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: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Or reply to this blog.) Your donations are tax deductible.
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.
Carmen 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 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.!
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).
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.
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