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.
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.
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.