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Friends of Ecuador goes to Ecuador…part 5

We had a chance to visit the refuge at Cotopaxi. Since the volcano erupted a year ago or so, you can’t yet climb above to the top, as I did nearly 20 years ago. Nonetheless, the refuge and volcano remains as stunning as ever. The glaciers have retreated though.

We stayed at a place nearby called the Secret Garden which is a popular place for backpackers. We were able to ride down by bike from the parking lot above the refuge to Secret Garden, which sits at the base of Passochoa.

We took back roads to get to the hostel which remained as cobble stone, but the main roads from Quito to Ambato are now toll roads that bypass a lot of the towns along the way. The route is fast, though heavily patrolled to deter speeding. The country has invested quite a lot in improved infrastructure, and you can tell. (Even some of the country roads like between Pillaro and Patate are now paved with lots of road signs to tell you where to go).

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Friends of Ecuador goes to Ecuador…part 4

My good friend Mark Thurber has lived in Ecuador more than 20 years. He is the author of Climbing and Hiking in Ecuador. He works on environmental impact assessments to try to limit the damage from large infrastructure projects.

In the process, he came upon a fantastic cloud forest near Vulcan Reventador that he and his colleagues bought to conserve as a reserve for wildlife. It’s called Reserva Alto Coca. It’s just in the shadow of the volcano which you can hear rumble in the distance and see plumes from on a clear day.

We had an opportunity to visit this rugged site, accessible by muddy trail four hours above the road as you head out to the Oriente. There are cabins out there now with cold running water and serviced by a cook and support staff. It was an amazing trip. The photos below hardly do it justice.

We saw pictures in the camera trips of jaguars on the trails before and after we hiked up it. We also saw scratches on the trees from spectacled bears as well as tapir tracks. We’ve blogged about it before, but now, I’ve gotten a chance to see it up close and personal. You should too. It’s tough but you can find out more from Mark if you are up for adventure hiking through Trip Adviser.

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Friends of Ecuador goes to Ecuador…part 3

I got to spend some time with the host family that housed me during my years of service (97-99). The picture above is from the site of the house where I lived. It’s subsequently been torn down and replaced with a more modern house with running water. At the time, I had electricity but dirt floors on the ground floor, a compost toilet, and one outside tap in a cinder block house. The view is the same thought. The children of my host family live there now with their kids. The son works in construction all around the country so agriculture is less central to their lives now than it was when I lived there.

Some of the other kids have also moved, one working in the nearby town as a taxi driver, another for the oil companies in the Oriente, and a third who is married and lives in another city.

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Friends of Ecuador visits Ecuador…part 2

I was able to visit with a number of people I worked with at my site. They showed me how the trees we planted almost 20 years had grown up. We also talked about an irrigation project we fought for was finally realized more than a decade after I left. We talked about friends we knew had died.

They talked about what they were up to now. Changes in the town, paved roads, bus service, cell phone service, and how many people had moved out of agriculture with many of their kids looking for other professions. I tried to honor them by capturing some photos with a lens that does great portraits. Here are some photos from that visit.

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Friends of Ecuador visits Ecuador…part 1

I spent two weeks in Ecuador in July and posted a number of stories on Facebook along with photos. I’m going to reference them here. It was a fantastic trip, commemorating 20 years since I started my service. I saw a number of old friends in my Peace Corps site as well as wider friends from my Peace Corps service days.

One amazing thing was that a number of people from my site didn’t know I was alive. For some strange reason, a rumor got started that I was killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Though I was in touch on and off via email with some folks from my rural site (outside of Ambato up in the mountains), I hadn’t heard that some folks thought I was dead, and they hadn’t heard otherwise. There was one phone in town when I left and no one had Facebook or email addresses. Times have changed. Here is a Facebook post the reflects a little bit on that with a photo from my host family’s house.

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Peace Corps Community for the Support of Refugees

This is a guest post from Tad Baldwin, Atuntaqui/Quito 1963-65 who is our treasurer emeritus and long-time leader of Friends of Ecuador.

This new NPCA affiliate, Peace Corps Community in Support of Refugees, was formally accepted in the past month.  Tad Baldwin and a handful of Washington, DC based RPCVs have been working for the past year to connect with the nine non-profit State Department contract holders (who have hundreds of affiliates across the country coordinating refugee resettlement) to facilitate greater RPCV involvement in refugee issues.  A number of geographic groups and individuals have been active in this area for a number of years and more opportunities for service exist.  Those with relevant language skills are especially welcome.

The major initiative is support for refugee resettlement within the US.  The non-profits under contract (including the Catholic Bishops, the IRC, Lutherans, etc.) were anticipating a large jump in their work efforts…although those numbers may be halved if the president gets his way.  The roles involved welcoming new families, setting up apartments, helping with school and job searches, and the complex tasks involved in resettlement.  In the coming months information will appear on the NPCA website providing contact information for the local agencies coordinating this work across the country to  help those interested to take the preliminary connection step.  Small groups of RPCVs may chose to undertake all the required tasks on a shared responsibility basis.

A secondary purpose is to advocate for the refugees in our local communities, via churches, community groups and the press, especially in the face of alarming anti-immigrant executive statements.  A third purpose is support for refugees overseas, a more difficult long-distance task that is sidelined for the present.  Some RPCVs have been helping in the Greek Island refugee camps.

Some RPCVs from Ecuador have been involved in services to Columbian refugees and so have experience in this area.  All are now welcome to help! Contact

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News from Mushuk Yuyay School Program

This is an update on the Mushuk Yuyay school feeding program that FOE supported last year.

The FOE funds were to be used in 3 schools.  400 children were provided with breakfasts and participated in the educational activities.

The program will last through June 2017 due to the assistance of FOE donations. Below is a recent video and some photos from the project.


The Healthy Children, Healthy Futures Program is working with several indigenous Cañaris community schools for the purposes of:

  • Learning the value of nutritious traditional food such as quinoa and amaranth.  For example, one cup (2.4 dl, 245 g) of cooked amaranth grain (from about 65 g raw) provides 251 calories and is an excellent source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of proteindietary fiber, and some dietary minerals.  Amaranth is particularly rich in manganese (105% DV), magnesium (40% DV), iron (29% DV), and selenium (20% DV.) Also cooked amaranth leaves are an excellent source of vitamin Avitamin Ccalcium, manganese, and foliate. Other home grown crops are barley.
  • Learning how to prepare and serve the foods such as barley or quinoa soup, amaranth, preparation of quimbolitos (traditional Ecuadorian pastries) made of corn flour and wrapped in achira leaves (ancient Andean crop plant with edible leaves).
  • Learning how to plant these traditional foods through the use of demonstration plots.

Picture Album:
Mushuk Yuyay program

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Let Girls Learn: New Peace Corps Partnerships Fundraising Opportunity

A follow on from our Camp Glow support from last year. Here is a new fundraising opportunity that is less than $1000 short of its fundraising goal. FOE will donate $500. Will you help them get over the finish line? The link here will take you to the fundraising site on the Peace Corps Partnerships page.

Here is a full description:

The primary goal of GLOW is to facilitate growth and empowerment of 45 young women ages 13-18 in Ecuador. Peace Corps Volunteers and Ecuadorean counterparts, together, will lead a 4 day camp with activities focused in four themes; sexual education, gender, self-esteem, and leadership.

Through these four topics, the girls will be encouraged to be change agents in their high schools and communities. They will become more aware of their rights of women and the impact of gender roles in their communities and Ecuador. We will reflect on the representation of women in society and how this affects their daily life. They will explore self-esteem, body image, communication, and decision making practices to boost self-confidence and leadership. They will set goals and define skills they have that could drive their career. And, furthermore, they will break down myths and norms of society that give way to healthier relationships.

Ecuadorian counterparts who are leaders in their community are involved in the planning of the camp and will co-facilitate the camp alongside Peace Corps Volunteers. The facilitators are from the same communities as the girls whom will participate in the camp and are prominent community leaders. The girls who attend the camp will be more informed about their own sexual and reproductive health, gender stereotypes, and gender in their communities. More importantly, they will know strategies, tools, and people they can rely on and use to create change. They will have strengthened leadership skills and self confidence to positively impact their communities and to continue GLOW programs alongside their Ecuadorean counterparts.

This project has been designed to expand access to education for girls in Ecuador as part of the Let Girls Learn Program. Learn more at

Your contribution increases the impact of Ms. Olmack, her fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, and their communities; and makes a brighter future possible for young women in Ecuador.

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Farewell Message from Alexis Vaughn

This is a post from outgoing Peace Corps Ecuador country director Alexis Vaughn. We hope to have a note shortly from incoming country director Michael Donald.

Time certainly does whizz by. It seems only yesterday I was greeting you as the new Country Director for Peace Corps Ecuador, now I am bidding you farewell as I embark on my new assignment as Peace Corps Country Director for Guatemala. In the past three years, Ecuador has seen many changes and challenges – a new airport in Quito, new modern roads, a sharp decline in the price of oil (the country’s economic bread and butter) and a devastating earthquake. Through it all, Peace Corps Ecuador continued to strengthen its partnership with the Ecuadorian people, nearly doubling our Teaching English as a Second Language Program, solidifying our partnership with the Ministry of Health and, with generous funding from the Friends of Ecuador, launching a successful series of GLOW Camps (Girls Leading Our World). It’s been a wonderful ride, and I thank you for the ongoing support you have provided. Peace Corps Ecuador continues in excellent hands with the new Country Director, Michael Donald, and with Friends like you, I’m sure he will find his time in Ecuador as rewarding as I have.

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