Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On Toothpaste and Sandboxes

I was in Shoppers Drug Mart a couple of days before Christmas picking up a few things to fill up my wife's stocking when I heard an interesting conversation take place down the toothpaste aisle. Two women, strangers, struck up a conversation about the vast number of choices when it comes to picking out your toothpaste these days - total, total advanced, tartar protection, cavity protection, baking soda, whitening, professional, sensitivity - the list goes on and on.

Anyway, these two women started talking to each other (a phenomena unique to women - men would never start talking to another random guy in a store), about toothpaste. It was obvious that the first women wasn't from around these parts with her thick southern U.S. drawl. When the second woman commented on her accent, the first one very quickly identified herself as being from Virginia...and a Liberal.

Now, I don't know if Americans feel some sort of pressure to identify themselves as Liberal when they are in Canada, sort of like cheering for the home team at a football game even though you are secretly from the visiting city, but I've had this happen to me on more than one occasion.

When we visited Chicago earlier this year, as we went around the breakfast table at our B&B with the obligatory introductions, one woman introduced herself by saying "I'm from Maryland and I voted for Obama." Odd, I thought, that one would choose to self-identfy by reveling one's political leanings. This would never happen in Canada. We'll talk about the weather, about the (insert local hockey team here), and then apologize for something, but we would never introduce ourselves by revealing our political party of choice.

"Hi, I'm Bob, and I voted for the Conservative Party of Canada in the last election. How are you?"

"Great thanks, I'm Steve. I voted for the NDP last time. Don't you just love Jack Layton's groovy mustache?"

These things just don't happen here. Generally speaking I think Canadians are far less likely than Americans to self-identfy with one particular tribe or another. And when it comes to politics, we have an equal disdain for all of them so there is no real home team. It's as if the Americans are putting it right up front that you are only allowed to play in their sandbox if you are of the same political leaning. If not, go find your own sandbox because you are not welcome and not really trusted here. That's when they end up drawing a line in the sand with no compromise on either side resulting in ridiculous shouting matches heard from the White House all the way down to the lowest levels of government - and on Fox news.

So, to the lady from Virginia...next time you are in Canada and identify yourself as a Liberal, just know that for the most part, we don't care. If you are friendly, not too intrusive, and maybe just a little aware of life above the 49th parallel, you are welcome to play in our sandbox anytime. Oh...and make sure you apologize for something random every few minutes. Then we'll accept you as one of our own.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Quiet Strength

I just finished reading a book that has been on my shelf for years: Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy. As head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Dungy led the team to a Super Bowl championship in 2006 (he has since retired and is doing commentary for NBC.) The book is a fascinating look at the life of a professional football coach at the highest level, but also a personal look at a man who's faith has sustained him during some very difficult circumstances - firings, loses, and the death of his son. Throughout the highs and lows, Dungy continually points the attention back to God as the source of his strength and the one who "works all things together for the good of those who love Him."

Tony is also a leader who inspired his teams to greatness.The following is an inspirational handout that Dungy gave to his players while coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

The first step toward creating an improved future is developing the ability to envision it. Vision will ignite the fire of passion that fuels our commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve excellence. Only vision allows us to transform dreams of greatness into the reality of achievement through human action. Vision has no boundaries and knows no limits. Our vision is what we become in life.

A pretty good mission statement I'd say, all based on Tony's basic strategy of "Keep doing the ordinary things better than anyone else. Be uncommon. Do what we do." Good advice for football teams and the rest of us as well.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Favorite Lyrics #2: Cry of a Tiny Babe

Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph get upset because he doesn't understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says "God did this and you're part of his scheme"
Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says "forgive me I thought you'd been with some other man"
She says "what if I had been - but I wasn't anyway and guess what
I felt the baby kick today"

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything
'Cause the governing body of the whole [Holy] land
Is that of Herod, a paranoid man
Who when he hears there's a baby born King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two
But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and get away clean

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn't to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you've got [you have] ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It's a Christmas gift [that] you don't have to buy
There's a future shining in a baby's eyes

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

- Bruce Cockburn

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Favorite Lyrics #1: Ain't No Grave

There ain't no grave that can hold my body down.
There ain't no grave can hold my body down.

When I hear that trumpet sound I'm gonna rise right outta the ground
aint' no grave that can hold my body down.

Well look way down the river and what do you think I see?
I see a band of angels and they're coming after me.

There ain't no grave that can hold my body down.
There ain't no grave can hold my body down.

Well look down yonder Gabriel put your feet on the land and sea.
But Gabriel don't you blow your trumpet ‘til you hear from me.

There ain't no grave that can hold my body down
ain't no grave can hold my body down.

Well meet me Jesus meet me meet me in the middle of the air
and if these wings don’t fail me, I will meet you anywhere.

There ain't no grave that can hold my body down.
There ain't no grave can hold my body down.

Well meet me mother and father meet me down a river road
and mama you know that I’ll be there when I check in my load.

There ain't no grave that can hold my body down
There ain't no grave can hold my body down

There ain't no grave can hold my body down

- Johnny Cash

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Life You Can Save - Part 2

So it's been a really busy month and I finally got around to finishing The Life You Can Save just a couple of nights ago. As I said in my last post, this is definitely a challenging book that will make you think about how far you will go - how far you should go - to help someone living in poverty. In the end, author Peter Singer suggests a simple and easily achievable standard of giving that would raise above and beyond what experts say is required to end extreme poverty.

In a nutshell, Singer suggests that those living in developed countries who earn up to $100,000 should give 1% of their income. Those who earn greater than $100,000 should give 5% of their income. Not only is this doable, but it would hardly be noticeable in our day-to-day standard of living. If everyone did this, we would be able to tackle global poverty in a serious way. But therein lies the catch...everyone has to participate. Everyone has to find the will to give. Everyone has to be moved to the point where they will give up their hard-earned money, money that they "deserve", in order to help someone else who is struggling for their next meal. Do we really have a responsibility to help someone in need...someone we've never met in a country we've never visited or maybe even heard of? Watch this video, visit the website, then decide for yourself.


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Life You Can Save

I'm reading through The Life You Can Save, a book by Peter Singer, professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. With a pedigree like that you'd think this would be a difficult book to muddle through. In fact, the opposite is true. Singer makes fairly simple but airtight arguments for why each of us in rich countries like Canada, the U.S., etc. need to be giving to help those living in poverty in developing nations.

Singer does not pull any punches and causes me to question my own commitment to "the cause." Here's a few examples for you...

"Now think about your own situation. By donating a relatively small amount of money, you could save a child's life. Maybe it takes more than the amount needed to buy a pair of shoes-but we all spend money on things we don't really need, whether on drinks, meals out, clothing, movies, concerts, vacations, new cars, or house renovation. Is it possible that by choosing to spend your money on such things rather than contributing to an aid agency, you are leaving a child to die, a child you could have saved?" (Pg. 5)

"When we spend our surplus on concerts or fashionable shoes, on fine dining and good wines, or on holidays in faraway lands, we are doing something wrong." (Pg. 18)

Commenting on faith traditions that prioritize care of the poor...

"Thomas Aquinas...also cited the Decretum Gratiani, a twelfth-century compilation of canon law that contains the powerful statement, 'The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.' Note that 'owed' and 'belongs.' For these Christians, sharing our surplus wealth with the poor is not a matter of charity, but of our duty and their rights." (Pg. 20)

Singer is no raving extremist calling us to mindlessly give everything away. He is very careful to note that our giving need not be to the extent that it hurts our own children and families, however, he is, to this point in the book at least, making a strong case for giving all that we would spend on our own extravagances (bottled water, excess clothing, vacations, etc.) to aid agencies with the expertise to put it to good use.

If you question whether we in wealthy countries have a responsibility to care for the poor around the world, I suggest you read The Life You Can Save. Singer will address your objections and at very least, cause you to question your own "goodness" in relation to what you are doing to help people in developing countries. I know he's making me ask some serious questions of my own life.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Ecuador: Life At It's Purest

The video below, produced by the Ecuadorian ministry of tourism, will give you a great overview of the beauty of Ecuador and its diverse cultural traditions. As much as I love seeing these images as a reminder of my time there, it ignores completely the struggles of the indigenous peoples who live in poverty in rural areas outside of the main cities. Of course, that's to be expected in a video intended to entice tourists to visit, but it was in those communities where I genuinely fell in love with the country and her people.

Just as we often do with homeless folks here in Canada, the poor get swept under the rug in an attempt to make things "prettier" when in fact, true beauty is found in the faces of the children who live in these communities. A zipline over the rainforest will take your breath away but a hug from an impoverished child will steal your heart.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reflections on Ecuador

It's been a week since I arrived home from Ecuador, tired after a long day of travel but feeling totally exhilarated. Below are just a few thoughts that have occurred to me over the past week as I've had some time to reflect on my trip from both a personal and a professional basis. Some are lessons learned, others are just observations.

1. Canada can be an isolating place. We are much less likely to speak to a stranger (or even a neighbour.) I miss living life with people - the colleagues who became friends, the fellow travelers on journeys of their own, and all of the wonderful Ecuadorian people we met along the way.

2. Be bold. Put yourself out there. Try something new. Take chances. Live out loud. You won't regret it.

3. We make our lives way too complicated in Canada. Just enjoy and embrace simplicity.

4. The solutions to "stupid" poverty do not always have to be difficult or expensive.

5. The poor are not below us and they are not waiting for a handout. They are simply fellow human beings trying to get by, just like you and me.

6. Silence, and the silence of nature is an amazing thing. My life in Canada is way too loud.

7. Satan controls institutional religion and keeps people living in darkness and fear. More Jesus, less religions tradition.

8. "They" are poor in material things. "We" are poor in freedom and joy.

9. Spiritual forces are far closer to the surface outside of North America. We just don't pay attention here.

10. When you see what a difference a little help makes, how can you not give more?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I Have A Dream

Forty-seven years ago today, Martin Luther King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington D.C. It remains today one of the most significant speeches of all-time and continues to inspire me every time I hear it. The full text of the speech is copied below but I suggest you watch the video at the bottom to get the full power of MLK's words from the man himself.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Finally Home

After 24 hours of travel I arrived home Sunday morning close to 3:00 AM. I crawled into bed and slept until 10:45 which is the most sleep I've had in one night since leaving almost two weeks ago. The flights went mostly okay, except for two delays in Miami and my luggage getting stranded in Bogota. It's been found and should arrive at my door sometime later this week.

Thanks for coming along on this journey, both the incredible days with World Vision visiting communities in rural Equador as well as the adventures afterwards. Both weeks have changed me in so many ways that I'm finding it difficult to articulate right now. Come back again in a few days when I've had a chance to do some reflecting for an update on just what kind of an impact this journey has had. I hope it's impacted you as well and welcome your comments either on the blog or via email. I look forward to hearing from you and connecting again soon.

Have I got a story to tell you...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chau Quito!

So, I'm up ridiculously early after less than three hours of sleep. Danny and I hung out in La Ronda one last time last night after having a McNifica at McDonald's just beside our hotel. I know, I know...but we just had to see what was different on the menu.

La Ronda was packed out tonight with everyone having a good time sipping their canazalo and listening to the live music pouring out of the little restaurants. We got a bit of the rock star treatment again (actually, Danny gets the rock star treatment; I get more of the rock star's manager treatment - think of him as Bono and me as Paul McGuiness) as a couple of blonde haired gringos in Ecuador and just generally soaked in the moment before leaving for the final time.

I'm off for the shuttle now for a flight from Quito to Bogota, another from Bogota to Fort Lauderdale, a bus to Miami, and finally a flight from Miami to Toronto. Assuming everything is on-time I should be home around 1:00 AM.

Catch ya' later!

For complete photos from the journey click here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Last Day...For Real This Time

I spent most of the day hanging out at the hotel today waiting to hear from Avianca about flight arrangements home. I'll be leaving tomorrow morning at 6:20 AM which means I have to be in the lobby at 4:00 AM for the shuttle to the airport. It's gonna be a loooooooong day.

I suppose most people would consider this a beautiful hotel but after what I've seen over the past couple of weeks I think my idea of beauty has been forever changed. I used to live for big, impressive hotels like this but right now I'd rather be in a little hostel in Mindo or playing with some kids in the dirty streets of a rural ADP community. That is real beauty. This is just a facade. I've been trying to live a simpler life over the past few years but after visiting here I'm longing for it in a deep, profound way. Perhaps I'll change my mind the next time an opportunity comes around, but as of right now, I can't imagine going on another resort/cruise vacation. Give me this simple life and let me live.

For complete photos from the journey click here.

NOT Heading Home Today

Well, well, well...some wishes do come true! Looks like I'm staying in Quito for another couple of days. The Avianca flight Michelle and I were on was cancelled tonight 30 minutes after we had already boarded the plane (mechanical issues of some kind.) Danny got bumped from his Delta flight as well, but Autumn managed to fly out.

The airline is putting us up in the Hilton Colon hotel all expenses paid until we can be rescheduled. As Danny would put it, I "put myself out there" and sat with a couple of Ecuadorian folks (who now live in Toronto) for supper once we arrived back at the Hilton. It was great to share with them why I was in Ecuador and how much I loved their country. I was really touched when a kind gentleman named Mike thanked me for helping the children of Ecuador. As if I didn't already know it, comments like that remind me that I have the best job in the world.

Off to bed now. Who knows what tomorrow will bring...

For complete photos from the journey click here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Heading Home Today

Today was a bit mellow as I think it was starting to sink in that we were not only leaving Ecuador, but also heading our own separate ways once we arrive in Canada. It has been a great two weeks shared with some incredible people who have been part of a life changing experience. I'm leaving Ecuador full of love and full of life. Everyone I've been traveling with has played a part in making this trip better than I could have ever imagined. It will be hard to say goodbye tonight.

We went to the Quito market again to pick up a few last-minute souvenirs then over to La Ronda one last time to have lunch and hang out at the hostel where the other half of the group was staying. The rain started pouring down as Autumn, Danny, and I ducked into a little cafe for hot chocolate and coffee, matching the sadness that I (and I suspect everyone else) was feeling.

It's a little difficult to process these emotions right now. I know my family is back home in Canada, and I miss them terribly, but at the same time, I have a new bond with these friends and will miss seeing them every morning...miss the laughter, the discussions, the adventures, the loud moments and the quiet times we've shared. I'll even miss Danny saying, "Hey Brad, take a picture for me!"

Another two hours until it's time to head out. If I have a chance I'll update again. If not, Toronto here I come...

For complete photos from the journey click here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back To Quito

I woke up early this morning, showered and packed for the trip back into Quito. I was hoping for a nice quiet morning before heading back into the busy city and that's exactly what I got. I grabbed a coffee in the lodge, took a few more hummingbird photos, then just sat on the patio overlooking the mountains being quiet and reflecting on how thankful I was that God had allowed me to be part of World Vision, to visit this amazing country, be blessed by incredible people, and now enjoy being outdoors in one of the most beautiful parts of His creation.

When I look back on my journey over the past 5 or 6 years, even in my wildest dreams I never could have imagined being here surrounded by good friends soaking in the beauty around us, but also remembering all of the people we have met in the ADP communities who have touched us in so many ways. It was such a good morning.

On the way back to Quito we stopped at the Mitidad del Mundo ("Middle of the World") monument on the equator. It was more or less a "been-there-done-that" activity that didn't take more than an hour including a bite to eat, but really, if you are this close you might as well stop to take a few snapshots. After that it was back to the hotel to relax for a bit before heading out to La Ronda for the night. We ate at a Mexican restaurant, explored a few shops, and then found a small club with an amazing live band playing. I don't know if we'll ever hear of them again but I absolutely loved their blend of traditional music with rock rhythms. They reminded me of an Ecuadorian version of Great Big Sea. It didn't take long before a conga line was snaking through the place with all of us gringos joining in! It was a great ending to our final full day in Ecuador.

For complete photos from the journey click here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Another Amazing Day To Be Alive...Part 2

After playing soccer we headed back to Bird of Paradise to decide on our last activity before dinner. It had already been a pretty full day so we opted for a coffee tour. Without going into all of the details, we managed to catch the end of the chocolate tour at El Quetzal - the best part as it turned out - with samples of fresh cocoa that was being made into chocolate products. Have you ever tasted 100% cocoa? Not good. But just add some sugar and you can't get enough of it. Our host Joe also let us try some chili chocolate...yep, it is just what it sounds like. I wouldn't rush out to buy any, but it certainly wasn't the worst thing I've eaten.

It turns out the coffee farmer wasn't available so Joe gave us a mini lecture on coffee production and the elements to making a good cup of coffee. I can't remember if I've mentioned it earlier, but I've been drinking a lot of black coffee down here which is something I would never do at home. According to Joe it has a lot to do with the freshness of the coffee, the roasting method, and the water used. A few tips for you coffee lovers...

1. Never buy ground coffee, only beans that are properly sealed.
2. Only grind enough coffee for what you are going to consume right away.
3. Storing ground coffee in the freezer is a waste of time.
4. If you can find unroasted beans in your area, buy them then roast them yourself either in a home roaster or even in a cast-iron frying pan (look up how to do it online first!)
5. Use fresh, reverse-osmosis filtered water for brewing to remove all impurities.

After the lecture, Joe took a couple of us to see his garden where he had not only coffee trees but also papaya and banana trees. Joe has an interesting story - he was born in Ecuador but has lived in the U.S. for decades. He spends 6 months in Michigan and 6 months in Ecuador every year and hopes to move back someday. Having visited the Mindo area where he lives I understand him wanting to live there permanently.

After the tour we met back on the main street in Mindo and bumped into William and his sister Gisella. It was so good to get to know them a bit outside of the context of tourist recommendations - both of them were just great people. Autumn handed out stickers to Gisella's daughter and a couple of other kids who were still out. It was fun watching them smile and laugh from such a simple gift!

William then suggested we go to CasKaffeSu for dinner, a little hostal/restaurant just up one of the side streets. We had a great dinner, met some interesting people who were staying there, and talked to Sue the owner for a bit. At only $15/night (including breakfast) you can't go wrong.

After dinner it was back to Sachamatia for another quick soak in the hot tub then to sleep after another amazing day.



For complete photos from the journey click here.

Another Amazing Day To Be Alive...Part 1

We knew this was our only full day in Mindo so we packed it with as many activities as we could squeeze in. I got up early and shot some more photos of the hummingbirds and then did a video tour of the Sachamatia grounds before gathering for a quick breakfast then a cab into Mindo.

We all decided to do a gondola ride over the rainforest followed by a fifty minute hike through to a beautiful waterfall at the end of the trail. We splashed through the pool up to our knees at the base of the waterfall then I couldn't resist going right under. It was one of the best moments of my life! Total abandon and total freedom and total victory all rolled into one. After that, we hiked back out to a smaller waterfall for a quick look but had to get going again to catch our cab. A couple of us took our time just so we could stop and listen to the silence of nature - it was a really special moment.

Once we arrived back in town we went our separate ways for the afternoon. Doug and Michelle did some shopping, Autumn and I went horseriding, and Danny went in search of a local who would loan him a dirt bike for an hour. As Danny drove by a few minutes later, our helpful tourist guy William laughed his head off!

Autumn and I headed out on our ride just as the biggest downpour since we arrived let loose. By now we were all used to getting wet so we just kept on going until our guide stopped at a deserted campground for a break. Good move! Just as the sun broke through the clouds we were able to walk down to a gorgeous river, check out some beautiful tropical flowers, and discover a cool outdoor shower that someone had rigged up. After the break we headed back into town to drop off our horses and walk back to our meeting spot. Along the way I had one of the most thrilling experiences of my entire life.

We popped our heads through a cement doorway to see the local soccer pitch. A few guys were kicking the ball around and, I can`t say for sure, but I think it may have been the local team out for a practice. We sat down to watch and take a couple of photos but before long they invited me out on the field to play with them. It was one of those "I can`t believe this is happening" moments that I will treasure forever. Who ever expects to play on a soccer pitch in a tiny town in the middle of Ecuador? I certainly didn`t. The day was only half over and I`d already had the time of my life...

For complete photos from the journey click here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Off To Mindo

We were up early today to get a taxi to the Ofelia bus terminal in Quito then caught a bus for the two hour drive to Mindo, a small town west of Quito. At 8:25, we crossed the equator into the northern hemisphere, then crossed back over again an hour later in the mountians on the way to our final destination. The scenery on this drive is absolutely gorgeous with mountain peaks and volcanoes passing by on each side but my heart was missing the people we met in the community ADP's last week.

Once we arrived at Sachamatia, our lodge just outside Mindo, we went to our rooms, unpacked, and headed for Mindo in a taxi. Well, a taxi of sorts. A cab out here is actually the back of a pick-up truck - some covered, some not. It was a lot of fun bumping along the rural roads into Mindo but not nearly as much fun as riding open-top, standing up on the way home. Somewhere on YouTube I think some video will show up that I'll link to later.

In Mindo we had some great help from William at the Bird of Paradise tourist shop. He would prove to be a continous source of good information and was incredibly patient as we had loads of questions. If you ever make it this way, be sure to give him your business. You won't be sorry.

Since it was now getting on in the afternoon we only had time to do one activity - ziplining across the canopy of the rain forest. I'd never done it before but had an amazing time flying up to 700 feet above the forest floor. It was amazing! Especially doing the superman - flying face forward across the sky. Amazing.

On the last ride I got to do the butterfly - flying upside down, spread-eagled to the end of the line. I hadn't realized it, but I had cut my forehead with my camera when I passed it off to Danny before getting latched on. When I arrived on the other side the staff were freaking out a bit. Apparently one side of my forehead was covered in blood as I came flying in. They came running with cotton balls and alcohol and I think were quite worried about me but I was feeling totally exhilerated and wasn't at all concerned with the loss of a little blood. I got cleaned up and waited for the rest of the group who had a blast as well.

From there, we decided to walk back into Mindo instead of taking a cab. Such a great decision! It was a beautiful walk down a narrow road through dense forest, past rivers and old cabins. We had some good discussion, photo taking, and just tried to soak everything in. It's really hard to believe we are in such a beautiful place. It just doesn't seem real.

Back in Mindo we caught the open-top cab back to the hotel for dinner and then a soak in the hot tub. What a fantastic day!

For complete photos from the journey click here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Strange Day

This has been one roller coaster of a day. It started off great with Danny and I having deep spiritual discussion and then I had a really powerful encounter with God a bit later in the shower (go figure.) Afterwards, we went down to grab some breakfast and then walked to the lavanderia (laundry mat) with Autumn to get some clothes washed. From that point things started going downhill...

We took a couple of cabs with the rest of the gang to visit the old town area again. After a bit of a wander we met up for lunch in Plaza San Francisco where Autumn's backback was almost pick-pocketed were it not for Danny's quick response. It was a very smooth attempt but our D-Mac managed to scare them off. The rest of our time in old town went off without any problems and we headed back to the hotel later this afternoon.

Danny and I had the cab driver drop us off at the lavanderia (Autumn was running a bit behind in a different taxi.) It wasn't quite ready yet so we decided to just walk down a couple of blocks to kill 30 minutes. Dumb move. We had a bit of an unnerving incident and got back to the lavendaria ASAP to just sit inside and wait. Autumn came just a couple of minutes later. We got our stuff and booted it back to the hotel. Frankly, I think we just got a little overconfident but thankfully God was watching over us so everything worked out fine. As Danny said later, "I can't believe we risked our lives for ironed socks!"

Tonight we went to the La Ronda section of old town to have some dinner at the Restaurante Negro Mala. It was a really quaint little place and was a nice relaxing way to end a rather disturbing day. From the moment we left the hotel this morning I had the sense that there was evil in the air. I really believe we dealt with a bit of spiritual warfare today - it wasn't the first time on this trip. I'm glad to be back where it is safe so we can begin our adventures in Mindo tomorrow.

The Vacation Has Begun!

Before everyone had to fly home, our host and now friend Andrea and her parents, took us on a tour of Old Quito (aka downtown.) It was great! If it's at all possible try to have a local person take you out when you are travelling. It makes the experience so much richer.

We saw the beautiful Plaza de la Independencia, including the official residence of Rafael Correa, the current President of Ecuador, which sits adjacent to the plaza. We then moved along for a tour of Iglesia la Compania de Jesus, an oppulent Catholic church built by Jesuits between 1605 and 1765. Although there is no question it is spectacular inside and out, I came away feeling a little hollow at the incredible amount of money that it must of cost to build this place and the spiritual bondage that this and other "religious" institutions have over the people. If you pray for the people of Ecuador, pray that they would be released from religion in order to find Jesus.

After La Compana, we moved on to the Plaza San Francisco for a little souvenir shopping and a cold drink. This vast open square is often used for outdoor concerts and events and was buzzing when we arrived. There was a hip-hop dude with full band giving a show that was absolutely bringin' it! (I have a video that I'll get up on YouTube when I get home.) Andrea's dad was translating for us and it turns out that he was a Christian guy rapping about God and preaching to the people. Via translation, he was saying that there was no need for him to wear a suit becuase God looks at the heart, not what's on the outside. That's a pretty radical message here but the crowd was definitely listening. Danny wanted to see if he could jump on stage to do some beat-boxing but there wasn't a good break to try it. It would have been awesome!

I leaned a great Spanish term from Andrea's dad while we were here: Patas. It's a coloquil term for buddy or close friend. The root of the word means, "with one of my legs and one of your legs, we can travel together." There's something about that concept I really like.

After Old Town we travelled to one of the local markets to do some more shopping. It was a blast bartering with the vendors on everything from blankets to belts to bracelets to boleros. I spent way more than expect on souvenirs for people back home but it was well worth it. After the market we headed back to the hotel for half the team to check out. Once the well wishes and hugs were delivered, Danny and I headed up to our room to crash for a bit and take some photos from 810, our room at the Hotel Reina Isabel. The room itself was just your standard hotel room but the view was spectacular! We were on the top floor with a panoramic window that allowed us to see most of Quito. Lots of photos were taken.

Later, we met Andrea who helped us plan out our next few days then she took us on a drive to see downtown lit up at night then up to the base of the 30m high Virgen de Quito statue that hovers over the city. I got some cool photos looking over the city but again had the sense taht religion had these people in its grips. Danny prayed a blessing over the city as we quietly stood by. After decending the hill we went to one of Andrea's favorite night spots for some appetizers and drinks. She insisted we all have a canelazo, a local drink of welcome that the locals consume by the pitcher full. It's a combo of sugar cane alcohol, cinnamon, fruit juice and water that will peel the skin off your tongue. Danny described it as a combination of Neo Citron and diesel. It's not so bad once you get used to it!

It's now almost 3 AM so I'm off to bed. Tomorrow will be a chill out day before heading to Mindo on Monday.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Time For Parting

Today is the day half of our team returns to Canada while four of us plus Michelle's husband Doug (who flew in today) stay here on vacation for another four days. After all we have seen and experienced together it will be tough to see them go. There is a certain connection you have with people on a trip like this that will last forever. I'm sure the next time we all see each other there will be a lot of "remember when..." times.

I'm so thankful I was able experience this time with such a great group of people who are all committed to the work World Vision is doing here in Ecuador. Each and every person on this team does their work out of a deep love of the children we work with and out of a real committment to respond to God's call to care for the poor. We will all process and respond to this experience in different ways but I am certain that we have all been touched in some way.

I really didn't want to turn this blog into a commercial for World Vision, and I've tried to share some of my personal experiences so it wouldn't seem too "corporate," but I just have to tell you how proud I am to work for this organization. I have seen the work first-hand and am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it works. Everything you see on TV or read about in our mailings in absolutely true. I can't wait to get home to start sharing this experience in person with anyone who will listen. And quite frankly, I may come across a little strong when I get back but I've met real children with real names in need of a sponsor in Canada. I may be able to ignore the photograph of a stranger on a copied piece of paper, but it is impossible to ignore the face of a child that I've laughed with, danced with, taken photos of, and hugged. They have found their way into my heart. I hope they find their way into yours.

For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Best Dance Of My Life

Well, just when you think this trip couldn´t get much better...it did.

We visited two daycare centres today for ages 3-5 not too far outside of Ambato. There are 8 centres in this area providing daycare for 234 children. World Vision staff make sure that the children receive education, food, medical care, and just a lot of fun with other kids. Once I have a few photos up you´ll immediately know that this is not a daycare like we are used to seeing in Canada, but it is nonetheless an effective and welcomed part of the community.

Our hosts noted the importance of socialization for these kids who are often very shy before joining. There was a noticeable difference between the kids in daycare and those who were not. Those in the daycare were far more outgoing and trusting while other kids we´ve met on this trip tended to be a little hesitant about approaching us.

After a few introductions, the kids gave each one of us little crafts they had made and a hug. I don´t care who you are or how tough you may be, but when a little girl in a community like this wraps her tiny arms around your neck and gives you a hug, you never want to let go.

Once all of the gifts were handed out it was time to dance! The music was turned on and we all danced, and danced, and danced until all of us low-altitude living gringos were ready to drop but it was worth every breath. So much fun! To see the kids laughing and us laughing and the staff laughing was a special memory that I´ll never forget. Despite trying to take as many photos as possible, there are times when I just have to put my camera down and live in the moment - this was one of those moments. Thankfully some of our team took some photos and video that I will always treasure.

When all of the dancing was done it was time for us to break out the bubbles that we brought with us. I have never, ever seen kids so excited! As the clear soap bubbbles hovered in the air and popped on their little fingers, they laughed their heads off and chased around anyone who had a bottle. All except one special little girl named Angelica who was sitting on my lap. I´m not sure if she was afraid of the bubbles, or if she was just trying to be a good girl (her mom is one of the leaders here), or if she was just happy to be held, but she just wouldn´t budge, and truthfully, I didn´t want her to. She was so quiet and sweet so we just sat there and watched everyone else having fun, both of us taking in the moment. As she grows older I´m sure she´ll forget this day, but I never will. It was the day I fell in love with Ecuador and her people.




For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Pity Necessary

One final thought before heading to bed tonight...

I came to Ecuador feeling pity for the impoverished people we would meet and sadness for those who couldn´t find a way to get out of their situation. Having now met these men, women, and children, having shaken their hands and looked them in the eye, I have nothing but the utmost respect, gratitude, and love for every one of them. These are not poor people begging for a handout; these are proud, hard working folks who just need a little assistance from those of us who have more than we could ever need. Don´t cry for the people of Ecuador...just help them.

Busted in Ecuador?

Just got in from a rather interesting night in Ambato. After we arrived back at our hotel, eight of us decided to walk downtown again for dinner. We found a great Mexican place with lots of lively conversation and good music. After an amazing burrito and a cafe del leche (my new favorite!) we walked through the city centre followed by a friendly stray dog who just wouldn´t leave our side.

We started heading back down the road to our hotel and was about half-way there when a police car and a mini-bus filled with officers pulled over to the side of the road right beside us. An officer hopped out and immediately started questioning where we were headed and why. God had our backs once again as our Wonder Woman of a host Andrea stepped in to explain the situation. After a few words back and forth we were "invited" to get on the bus to be driven back to our hotel for safety reasons. As you can imagine we were all a little suspicious and wondered which side of the jail cell we´d like to sleep on for the next few months.

In the end it all worked out well and we were taking photos and waving wishing a relived buenos noches to our escort. All in all, a pretty adventurous day I´d say.

Alex

Education is really insufficient in this area so World Vision has established after-school programs to assist students in improving their grades so they can progress in their education and hopefully go to high school. Unfortunately most kids have to work so they do not continue their education however, in partnership with the Ecuadorian government, high school age students can participate in six-month technical training classes on evenings and weekends to learn skills such as carpentry, auto mechanics, baking, accounting, etc. with volunteer teachers who come in from the city. The entire cost of the schooling is paid for by the ADP via child sponsorship money, allowing kids who otherwise couldn´t afford to pay for education a spark of hope for their future.

Those who wish to go on to university or college have an enormous mountain to climb as the cost is prohibitive for almost everyone in these rural communities. The costs may seem low by Canadian standards, but at $600 per semester (plus accomodation and transportation) it is beyond the reach of almost every family who lives here.

A really sad part of our visit here was hearing different students talk about their dreams for the future and what they would like to do with their lives. It breaks my heart to know that these bright, hard working, inquisitive kids with big bold dreams will likely never achieve their goals simply becuase of a lack of money.

One young guy named Alex shared his dream of becoming a doctor but has had to quit school and return to help with his brother´s shoe-making business. I had to hold back the tears as I considered how realistic Alex´s chances are without receiving some help. I realize that $600 is not exactly a small amount, even in Canada, but if we could just pool some money together it would be so easy to help Alex reach his goal. More and more I´m coming to realize that supporting a kid like Alex is not about giving him a handout but is about coming alongside him to change the direction of his life, thereby changing the direction of God only knows how many other lives. Just think about how many diseases might be treated, how many infections might be prevented, how many lives might be saved, simply by joining Alex on his journey. A simple gift given to the one has the potential to save the lives of the many. It´s the butterfly effect in action. Dios te bendiga Alex.



For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

For The Blooper Reel

We had another fantastic visit just outside Ambato today where the mothers of the community did a presentation on proper health & nutrition, and the importance of breast feeding. I was so incredibly humbled by the generosity of these folks as they presented gifts of sweaters to a couple of our team and then brought out some snacks for us to enjoy. We had some delicious empanadas followed by some of the best tasting juice I´ve ever had in my life! Here´s a recipe for you straight from the heart of Ecuador:

1 cup of blackberries
1 cup of water
Brown sugar

Just boil the berries and then add the water. Stir. Pour juice through a strainer to remove the berry skins. Add brown sugar to taste.

That´s the recipe as it was given to me but I won´t be able to make it myself until I get home so let me know if you try it!

One of the other fun parts of the day was the filming of some thank you videos to be used back in Canada for our Gift Catalogue campaign this fall. We chose a small farmyard with a bull and cow to shoot my videos. It was a perfect location so we started filming with the cow over my shoulder. It was going really well until about 45 seconds in when the cow decided it needed to relieve itself right behind me. Take two...same shot three minutes later. Camera rolling...¨Hi Canada, here we are in Ecuador...¨ Same thing happens! Can´t this cow hold it for two minutes!! Ahhh the joys of working with animals. Eventually we got the shot using the bull instead.

We shot a second video when a whole bunch of kids just sat down on the road beside me. It was such a blast to just shoot something unplanned and on the fly when the opportunity presented itself. When we we're done I looked at the kids and said "movie star!" in English. They all started smiling and laughing! So much fun!

On to the next stop...

For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

An Earthquake Can´t Stop Us!

Ok, so an update on our day...

My roommate Mark got up early this morning and had a freezing cold shower. I got up a few minutes later and had a steaming hot shower. Gotta love life in Ecuador! Neither one of us felt the earthquake but our rep from Manitoba did. He stood in his doorway for a few seconds then decided he´d go get breakfast instead. Yep...that´s our Danny!

We met another great bunch of staff at the ADP we visited not too far outside of Ambato. This small staff oversees a region of
seven communities and over 3000 children and teens. It was so great to really connect with these folks despite our language differences. It´s amazing just how far a smile, a few hand gestures, and some broken Spanglish can go. Our common commitment to helping the kids of this region really makes us all one big team.

One important program in this area is the issuing of ID cards to children in each community. Often the children in these rural areas have no birth certificate or any form of government ID. By registering with World Vision we are able to track their health and education progress as well as offer them protection from anyone trying to take advantage of a "non-existent" child.

As our bus arrived at the first stop of the day we were greeted by hundreds of kids and parents in front of (and on top of!) the community centre. After a formal welcome from one of the elders and a really well done play about the benefits of registering children, we were able to see the registration process in action. As the kids lined up our entire team started working like mad to make animal balloons for each child as they finished the process. It was definitely organized chaos but it was a blast to know these kids were going to be cared for and to see the smiles on their faces when they got their animals.



Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule so it was on to the bus far too soon and we were off to our next destination...

For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

Earthquake? What Earthquake?

Apparently there was a 7.1 magnitude earthquake about 45 minutes ago centered just outside Ambato. I didn´t feel a thing and neither did most of the rest of us! Only three people said they felt their beds shaking. There is breaking news on the TV in our dining room. Andrea is translating for us...there was no damage anywhere. How does an earthquake more powerful than the one that devastated Haiti have no effect here? I don't get it but I sure am thankful.

Well, we´re off for the day. Catch ya´ later!

Downtown Ambato

Got back to the hotel in Ambato late tonight, had a completely unnecessary bite to eat, then went for a walk downtown with two other members of our team and the tireless and ever patient Andrea, our host, guide, and translator. Ambato was almost completely destroved in 1965 with the eruption of a close-by volcano and the accompanying earthquake. 20,000 people lost their lives and most of the downtown core had to be rebuilt. As a result, it is a really cool mix of colonial architecture and 1960´s\1970´s modernism. The scary thing for anyone who lives here is that seismologists say the volcano is guaranteed to blow again in no more than 50 years and that it could happen at any time. Andrea said if we had been here two weeks ago we would have heard the rumblings and seen smoke coming from the top of the mountain. Thankfully it seems to be feeling a little more mellow this week!

Although most of the tourist guidebooks say don´t bother visiting this city, I found it completly charming and safe, unlike Quito. We made our way past an enormous cathedral with the biggest doors I´ve ever seen, around the park at the city centre, then stopped in a pub for some great conversation. I love getting to know my coworkers without the pressure of meetings to attend and strategies to discuss. It´s a privilege for me to work with each and every one of them. If you have a couple of minutes to spare, pray for them for me.

Well, it´s been a great day and it´s been a great night. Can´t wait for my face to hit the pillow. Adios mes amigos!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Community Gardens

One of my favorite visits on this trip has been to a couple of World Vision sponsored community gardens. These gardens are part of a four month training program for women where they learn about crop rotation, irrigation, composting, how to grow more nutritious crops, and how to have a bigger yield. When they graduate the course, they are given seeds to take back to their own homes to plant a small farm to feed their own families. If there is any extra crop left over at harvest time, it can be sold at local markets for a small income.



Since vegetable gardening is near and dear to my heart I was thrilled to see these community gardens that would multiply outwards to the homes of countless families that would benefit from their new found source of food. We met more than one family who were so proud that their home gardens had allowed them to become self-sufficient.

You never know how big the yield unless you plant the seed.

For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

A Home Cooked Meal

In rural Ecuador most of the men have to leave their homes to work in the city in order to earn enough to (almost)afford the basics of life for their familes. As a result, the day-to-day life of the community and the working of the land is done almost exclusively by women. World Vision works with these women, identifying a ¨mother leader¨ who wants to help the rest of her community by bringing education and training on things such as proper hygene, cooking nutritious meals, using local ingedients, breast feeding, etc.

Today we had the opportunity to visit the home of the mother leader in this community for dinner with all of the women who were part of the program. They cooked an unbelievably delicious meal of pork, corn, potatoes, beans, cheese, and a fried dough patty that deserves to be on the menu of your favorite restaurant. For dessert we had a hot drink made with milk, rice and pumpkin that was really tasty but a bit hard to get down after such a big meal. In the midst of the chaos of moms and kids and dogs I walked away feeling absolutley blessed by these people. It´s a humbling experience knowing that these generous and gentle people have blessed you more in an hour than you could ever repay in a lifetime.

For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

Holy Moments

Today was another super-long super-packed day. I can't believe I brought a book to read during our down times. There hasn't been one yet!

We headed out this morning on a three hour bus ride from Quito to our Pillaro area development project (ADP) in the Ambato area. Yesterday we were at an ADP that was just entering the phase-out stage while today we were in an area where we've only been working for a couple of years. The local staff expressed many of the challenges they've faced in establishing themselves in the area and I´ve learned that one of the greatest difficulties in getting started in the apprehension of the people whom we are assisting. It takes a while to build up trust but once that is established with a few community leaders then it becomes much easier to work together. Just like yesterday, I was amazed to learn that there are 25 communities in this ADP which means we are helping to improve the lives of over 43,000 people!

I don't have a ton of details tonight, just one awesome highlight you need to know about. In the middle of a presentation by the local staff (did you know 97% of World Vision´s field staff are actually from the communities they are working in?), we had to take a break when two sponsored children and their mother visited the office to meet with Autumn, our rep from Alberta. She had the privilege of meeting with them on behalf of their sponsors in Canada, giving them greetings and gifts, and hearing exactly how being sponsored has changed their lives. As the rest of us waited in the adjacent office, a hush came over the room, in awe at what was happening. God was reaching down to provide for this beautiful young family through a Canadian donor who had choosen to change the life of a little girl they had never met, yet felt compelled to bless. This is grace. This is love. This was a holy moment. How could we be anything else but silent?

There are 1500 children registered in this region but only 880 are sponsored. After seeing the radiant face of the children´s mother today my heart breaks for the other 620 kids who need to know that same kind of love.

For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Football and Farmers

We arrived in Cutambi later than expected but that didn't stop the entire community from gathering around our bus to greet us. Just like you see on TV, the kids squeezed their way through to the front of the crowd to wish us a very polite "buenos dias" before leading us into the building they use as a community centre. After some speeches and a display of some handcrafts the women of the community had created, we all moved out of the building to the centre of the village to make balloon animals and pass out other little treats to the children. It blew me away to see how patiently they all lined up to get their latex dogs and rabbits and bees! I could imagine a near riot if you had over 100 kids lined up like this at home.

As the rest of the team were making their animals (a talent for which I have no ability whatsoever), I made my way over to some kids playing soccer who very quickly made me the monkey in the middle as they managed to play keep-away until I thought my lungs would burst in the high altitude. Eventually some more kids came over as well as Mark, our rep in Atlantic Canada, and we had some fun kicking the ball around and trying to score on a little guy who just might play for the Ecuadorian national team some day - he was that good!



Once we managed to catch our breath, we shot a couple more videos displaying animals that had been given to the community (including a couple of hilarious ones that will make it to our blooper reel!), then we were led up a steep path to see a small family farm. It may have been a tiny patch of land but for the pride the farmer had in his work it might as well have been half of Saskatchewan. Although he was unable to read or write, he had gone to some World Vision workshops to learn basic farming techniques and also visited some other farms where he could share his new-found knowledge as well as learn from other farmers. He was especially proud of his composting skills that turned a poorly performing lemon tree into a big producer laden with fruit. It´s really important to let you know that in no way do the people who receive the gifts and training respond as if they were somehow inferior or inadequate. These are proud farmers who are partners in every way with the good work that is happening here. We stand eye-to-eye and shoulder-to-shoulder with these folks and share in the joy of their hard work. World Vision´s work here is nothing at all resembling a handout - it is a hand-up to a farmer and his family who want to improve their lives and the lives of their children. I'm incredibly grateful to God that I get to play a small part in making this happen.



Stay turned for tomorrow´s adventures in the Pillaro region...

For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

Above the Clouds

After leaving the World Vision office behind, we headed out for Muenala, a small community high in the Andes mountains. Along the way we stopped for lunch at a tiny restaurant on the edge of Cotacachi volcano. The crater of the volcano is actually filled with water now, turning it into a beautiful clear lake. As much as possible I´m trying to eat local food so I ordered the Plato Tipicos, a plate full of grilled pork, boiled corn, potatoes and local white cheese. A few of us decided to order cuy (guinea pig) to share but they had run out so we´ll have to wait for another day to try this Ecuadorian delicacy.

After lunch, it was off to Muenala, which was an absolutely remarkable experience. Our driver Franklin (aka coolest bus driver on the planet!) maneuvered us through some of the narrowest roads and steepest slopes I´ve ever seen. We climbed up to 3200 meters above sea level, literally looking down on the clouds, to meet with a small community of 150 indigenous people who had received 16 cows from Canadian donors through our gift catalogue. We were introduced to the community and then a gentleman stepped forward to thank us for visiting and for the cows they had recieved, allowing them to have fresh milk and cheese for their families. It was a remarkably humbling experience to be among these gentle people, to shake their hands, to look into their eyes and see the genuine gratitude there.

In addition to the cows, the village also recieved a pipeline up to a water storage tank that provides them with water to irrigate their crops. This high in the mountains water is extremely hard to come by in Ecuador. The soil is very dry and the constant wind is whipping up dust continually. When World Vision completed the pipeline the community was able to grow crops more easily to provide nutritious vegetables for their families. To stand side by side with these people, to see how tangibly their lives were improved by Canadians half a world away is an indescribable feelign that I wish each and every person could experience.

Before leaving the area for our next stop we shot a couple of thank you videos to share when we get back home, gave the children some gifts, and took photos of the children and their parents among the amazing scenery. Then it was off to our final stop for the day, down the winding roads to Cutambi.

For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

Incredible!

It´s been a long, jam-packed day and I have more stories than I could possibly share here tonight but I´ll do my best. Unfortunately I can´t upload photos from the hotel so for now you´ll just have to believe me when I say Ecuador is a remarkably beautiful country filled with remarkably beautiful people.

Our morning started on a bus taking us out of downtown Quito to visit an Area Development Project (ADP) about two hours away. The entire team was bouncing from one side of the bus to the other taking photos of the Andes mountains as they fenced us in on both sides while we travelled higher and higher up the switchbacks. After a quick pit stop where we manged to buy some water, dried banana, and (believe it or not), lemon remix doritos(!) we arrived at the Maquipurashum ADP not far from Otavalo. We were greeted by the director of the ADP and his small team of staff and volunteers with a warm handshake and a buenos dias. They immediately put us at ease and we all had a good time introducing ourselves via Andrea our translator.

After the introductions we were given an extensive history of the ADP from their beginnings in 1994 up to today. I had always thought an ADP consisted of a few villages with upwards of a thousand people being supported through World Vision´s work but in Maquipurashum there are 20 communities consisting of eight thousand families which means roughly 40,000 people are being impacted by the generous support of Canadians who sponsor children, purchase items from the Gift Catalogue, and participate in the 30 Hour Famine.

Our hosts explained how the community had determined what their strengths were and then set the priorities for the development of the region: education, health, agricultural production, and care for the environment. They have also put a big emphasis on gender equality as traditionally, women and girls have very few rights in the culture. A girls soccer league was started five years ago to empower the young girls of the area and encourage them to become fully fledged partcipants in the community. I also found it interesting (and sad) to learn that the soccer also gives children of both genders the opportunity to play...to just be a kid...something that is uncommon when most children must work from a very young age.

The success of the ADP thus far was evident on the faces of the leaders who explained that when they first began no one - not one single person - had finished high school. There are now more than 400 kids in high school and another 100 graduates with several of them moving on to college with the help of a scholarship from funds provided by World Vision. Another amazing fact: when the ADP started 90% of the children in the region were malnourished. That number has been reduced to 65% and is continuing to fall. There were several other positive outcomes shared, but a list of numbers can´t compare to the amazing privilege we had of meeting two formerly sponsored children who were now young adults, both of whom had gone to college and have returned with a degree in business management and finance.

Despite all of these positives, there are definitely still a great number of needs in this community. There is only one medical clinic for 40,000 people making regular health care next to impossible. As well, 36% of the population do not know how to read or write and the cost of education is beyond the reach of most of the parents who live here. Only 12% of the population has a safe water supply resulting in various illnesses and skin problems for the children who live here.

Just before we left for our next destination we were introduced to a class of students in the World Vision office who were learning computer skills, many of whom had never seen a computer before. The smiles on their faces told us exactly how much joy they were experiencing as hope was returning and a more positive future could start to be envisioned. I have nothing but the highest praise for the dedicated, caring workers here. Their tireless love for the children and families of the area is both humbling and inspiring.

Next stop...Manueva.

For complete photos from the journey click here.

To sponsor a child in Ecuador visit WorldVision.ca

Monday, August 09, 2010

We´re Here!

Well, after 12 hours of travel, a stop-over in Colombia, and not one but two airplane meals, we have arrived at our hotel in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The flights couldn´t have been smoother and going through customs was a breeze. Leaving the airport was a bit disconcerting with the evidences of a very different culture everywhere. The porter was not at all hesitant to ask (quite forcefully!) for a tip and then for more of a tip.

I'm really looking forward to tomorrow when the reason for our trip starts in earnest. We'll be visiting several Area Development Projects, meeting the staff of World Vision Ecuador, and spending time in some communities who have recieved gifts from our Gift Catalogue and have experienced the effects of child sponsorship first-hand. It´s one thing to have an intellectual understanding of how it works, but once I see with my own eyes I know my passion for what we do will be confirmed.

Until tomorrow, buenos noches.

It's Here!

Hard to believe but true, after weeks of planning and what felt like hours of packing, today is the day I fly to Ecuador with the rest of the World Vision team. We'll arrive at our hotel in Quito around midnight tonight (assuming the connections go well) and will be off to visit our first Area Development Project (ADP) at 7:30 tomorrow morning.

The past week, right up to a few minutes ago have been so busy that I haven't had a lot of time to think about the trip or what I'm looking forward to and anticipating. I have a pretty good idea in my mind of what to expect which probably means I'll have my expectations blown apart when I actually get on the ground! Watch for regular updates over the next two weeks as I try to take in and share with you all that is happening in Ecuador.

Thanks for coming on the journey!