects in Honduras and El Salvador, since 2001 Ana’s fund has supported post-secondary education for indigenous Cañari women in Ecuador. As of 2012, twelve women have graduated from universities with technical and professional degrees; eight others are presently studying and three women are pursuing master’s degrees.