This past winter break, I had the amazing opportunity to experience first-hand the good work that WWBM is doing. I, along with a fellow coordinator, Jen Wagman, traveled to Ecuador to visit a few of the different artisan sites that we work with and help them with various projects. In the last blog post, Jen talked about where WWBM is headed this semester and how our trip to Ecuador has shaped this direction. I am going to talk a little about the artisans we worked with and the adventures we had.
We landed in Quito on New Years Day, tired, but ready to start our journey the following day. The first portion of our trip consisted of a 5-hour car ride through the Andes mountains to a small town on the coast. For the next 4 nights, we stayed in a shelter in the middle of a dry rainforest reserve and woke up to howler monkeys screaming outside our window.
The first artisan group we visited was a soap making group called Bellinas Jabones, in Camarones. We spent half a day there helping them package their soaps with banana leafs and labels we printed off for them. They showed us where they grow the plants that make the soap, and talked about how their government is sending all the soap to the Galapagos because of the large tourism market.
The remainder of our time spent on the coast was with a group called El Bolso Magico, in Tabuga, that silk screens bags and t-shirts. Here we helped them with their inventory, visual store display, and they let us try silk screening as well (which is a lot harder than it looks).
When we weren’t working, we spent our free time lying in hammocks, learning new Ecuadorian card games, and hiking through the reserve. In addition to the monkeys, the reserve is full of exotic flora and wildlife, although, thankfully, we didn’t encounter anything too dangerous!
The next half of our trip was spent in the beautiful town of La Calera, back in the mountain region. Here, we lived with Flora for 4 nights and her sister Marisol for 2 nights. Both women are part of the women’s group, Sumak Muyo, that makes jewelry from local nuts and seeds. Here we were able to help the women with their social media skills as well as assist them in preparing for a tourist group that was coming at the end of our stay. We also had the opportunity to learn how to make the jewelry (which is harder than it looks!).
While in La Calera, we attended the grand artisan market in Ottovalo, the largest in South American, eat traditional Ecuadorian food (which included guinea pig for dinner one night!), and see amazing views.
There is still more work that needs to be done, but by visiting these talented, hospitable, and hardworking artisans in Ecuador, we were able to help keep our connections alive and hopefully make them even stronger!
This was blog was written by Sophia Goldschmidt.
Every opportunity I have had that has taken me to Latin America has left me changed as the new experiences, new culture and, most of all, new people leave lasting impressions on me.
My latest adventure was no exception. This January, I had the privilege of traveling to Ecuador to visit some of our artisan partners in the South American nation with Sophia Goldschmidt, a fellow Executive from our leadership team.
We were able to spend time in a couple of different Ecuadorian provinces assessing sites that we have worked with in varying levels in the past. Hopefully, Sophia will get a chance to guest blog and talk more about the adventures we had and the organizations we worked with during our tour.
Instead, I want to focus my time discussing where we’re headed next as an organization and how our trip to Ecuador encouraged our new direction.
We met other non-profits, student groups and friends. We learned about the Ecuador team of the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers without Borders and spent some time at an ecological reserve operated by the Ceiba Foundation. We met Ecuadorians from all different walks of life. We met travelers. We met Wisconsinites. We met other Badgers. Our travels took us not only to different cities, but to different people. We were constantly learning. Through the conversations with the micro-enterprise groups we met, to the other travelers we stayed with, met, played cards with, ate with, we learned that change comes from the community. It is a collaborative effort that comes from everyone, no matter the size of the impact. The outpouring of information and passion forced us to refocus and think about what we are doing.
Wisconsin without Borders Marketplace is an international development organization, but our efforts are, for the most part, by university students, which means we are still learning. With the realization of these critical components of our organization, I returned to the United States with a lot of questions.
The biggest question I had was: are we doing good?
I don’t know the answer to that question. It’s challenging to answer with cultural differences and miscommunications. International development is a difficult game because of the challenges of understanding a local economy. Despite the complexity of the question, we intend to do good this semester. With a fresh perspective from Ecuador and the stories we learned there, Sophia and I returned with a renewed fire to change and improve an organization that will be dynamic.
As we embark on our next semester, we’re excited to take on the challenge of finding answers to questions that have gone unanswered for far too long. We’re not perfect: we’re far from it, but we are students. We are learning, but we are also surrounded by innumerable resources and opportunities being students at a large, research university. Moving forward, we’re going to keep asking questions until we get answers. We’re looking forward to a semester of learning, collaboration and adaption to make Wisconsin without Borders Marketplace the best it has been yet.
This was blog was written by Jen Wagman.