Who the VOQ? By Sarah Reichle (107)
VOQ (Volunteer of the Quarter) is a VAC initiative to help us all get to know our fellow PCVs a bit better and to commend the great work that volunteers are doing in their communities. Know about a PCV working on a successful project, one who is really integrated in their site, or someone who is just being a superstar volunteer in general? Let us know: e-mail VAC at EcuadorVAC@gmail.com
Amanda Monroe (Mandy) is VAC’s Volunteer of the Quarter and is a Natural Resources Conservation volunteer from Ithaca, New York, representing Omnibus 105. Why did Mandy join Peace Corps? Everything about it, she says, but her experiences at Warren Wilson College located in the Swannanoa Valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina probably had something to do with it. Warren Wilson is different than your typical university experience in that the school is committed to emphasizing environmentalism and localism. “You complete all your credit hours like any other accredited university, but you are also required to complete 100 hours of community service (off campus) and work on campus for 15 hours a week. Students run the place, really. The work assignments vary from janitorial duties to cafeteria workers to gardeners, landscapers, ranchers, accounting wizards, plumbers, locksmiths, auto mechanics, journalists, and artists.”
Mandy spent time doing various environmental jobs during her time at WWC. She worked on the Recycling and Solid waste crew, where she began dabbling in recycled art. She also worked as an assistant for a Botany professor collecting flora and fauna samples around campus. She says WWC definitely had an impact on her decision to apply for the Peace Corps. “The service part was a gem – I did all kinds of different and fun volunteer work. Ultimately, I guess Peace Corps had always been something I’d wanted to do for indefinable reasons. After Wilson, I spent a year in the AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Project as an environmental educator in Northern California. It’s been a great lifestyle – finding unique opportunities that the government is willing to pay for. I’m looking at grad school in the fall and the chances of securing an assistantship are looking good.”
In Ecuador, Mandy’s site is situated in the coastal splendor of sunny Las Tunas, Manabí. Describing her site, Mandy says it is “an awesome teeny fishing village on the beach just fifteen kilometers south of Puerto Lopez.” “The men fish or harvest tagua or coffee seeds,” she says. “The women wash clothes and take care of beautiful children and prepare out-of-control seafood soups. Everyone seems to love me – must be because I love them? People are generous, food is too delicious, and the beach is pristine. Life breathes beautiful.”
In addition to Mandy’s typical site activities like learning to surf, working on her rocking tan, and feasting on some delicious encebollado, she has also done plenty of impromptu wildlife and nature monitoring with groups of jovenes. They have followed bird species along the Rio Ayampe, sea turtles nesting on the beach, and even observing the health of a small stand of mangroves.
Along with her nature-stalking skills, Mandy is known as a bit of a recycled art guru. She attended a Brigadas Verdes IST over a year ago, which she says was, “without a doubt, the best training Peace Corps provided [for her] community.” During the session, she learned how to make monederos from chip bags and bottle labels. She made some herself after the training and shocked the women in her community with her homemade handicrafts. Afterwards, Mandy began going house to house in neighborhoods around Las Tunas teaching small groups of women. “My integration sky-rocketed!” she says.
The monedero-making business soared from that point on, too. Mandy is currently working on selling them locally in Puerto Lopez and the surrounding tourist areas with a group of women from Las Tunas. “Some of the ladies have restaurants or cabañas where they can sell their product directly to clients. I often do a purse round-up and then act as an intermediary taking them to a small artisanal shop in Puerto Lopez (or to the States or to Peace Corps events).” This system is not as sustainable as Mandy would like, but it has shown the women that they have the ability and skills to make a desirable, sellable, and unique product. As a group, they have set goals to sell their craft (as a team) during feriados and at Los Frailes. They are beginning to mobilize and take charge of the project with the hopes that it will continue to siga adelante after Mandy’s COS in April.
When asked what advice she has for the newbies in Omnibus 109, Mandy says, “Laugh it up and love it. Even the worst moments are there for a reason.” What will she miss most about Ecuador? “Licra, ya les dije.”