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Visiting a remote school

By Deborah Nance

I make my home in Cotacachi.  A couple years ago my husband and I attended an International Business Made EZ course in Quito with Gary Scott, and on the following real estate tour we invested in a home.  It was intended to be a winter only home, but after the first winter we knew we wanted to live here permanently.  There are many things I love about Cotacachi and Ecuador.  It’s hard to know where to start, but I recently visited a remote school up Cotacachi Mountain, and that is as good a place to start as any.

Michel Duer owns the resort hotel and spa, La Mirage, and he has been involved with this school.  He invited me to go with him on one of his charitable trips and I was delighted to get the opportunity to see the highest school up Cotacachi Mountain.

Three teachers in four small concrete block structures educate 50 small children, 20 of which are in kindergarden.  There is no bus service to this village, and its citizens have to walk for hours in to Cotacachi and back.  Most of the homes in the area appeared not to have indoor plumbing.  Yet the school, teachers and students looked clean and their smiles were bright.

Unfortunately, I can’t figure out how to get my pictures in this blog, otherwise I could share the adorable faces.  The projects that Michel is doing for this school include building a wrought iron fence around the property to protect it from vandalism and unauthorized use.  A local iron worker accompanied us and will build the fence and also a playground with swing sets and other equipment.  In the kitchen we found a lovely indigenous woman cooking lunch.  She had a toddler on her back and was cooking a steaming pot of lentils.  We noticed that the stove top had three large burners, but only one was working.  The iron worker will see if it can be repaired, and if not a new stove top will be purchased for the school.  The school had toilets, however the water had been turned off to them because the toilet tanks had no hardware in them…no floats or stoppers.  So that will be purchased so that the toilets can be used.  The school had a microphone for programs and public announcements, but they had no amplifier, so the mic was useless.  Michel made a note to buy them an amplifier.  The teacher wanted a cap and gown made for the graduates of the school and Michel gave him money to have this done.

Last year Michel ran a phone line up the mountain so that the school could have a telephone.  It must have been quite an undertaking.  However, indigenous women along the route up the mountain cut the phone line to use in their backyard as clothesline.  So the school is without a phone, and it’s not yet practical to try again.  I am trying to get a used computer for the school with some Spanish learning programs.  Without a phone line, they will not have Internet access, but at least the students will have exposure to a computer.  It seems to be something the teachers would really like to have.

At Christmas time Michel brings this school supplies, food, and gifts for the children.  Of all the schools he has given to, he says that these children are the sweetest and most grateful.  By western standards, these people have nothing…no money or possessions.  Yet every single child has a gift for him when he arrives.  It may be a single egg or a vegetable, but every child gives back.  It strikes me that they don’t see themselves as poor.  They have gifts to give too.

I want to close this post with a story that shows how unique these people are.  Gary and Merri Scott have mentioned this time and again, and I got to see it first hand.  In front of the school there was a concrete slab, where the boys played soccer.  When we were ready to leave  they were sitting along the side of the road ready to say good by.  But the soccer ball got away from the boy who was holding it and it rolled under Michel’s car.  I thought to myself, please don’t run over their only ball.  And just as I thought this, we all heard a loud explosion.  I was aghast.  Now these poor kids won’t even be able to play soccer, I thought.  But when I looked at them they had all burst out laughing.  What an odd response, to my mind.  As we pulled away every single one of them were laughing hysterically.  Gary and Merri have said many times that things that a westerner would respond to with anger, these people respond to with laughter.  It’s absolutely true, and transforming to witness.  I don’t know what the kids are using for a soccer ball these days.  But you can bet on my return trip I will be bringing a new one.