2019 Cañari Women’s Education Foundation Update

Ana Margarita Gasteazoro, Cuenca, Ecuador 1992

I begin this year’s update with exciting news related to Ana Margarita Gasteazoro, the original inspiration for our scholarship program. Ana was a Salvadoran friend from my Costa Rica days, a political refugee after years of resistance and imprisonment during the El Salvador civil war (1979-92/75,000 lives lost). During the late 80’s and early 90’s, with friend/colleague Andrew Wilson, we recorded, transcribed and edited Ana’s oral history. But before we could make a book together – our original plan – Ana died of breast cancer, at age 41, in 1993. Just before, she had visited Michael and me in Cuenca, Ecuador, and we had a chance to spend a night in Cañar. On hearing the news of Ana’s death, I established a women’s education fund (that later became Cañari Women’s Education Foundation). A born teacher, feminist and organizer, Ana fervently believed that women’s education was one of the most important tools for social justice and political progress in Latin America.

Twenty-six years later, we not only have thirty-four university graduates and current scholars, but we have a book! In October I was in El Salvador for the launch of Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoir of a Political Prisoner, based on Ana’s oral history. Many dedicated volunteers helped bring this Spanish edition to life: from translators, transcribers, editors and artists to the director of MUPI, Museum of the Word and Image, in San Salvador, publisher of the book. The banner/poster pictured above was presented various times during the visit to El Salvador, along with the story of Ana’s scholarship. I heard so many of her family, friends, and others who had known her, say – “Ana lives again!” And that is never more true than in our Cañari women’s scholarship program. Stay tuned for an English edition that we hope will be published in a year or two.

Book presentation at MUPI in San Salvador, October 8, 2019

Our early graduates are now mid-career (a term their modesty would never allow), but I thought it would be fun to do some updates – where are they now? – along with before/after photos.

 

Alexandra Mariana Solano (2006/Cuenca/Agronomy) is the new director of CENAGRAP, the potable water organization that serves rural regions of highland Cañar. Here she signs a convenio with city officials. Alexandra is also midway into a new master’s program at University of Azuay in Cuenca: “Climate Change, Sustainability and Development.” (Our program provides $3000 over two years for master’s degrees for our graduates.

Mercedes Guamán (2006/Cuenca/Law) represented Ecuador at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2019, as she had in 2018. She is president of her local community of Quilloac and, as a lawyer, serves a wide contingent of Quichua-speaking clients. She is also our first graduate to receive an honorary degree in jurisprudence for her service to the community and social justice.

Pacha Pichisaca (2011/Cuenca/Medicine) has just finished an advanced diploma in dentistry. Pacha has established her own clinic in Cañar and told me recently that she has added a “second chair” (e.g., business is good). She too serves her neighbors and others as one of the only Quichua-speaking women dentists in Cañar.

Juana Chuma (2015/Cuenca/Veterinary Medicine), finished her master’s at UNAM in Mexico in 2019, and is charging ahead for a PhD in the same program. Although CWEF is not able to support doctoral studies, we are so proud that Juana will be our first graduate to get a doctorate. Juana appears in the photo above with her fellow graduates (first row, far right, white blouse). And on the right, her proud parents in Cañar. Juana has several younger sisters yet to be sent to university, but in order to serve a wider population of young Cañari women, CWEF has a policy of one scholarship per family.

In January we had two special visitors to Cañar from Oregon, representing the Bend Giving Circle, a group of six women (now eight!) who have chosen CWEF for monthly support. We had a great gathering of the scholarship women, past and present, and families to meet Helen and Laurel. Maria Esthela, our board treasurer, made red bead necklaces for the group and I recently received this photo taken at their October meeting, showing off their Cañari jewelry. We are so grateful to them – as well as to all of you – for sustained interest and support.

María Esthela Mainato, Alexandra Solano, Verónica Paucar, Mercedes Guamán

So – a quick recap: the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation has 21 graduates, 13 current scholars, and an amazing board in Cañar that we couldn’t do without, but that could manage very well without me. We meet two or three times a year to look over applications, assess where each woman is in her studies, and decide how many spaces we have to fill. We keep the current group at about 12, which makes the accounting and monthly payments easy to handle. We pay stipends in cash so as to have personal contact with each scholar on a regular basis. Charlotte Rubin, our treasurer in Portland, keeps track of contributions and manages the banking. Michael and I have willed our Cañar house and property to the program – a long time off, we hope – in a move that will help insure long-term sustainability.

The Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is an official 501(c)3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible. We have zero administrative costs other than a yearly mailing, so every dollar goes to the women’s education. Please make checks to CWEF and send to Charlotte Rubin, 2147 NW Irving St., Portland, OR 97210 (some of you will receive this letter by snail mail with return envelopes), or you can contribute through PayPal with the secure “DONATE” button below.

 2018 Cañari Women’s Education Foundation Update

Dear Friends: I’m so pleased to report we now have twenty-one Cañari women university graduates, with professional degrees ranging from agronomy to veterinary medicine. Two of our alums have finished master’s and two are currently studying, one in Mexico and one in Ecuador. Our current scholars number twelve, and as they graduate we carefully review our pool of applicants and select new recipients. The scholarship is for five years, the usual time for an undergraduate degree in Ecuador.

Since 2005 our program has “lost” only two scholars; each suspended her studies for personal reasons. But we have a policy that they are welcome to return if we have a place. In other words, it’s almost impossible to fail in our program. Once a young woman is accepted as a scholarship holder, we make sure she succeeds by accommodating pregnancy and childbirth, childcare, family crises and other problems – a policy that has paid off with our high success rate.This year we had two graduates, Vicenta Pichisaca in gastronomy and Mercedes Chumaina in accounting as a CPA. I add the photo of Mercedes receiving her diploma in her white hat because, as is usually the case, she was the only indigenous woman in her group (and maybe her class).

Mercedes was special in another way. Through a Christian organization in the U.S., Tom and Kathleen Easterday have sponsored her education since primary school. When I heard about Mercedes through her sister, Margarita, one of our scholars, I wrote to to ask the Easterdays if they would be willing to sponsor Mercedes through university. They were, and they did.

They had hoped to attend her graduation in October, which was not possible, but they sent a generous gift and they are pictured here wearing embroidered shirts from Mercedes in thanks for supporting her education for over 15 years. In the photos below, Mercedes stands with her husband Noe and son on graduation day, and with her proud mother. 

So with two women graduating we welcome two “newbies.” Sara Duy is studying economy at the University of Chimborazo in Riobamba, and Lourdes Pichasaca in medicine at the University of Cuenca. Both have exceptional stories. Several years ago, Sara’s older sister had the rare chance (in Ecuador) for a kidney transplant after years of dialysis. Sara left her secondary studies to accompany her sister in dialysis and recovery from surgery, and they both lost two or three years of high school. Sara finally graduated this year and passed the exam to be admitted to university.

Lourdes Pichasaca showed up with her mother at my studio several years ago. She had taken the entrance exam and passed high enough to get in to university, but not in the field she wanted: medicine. She decided to wait to apply for a scholarship and retake the exam. After that, whenever I ran into her mother in town, she would report that Lourdes was preparing to take the exam yet again. After three tries, she scored a place in the school of medicine at the University of Cuenca, one of the best!

Now for news of some older graduates. Mercedes Guamán was one of our first scholars. She famously became a lawyer and a mother within hours (rushing from the podium with her diploma to the hospital to give birth) and since then has served her Cañari community with legal services and our program as president of the board. Under President Correa she was elected as an alternate to the National Assembly. After six years I think she’s a bit burned out on politics, but one perk was her invitation this year to the United Nations meeting on indigenous peoples in New York. In 2018 Mercedes also received an honorary degree in jurisprudence for her service to the indigenous community.

Carmen Loja went in another direction. After graduating in economy at University of Cuenca, she had a stellar few years in finance, managing a credit union and ending up as comptroller for her hometown of Suscal. Then she left it all to create an organization promoting Andean culture through native agriculture, architecture, food and ancestral medicine. Kinti Wasi invites groups and individuals for stays long and short. (That’s Carmen- our favorite entrepreneur/ innovator – second from left.) Check out her website at: (https://www.facebook.com/kintiwasi.ec/

Juana Chuma is our first to pursue a master’s degree outside the country, in Mexico, where she won a scholarship to UNAM in veterinary medicine. (We subsidize master’s studies at $1500/year for two years, or $3000 total). In the photo at left, Juana is in Puerto Montt, Chile with her research group. She writes that her thesis is focused on a cooperative of cattle producers in the south of Chile.

The Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is an official 501(c)3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible. We have zero administrative costs other than this mailing, so every dollar goes to the women’s education. Please make checks to CWEF and send to Charlotte Rubin, 2147 NW Irving St., Portland, OR 97210 (some of you will receive this letter by snail mail with return envelopes), or you can contribute through PayPal with the secure “DONATE” button below.

A final note on this subject: A couple of weeks ago, CWEF treasurer Charlotte Rubin and I visited the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) to talk about the idea of an endowment for our program. OCF has a plan for 501(c) 3 foundations such as ours that looks really good. It’s too soon to launch a campaign, but I would appreciate a note or call from any of you interested in discussing, or helping, with “succession planning.”  I’m a novice!

Heartfelt thanks to all for your ongoing support, and don’t forget that you are invited to visit us in Cañar, any year between January and June. In a couple of months we will welcome two contributors from the Women’s Giving Circle of Bend, Oregon. And earlier this year we had a visit from Portland photographer Rick Rappaport, who took a bunch of beautiful photos during our annual all-scholarship meeting in April.