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Posts Tagged ‘Me to We’


Recently, I spent 2 full weeks visiting and doing some volunteer work with Free the Children / Me to We in Ecuador. I had the pleasure and honor to meet and work with a number of outstanding leaders, they may not consider themselves leaders or pioneers, but they are to me.

In the Amazon village of Bella Vista Baja next to the Napo River, I along with 26 others helped to build a school. This community in the Amazon is in its first year working with Free the Children to build a school to serve Bella Vista and the neighbouring communities. The leaders we met here were:

  • Robert, our project coordinator and field guide. He was an energizing bunny … when we all stopped to take a drink of water or rest our arms, he continued to work in various capacities, showing us what to do, repairing the broken¬† foundation forms, cheering us on or being the translator between us and the villagers. He has intimate knowledge of the rainforest … he demonstrated this amply during our night hike. He proudly shared his culture with us through his cooking demo (in the dark by the fire) … the majority of our team tasted the delicacy valued by his people, the grub. Most of us tried the grub, cooked; only 3 brave souls tried it raw and alive. We were honored to visit his village, Mondana, and met some of the folks who proudly showed us their woven products.
  • Ellie, our facility manager at the Minga Lodge, who took great care of us with her smiles and grace.

The term “minga” means that if something needs doing, the whole village comes together to help. I love this concept.

After 7-8 hours on the bus up and over the Andes mountains, as high as 14000 ft in elevation, we arrived and stayed at a lodge near Alausi (near Riobamba). Our work was in the village of San Miguel, which has been working with Free the Children for 5-6 years. Our group helped to build classrooms # 9 and 10. The villagers were very grateful that we, the foreigners, cared enough to come and help them.

Even though I couldn’t understand what was being said, I felt the thankfulness, emotions and tears shared by one of the male elders of the village. One of the leaders in this village was Maria, she helped to form and maintain local girls clubs and women’s groups … the females traditionally did not go or stay in school because of their expected roles in the households (doing the work in the fields, taking care of the home and children). The girls clubs and women’s groups helped these girls and women to find their voices, to learn to express their interests and thoughts, to be heard, to stand up and be counted despite opposing challenges typically by the males. Many only spoke Kichua, the indigenous language, and not Spanish in this remote village.

The girls and women found and learned ways to earn additional income (through their weaving and knitting) so that they could become more independent and contribute to their own welfare. It was simply amazing to hear their stories through our translator, to celebrate with them how far they have come with their accomplishments. The girls were extremely shy; they didn’t know how to respond to our compliments and encouragement.

This trip was very different than the Kenya experience, but no less amazing and profound.

One of the most AWESOME aspects of this trip was that I was able to share this experience with my husband and son. What a gift!

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I had the privilege of joining a team of educators in a life changing trip to Kenya in July, to see first hand the good work being done by Free the Children and Me to We, to personally experience the Maasai culture and to contribute in building an X-ray room for the nearby Baraka health care centre. To say that I was inspired is an understatement.

Living 2 weeks with very limited electricity (powered by a generator only to charge our cameras between 6 and 10 pm), no running water, away from our daily electronics and with no access to the internet was easier than I thought. This could be because we were kept so busy with a variety of activities, learning and building that I barely missed my computer. Although journaling by hand under a small pool of light from a battery operated head lamp, cocooned under my mosquito net at night took a lot longer and deprived me of some much needed sleep. But all this was worth it.

As a parent in a developed country, I wish all our kids could go on a trip like this and experience how those with so much less live and survive. Now that I have learned what Free the Children and Me to We do and how they approach their work, I can say I endorse and support them because they don’t just give them fish, they teach them how to fish, so that they can sustain the change even after Free the Children leaves the community. Before they even do the work, the community is consulted and involved in the decisions being made to improve their lives. In summary, here are the 4 pillars that Free the Children engage each community with:

  1. Education – building primary schools in the community
  2. Clean Water project – not only to provide clean water, but teach the community members how to operate and maintain the clean water system
  3. Health Care – not only to provide medical treatment, but also education and prevention to mitigate major illnesses and diseases
  4. Alternative Income – encourage, teach and coach community women groups and men groups to find ways to build alternative incomes, including “Merry Go Round” – a way for the community to pool and share financial support.

I was told that it takes Free the Children team members anywhere between 5 to 13 years to coach and support a community and to complete the 4 pillars in a community. Rather than explaining all this here, I will endeavour to put all my hand written journal entries into computer and post it here.

I feel so lucky to be living in a country like ours. It was an AWESOME trip, with an AWESOME group of Canadian, British Columbia educators.

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