2022 Cañari Women’s Education Foundation Update

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Dear Friends:

I never tire of seeing the faces of our graduates, and I thought you also would enjoy being reminded of (some) of the results of your generosity.  Thank you!

I wish I were writing this letter from Cañar–we don’t leave until December 1–so I could describe what the “new normal” looks like. This fall our scholarship women returned to in-person classes after two years at home, struggling to carry on with their courses despite unstable Internet, cranky cell phones, and isolation from fellow students. Still, they did well. In 2022 we had three new graduates, bringing our number to twenty-eight, along with four graduates with master’s degrees, one in a PhD program in Mexico, and our first potential Fulbright scholar for a master’s in the U.S.

 Our latest graduates are (l-r) Paiwa Acero (2021, civil engineering); Sarita Duy (2022, economics), and Nube Sumba (2022, economics).

As for our new scholarship women, I want to tell a story related to Nube (above, right). She showed up at our house with her mother about five years ago, coming from a poor farming region more than an hour from Cañar. Nube was timid and hardly spoke. With a gift of fresh cheese, her mother explained that although illiterate, she was determined that her two daughters get educated beyond high school. We did give Nube a scholarship, and on the first day of every month – when the scholarship is paid in cash – her mother showed up at our house with fresh cheese or eggs. Meanwhile, Nube charged straight through university in Riobamba, with excellent grades, to graduate this year with a degree in economics. Her sister is now studying at the same university (but without our scholarship, as we award only one per family). Still, that’s multiplication! And Nube’s mother has achieved her goal of having two daughters educated as professionals. On their last visit, Nube and her mother brought their neighbors, Kuya Killa and her mother, who is sole support of her four children, one with a serious medical condition. Kuya (who also barely spoke) graduated high school three years ago and passed the university entrance exam with high marks, but the family could not afford to send her to university. After our talk, with her mother’s encouragement, Kuya completed all the paperwork to renew her test scores and was accepted by the university in Riobamba. She is now enrolled in our program, and in the next five years I look forward to watching Kuya bloom, as did Nube, into a confident young woman. These two young women would never have known even the possibility of a university education without word of mouth of our graduates and friends, and without your support. Thank you!

A few updates on our graduates.

Dr. Luisa Duchi reports that she is now clinic director in the community of Huayrapungo, where 90% of her patients are Quichua-only speakers. This community, site of an old hacienda about an hour from Cañar, is famous for not allowing visitors into their territory. Michael and I ventured walking there once, and quickly left. Luisa is our first physician, but we have another one close to graduation at University of Cuenca.

Carmen Loja (far left), (economics, 2011) has made a success of her a community-based tourism program, Kinti Wasi, in her village of MilMil. Along with her cousin and another partner, Carmen hosts high school and gap-year groups to learn the Andean worldview in “agroecology, gastronomy, architecture, ancestral medicine and spirituality”. And I see by the website that Kinti Wasi is an Amigos de las Americas partner for 2022. Congratulations Carmen!  (She also welcomes individuals and small groups if any of you are contemplating a trip to Ecuador.)

Pacha Pichisaca, our only ondontóloga graduate so far, has expanded her dental practice, on the main shopping street in Cañar, by adding a second chair. She was one of our early graduates, and with CWEF support she continued with specialist courses in oral surgery and orthodontics. Each time I walk by, I glance up at her windows. After giving up on my dentist in Portland, I’m getting up my nerve to make an appointment with Pacha.

Finally, a dispatch from our first PhD graduate, Juana Chuma, who is at UNAM in Mexico, where she did her master’s (with help from CWEF). Earlier this year, she did a residency at University of Georgia, where she writes that her biggest challenge was understanding the southern English. She’s now back in Mexico working on her thesis, “optimizing the genetic selection of milk producing bovines in Chile,” (where she did a previous internship).

As you know, our foundation is managed in Portland, Oregon with a treasured treasurer, Charlotte Rubin, who takes care of contributions and banking. In Cañar, we are a busy committee who meets a few times a year to monitor the scholarship women’s progress, review new applications, and manage finances. But this year we had an additional agenda item: to complete our application for NGO status in Ecuador. This has been a multi-year project with lost documents, a change of presidents, a new ministry handling our application, and more. After a couple of marathon meetings in 2022, with the help of our lawyer in Cañar (Mercedes, far right, one of our first graduates) and our “man in Quito”– Segundo, husband of another first graduate (Alexandra, 3rd from right), we have shepherded our application through the byzantine process of becoming a legal non-profit foundation in Ecuador.

Here we are after a 5-hour meeting in May. The main benefit of our new status will be that it clears the way for Michael and I to leave our house and property to the program for an endowment. We made a proper will in Cañar years ago, which required six witnesses, several days, a lawyer, accountant, and $500. But no transfer of property for the benefit of an organization can be done without a government NGO designation. Flash: Today, I talked to lawyer Mercedes Guamán (far right) and she said she’d just received the final certification from the government.  Hurrah!

To conclude: Cañari Women’s Education Foundation (CWEF) is an official 501(c) 3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible, and every dollar goes directly to the women. Here you can donate through PayPal by using the DONATE button below. Many thanks for your continuing support and please stay in touch.  I love hearing from you all. (You should see a new reply field below).     Judy Blankenship

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2022 Cañari Women’s Scholarship Program Update

Dear Friends: I’m very happy to be back in touch. Michael and I made a short trip to Cañar in the spring, when we found the Covid lockdown in Ecuador still in effect and cases rising, though nothing like previous levels. Masks were required throughout the country and public transportation was back but varied according to infection levels. Vaccinations were just starting in Cañar for the elderly and are now available to everyone, including children. Otherwise, in Cañar, at least, daily life felt “regular” – a favorite expression said with dead-pan tonality. Twice-weekly markets had started up and the town streets were alive with traffic and shoppers. Since then, according to a recent post from the World Bank, “after a vaccination campaign earlier this year, Ecuador went from being one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic to becoming an example for the world. This success story would have been impossible without the massive turnout of the population.” (Note: World Bank provided most of the funds for vaccines.)

Two posters for rural areas of Cañar. Text on the left: visits door-to-door to give vaccines to all persons from five years old. Second right indicates same information for local health clinic.

Last year I started this letter by saying that despite the pandemic our program was alive and well. I think this year I have to say that while still alive – we are limping. When the lockdown hit Ecuador in March 2020, our women were scattered across the country, some as far away as the northwest coast and in the Amazon, and they came home to face the challenge of continuing classes without Internet. Everyone had cell phones, however, and so at the outset the women “attended” classes and submitted their work on their mobiles. Imagine how hard that was! Our local committee quickly decided to continue paying full scholarships ($150-$160/month) to help families buy access to Internet and support additional children at home. Today, 18 months later, university classes are still virtual. One woman suspended her medical studies after struggling all year.

However, our 2021 numbers provide a positive overall picture: we have 25 graduates, four with master’s degrees, and one PhD student. Michael and I are headed to Ecuador on December 1 to begin the sixteenth year of our life in Cañar, so during the next six months I will send more up-to-date news of the scholarship program on this blog. Meanwhile, I’ve checked in with some of our graduates (mostly via Facebook) to see what they are up to.

Carmen Loja, (Economics, 2011), worked with several financial cooperatives before realizing her dream of building a community-based tourism program, Kinti Wasi, in her home community of Suscal. Along with her cousin and another partner, Carmen hosts groups such as this one of US-based Amigos de Las Americas: https://bit.ly/3BYzCNa) where “high school and gap-year students experience the Andean worldview in agroecology, gastronomy, architecture, ancestral medicine and spirituality.” And I see by the website that Kinti Wasi is an Amigos partner for 2022. Congratulations Carmen!  (She also welcomes individuals and small groups if any of you are contemplating a trip to Ecuador.)Margarita and Mercedes Guamán (with younger sister and brother), are both graduates of our program, and their subsequent careers reflect the employment situation in Ecuador. Margarita (l), now married with two children, works with the 911 call center in Cuenca, not what she was expecting when she graduated with a degree in natural resources in 2011. Her younger sister Mercedes (in cap & gown), also married with two children, graduated as a CPA in 2018 and has worked steadily as an accountant for local organizations. Without exception, our scholarship women choose careers aimed at jobs. Among our graduates we have several accountants, nurses and nutritionists, along with an MD, veterinarian, dentist, lab clinician, psychologist, agronomist, gastronomist, lawyer, business and communication specialists, but not one in the humanities. I’m sad about this, but the public university system in Ecuador is geared towards technology and science, and our scholarship women are geared towards professional jobs.

Juana Chuma is the only one of our women pursuing a PhD (so far). As a graduate in veterinary medicine from University of Cuenca (2015), she received our master’s support of $3000, but beyond that she has won scholarships and awards at UNAM in Mexico, including a training trip to Chile and a semester at University of Georgia in the US (delayed due to Covid but on track for 2022.)

The pandemic has meant good news for those already working in public health, as the Ecuadorian government has offered them full-time, permanent jobs in hospitals and community clinics. To be permanently nombrado in your workplace in Ecuador is something like tenure – you can stay for life. This is good for job security but not so good for new graduates trying to break into their respective fields. However, the world always needs doctors, nurses and nutritionists, especially those who are bilingual Quichua/Spanish as are all of these below.

Physician Luisa Duchi works in a community health clinic serving rural areas where many elderly speak only Quichua. Married with two children, she is from the Cañari village of Sisidhuayco

Mary Zhinin is a nurse in a provincial hospital in Ambato, in central Ecuador, where her husband also works. They have two children and are from the Cañari village of Quilloac.

Nutritionist/dietician Mariana Acero works in our provincial hospital in the city of Azogues, an hour from Cañar, which allows her to live at home in Correucu with her mother, the famous curandera Mama Michi Chuma.

Here is what graduation looked like in 2021: after five years in a very tough civil engineering program at University of Cuenca, Paiwa Acero sat in front of a laptop screen in my office in full graduation regalia (rented the day before), with script in hand, four people in attendance, and a Zoom program full of glitches. But that night her proud mother, Maria Esthela, organized an elaborate fiesta to celebrate with friends and family. Congratulations Paiwa!

Great thanks to the Circle of Giving in Bend, Oregon who for the past five years have supported women in a new two-year distance program called “Integrated Childhood Development” to train preschool teachers. It’s a government-created course to offer post-secondary education to those who can’t afford to attend university or have other barriers such as caring for young children or elderly parents.The “Circle” of eight women commit to a set amount each year to pay stipends to women who need assistance with childcare, transportation or meals, or to help the program outfit teaching laboratories at the facility. In May this year I was a surprise recipient of gratitude (to the Circle) when the program included me on a wonderful rainy “solidarity” day in the mountains, including a trout lunch

The Cañari Women’s Education Foundation (CWEF) is managed in Cañar by a local board of program graduates + me and the treasurer). Under normal circumstances, we meet two or three times a year to look over applications, review each scholar’s progress and decide how many spaces can be filled. Before Covid we also had a yearly meeting of all scholars, past and present; something we hope to do again in 2022. We keep the current group at about twelve, making it easy to manage monthly payments and monitor progress. Charlotte Rubin, our treasurer in Portland, keeps track of contributions and handles the banking here. We have no administrative costs.

CWEF is an official 501(c) 3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible, and every dollar goes directly to the women. Please make your checks to CWEF and return in the enclosed envelope. We’ll send everyone thank you letters with IRS receipts. You can also donate through PayPal with this DONATE button at the end.

Please stay safe, stay in touch, and profound thanks for your continuing support.  Judy B.



The Time Has Come to Talk

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Well, the time has come, as they say, to talk. Last week, on a late afternoon walk in the countryside near our house, enjoying the cold air on my face and the good feeling of simply moving after a day spent at the desk, a neighbor called out,”…y  Señor Michael?” He leaned on the entrance to his earthen patio, watching me. I didn’t recognize him, but called back, “Michael’s at home, by the fire. He doesn’t like to walk as much as I do.”

“His health is good?” he asked. Yes! I called back. “Gracias a dios!” he said, making a subtle prayer gesture. Walking on, I thought about this exchange. He was not the first neighbor to ask about Michael when they see me on the road, or Michael about me as he walks into town. People are watching and wondering about us, still the only two extranjeras in Cañar, living alone in that big house. No car, no obvious family. “Do you have children?” they often ask. Then, “Do they come to visit?” Then, maybe, the bolder ones: “How old are you?” The subtext is always, What’s going to happen to your property when….?

I know they are especially interested in Michael – watching him over the years as he grows more stooped, his pace slower as he trudges into town daily with his Orvis shopping bag. He usually takes a taxi or truck back, so all the drivers know him and with affection will ask me the next time I grab a ride: “Where’s Michael? What’s he doing?”

“At home, fixing dinner,” I love saying.

We’ve lived in our little comuna of Chaglaban for 15 years now, and longer than that in the town. I know that our neighbors are watching us grow older, and are thinking – how much longer will they keep coming to Cañar? That’s a question I ask myself sometimes, but mostly we – Michael and I – simply carry on with the assumption that we’ll keep living indefinitely in our “house in the clouds.” Witness our running list of items to bring next December, when we expect to return: larger chimney brush, arugula and cardamom seeds, yeast for popcorn, Earl Gray tea, 1 ceramic knife.

Besalú, Catalonia, May 2019

No question, however, that we gave a nod to age this year when we canceled our trip to Spain. Once we really talked about it, after we’d let our plans float for a few weeks, Michael said he just didn’t feel up to lugging around his bags on buses and trains for a month, (our modus operandi after we stopped driving in Spain), changing hotels every few days. Then there’s getting through airports, Covid tests, and the 10+ hour flight from Guayaquil to Madrid. Last time we were in Spain was 2019. The following year, we’d already paid for tickets, made reservations, and then…. well, you all know what happened. 2021 was also a bust. So, as I regretfully cancelled the hotel reservations I’d made this year, I felt a moment’s sadness thinking this might mark the end of our serious traveling days.

But then….Michael suggested we take a mini-vacation in Ecuador, as long as we could travel slowly by bus a few hours a day. So I started planning again, made hotel reservations for two nights between Cañar and Mindo, and three nights in Mindo, a bird/butterfly reserve/resort northwest of Quito. Smooth, yes? Well, not so much. I hadn’t remembered that the buses blast non-stop movies with sound so loud that those at the back won’t miss a single shot, scream, or car chase. Imagine passing through this magnificent landscape with sounds of an explosion or machine gun in your ears.

I wondered what the nuns thought, though Michael hardly seemed to notice. But by the time we got to Mindo after 12 hours on three buses, (broken up with two overnights in hotels), slogging through one interminable bus station and waiting in a tiny one at opposite ends of Quito, plus two long taxi rides, I was already planning to convince Michael we had to return by plane.

 

Mindo itself was a sort of mixed-up-mishaps-mess, but in the end it seemed the more setbacks we had the more cheerful Michael got. A small resort town mostly aimed at younger travelers with tours for night bicycling, “canyoning” the rivers, rappelling waterfalls, zip lines, and 6:00 AM treks for bird watching. We stayed near town in an “eco-lodge” made entirely of concrete, including the bed, side tables, floors and benches, with bamboo details. It was hot, and rained torrents every afternoon, so we stuck with one activity a day, walking into town for meals. The food was not good, Michael complained.We did enjoy the butterfly garden…

   

and watching birds  from the bird watching tower…

 

But the day before we were to leave Mindo landslides closed the road to Quito. By then I’d talked Michael into flying and bought tickets, so we hired a truck driver who promised to get us through to the Quito airport. We were there in plenty of time, but as we tried to check in for our afternoon flight, the agent wouldn’t let us pass because our national IDs were not “legitimate.” They were photocopies in plastic; same with our passports, which I had thoughtfully brought. I protested, I begged, and then I pulled out my Oregon driver’s license. The agent grabbed it and said, “Now THERE is a legitimate ID!” But Michael hadn’t brought his so….back to Quito to the office of a mini-bus we heard about from the taxi driver that serves Quito – Cuenca – Quito, where we made a reservation for the next day. “Let’s check out this Hostal Caribe,” Michael said in surprising good spirits as we walked a couple of blocks into a down-at-the-heels part of the city. That’s how we ended up enjoying a good sleep at a $15/night/per person, flocked wallpaper, leopard-print blanket, master-bedroom of a long-ago elegant mansion on the last night of our misadventure-some mini-vacation. Which gives me real hope that our traveling days are not over yet.

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C a ñ a r   B o o k   C l u b

Dearest readers:  I’ve thrown caution to the wind lately and started paying for kindle books instead of waiting for the library. Most of these titles hooked me with the “look inside” or “sample” from Amazon, which offers about 20 pages before turning blank. That’s how I ended up with These Precious Days by Ann Patchett, one of my favorite essay writers (her fiction not so much). I’ve read some of these essays before, but still enjoyed sinking into her perfectly constructed sentences. Reminding me of when she appeared at Literary Arts in Portland a few years back, pacing the stage in front of about 3,000 people telling without prompts a complicated anecdotal and meandering story that she brought to a perfect conclusion. I also bought the novel Free Love by Tessa Hadley, a favorite short-story writer I read in The New Yorker. This one set in 1960’s-70’s London, and I know from the acknowledgements that Hadley did a lot of research but I found myself saying, “Did that really happen? Could that character really have made such a radical change in her life?”  My feeling after finishing the novel is that I prefer her short stories.

Found books in English are a special treasure in Ecuador, and whenever I end up in a restaurant or hotel with shelves of books left by travelers, I make a beeline. That’s how I ended up with The Witch Elm by Tana French. I’ve read her before, and was reminded with this one that her set-ups and characters are brilliant. You can’t stop reading (in the beginning). But then I find myself flipping pages as her characters’ conversations go on and on and on, wanting to get back to the action. I can’t say more without a spoiler, as I’ve just loaned the one to a friend, but I think my Tana French days are over.

So, on to suggestions by club members.

Mel in Vermont: This Tender Land, by William Kent Krueger about the odyssey of four young kids who run away from a school for Native Americans and their adventures along the way. It takes place in the time of the Great Depression, and is a thought-provoking read.

Sandy in Portland: “Damon Galgut’s The Promise won the Booker and I think he deserved it. It’s about a South African family during and after apartheid. Beautiful, original writing. (I also read this book and recommend it.)

Portland’s “Everybody Reads: this year is Mira Jacob’s Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations, a graphic novel. She’s an Indian American whose life is crowded with micro-aggressions and whose primary-age, mixed-race son asks hard questions about race, Trump and other related subjects. Eula Biss: Having and Being Had, short essays on trying to live ethically, understand and survive capitalism. Wonderful and LOL funny.
Jia Lynn Yang: One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration – excellent, good writing, interesting subject with great political details, a story I didn’t know and prompting a number of epiphany moments, including how ill prepared, inexperienced and ineffective Kennedy was despite the myth of Camelot.

From Patricia in New York. Francine Prose Sicilian Journey, a delightful essay by this excellent, insightful writer, a novelist as well as essayist. A personal, quirky, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone contemplating a trip to Sicily.

Edmund DeWaal’s wonderful tale of The Hare with Amber Eyes, about a collection of Japanese netsuke and their history within his family and their journeys from Odessa  through Vienna, Paris, Tokyo and now London as this hidden inheritance tale unfolds. (I also read this one and loved it.)

That’s all for now, folks. If I missed anyone’s book suggestions please send again. There will be one more Cañar Chronicle before we leave on June 1 for Portland. Until then, I send fond regards and remember that I love to hear from you at: judyblanken@gmail.com.