Todo Positivo

March 25, 2014

I arrived in Ecuador on May 6th and a lot has happened over the last couple of weeks including my first visit to the new Las Mercedes Health Center, which has been serving the local residents since February.  In addition to the health center, we started the summer project with Engineers without Border.  Our goal is to connect all the houses in Las Mercedes to the main sewage system lines.  Instead of writing a lot in this post, I decided to use pictures.


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The Las Mercedes Health Center is open Monday-Saturday. There are two family doctors, an obstetrician, a dentist and an orthodontist as well as several nurses and a pharmacist.

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One of the nurses assisting a patient.

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All medicine is free and provided by the national government. Free healthcare and medicine is a right guaranteed by the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution.

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This little girl is not so happy about receiving a vaccination but in the long run it will be a good thing.

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Free condom machine…need I say more?


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This summer, we are completing a collaborative project with help from Engineers without Borders (EWB) in order to connect all the houses in Las Mercedes to the main sewage system.

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The student engineers from the University of Miami spent two weeks in Las Mercedes surveying houses. They surveyed 178 houses in only two weeks. There are about 200 houses remaining and our plan is to finish the project with local engineering students from the University of Machala.

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Our revolutionary engineer, Edward, helped the students get on their feet at the outset.

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The students broke off into 4 groups. I worked closely with group 2 — Jessica, Miguel and Michael. Jessica taught me how to survey including carrying out the calculations. Often times, we had to survey in very tight spaces including the back of this house. Enrique, one of the team’s mentors from Miami, is moving some clothes back so we can see the Philadelphia Rod (A big ruler).

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Group 1 — The three Musketeers as I called them: Joey, Ricardo and Josh. In this picture, a little boy wanted to do some surveying too so he was using an old pair of binoculars.

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The primary contribution of the local residents is the labor. They have to dig their own canals and make holes in the clean-outs for the piping to enter. In this photo, Maria (in her late 60’s) is pounding through a thick layer of cement with a pic and mallet. My hero.

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The local residents knew a lot about connecting the pipes. In this photo, the student engineers are learning how to connect a bathroom to the cleanout Las Mercedes style from the local residents.

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Team 1 (from left to right) — Jared, Francisco and Laurent.

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Team 4 — Michelle, Natasha and Raul.

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Just a cool picture.


The EWB team team with Marjorie (far left) and the Las Mercedes President, Jessica (next to Marjorie), during our trip to the remote island of San Gregorio.



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Our Doors are Open!

March 1, 2014

The Las Mercedes Health Center is ready to serve the community!

In June of 2011, we broke ground on the Las Mercedes Health Center.  After completing construction in the fall of 2012, we waited patiently for resources to arrive from the Ministry of Health in order to equip and staff the health center.  For almost two years, the building just sat empty reminding everyone in the community just how forgotten Las Mercedes had become.   At times, the wait was painful.  We pestered every person we possibly could from the Mayor of Huaquillas to the Vice Minister of Health to the seemingly endless stream of regional health directors that were here one day and gone another.   We were almost always frustrated and sometimes we simply felt defeated.   But we never gave up and this past week our dream finally came true as the doors of the Las Mercedes Health Center were opened by the Ministry of Health!

On behalf of the residents of Las Mercedes, we would like to say “Thank you” to every single one of our supporters.  But more important, we want to say “thank you for believing in us and being a part of our community.”   Together, in solidarity, we were able to turn a simple idea into a reality.

Several years ago, we set out to solve the infectious disease problem in Las Mercedes.  The building of a fully functioning health center was a key element of our plan.

But, we still have work to do.

With the health center up and running, the final piece of the puzzle will be put in place this summer through the installation of a fully functioning sewage system in collaboration with Engineers without Borders, the Mayor’s office, and the residents of Las Mercedes.   To complete this project, we need your help.  We need to raise $20,000 before May 1st, 2014 in order to purchase the materials for the sewage project and to reach our goal we still need a little more than $6,000.  Please help us reach our goal by making a donation.  Donating is easy, simply click on the link:  Just like the donations for the health center, every single dollar goes directly to the sewage project since we are 100% volunteer-based organization.

Thank you for your continued support and enjoy the pictures!


The Mayor’s office, in collaboration with the local residents, recently completed the beautiful brick entrance to the health center.


The front of the health center looks great but we still need to replace the tree that a goat ate a while back.


Welcome to the Las Mercedes Health Center!

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A few workers from the Ministry of Health setting up information boards at the front entrance of the health center.


Residents can get their medications from the new pharmacy…

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A well stocked pharmacy thanks to the Ministry of Health!


One of the 5 consultation rooms in the health center.


The medical personnel from the Ministry of Health setting up one of the consultation rooms.

More picture to come!

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Viva Las Mercedes!

Monday, May 27th, 2013

I arrived in Ecuador on May 13th and, fortunately, I have hardly had a moment to rest over the past couple weeks.  Most of my time has been dedicated to the preliminary project evaluation that was completed last week by Engineers without Borders (EWB), an international NGO that carries out infrastructure projects around the globe.  The first step for EWB in any new project is to complete an on-site evaluation to determine which project they will carry out, and if that project is feasible.  This evaluation includes a survey of the land as well as the completion of a community-based needs assessment that consists of house-to-house interviews.  Overall, their visit was a tremendous success!   If we can put all the pieces together, then our non-profit, EWB, the local government, and the residents of Las Mercedes can execute a collaborative project that will have tremendous impact in the community.   I’m excited to share the details of the proposed project, but let me start from the beginning…

Group Photo of EWB

From left to right: Miguel, Peter, Daniel, Maria, Joey, and Dana

On Saturday, May 18th the EWB team arrived in Guayaquil.  Edward, my engineer friend from Machala, and I received them at the airport.  The team consisted of 4 University of Miami engineering students, Miguel, Maria, Daniel, and Joey Ray, and a professional civil engineer, Peter, who has worked in Ecuador for over 20 years.  That Saturday night Peter treated everyone to a fancy meal at a nice restaurant in Guayaquil.   The next day, Sunday, May 19th, we headed to Huaquillas in a van the team rented in order to arrive in time for the 7pm community meeting.  The objective of the community meeting was not only to introduce the students to the residents, but to understand the needs of the community since the focus of this project is to address a social problem identified by community members.  The residents came out in force and we provided an open space for anyone to talk about community issues.   Throughout the night a number of issues were discussed including the lack of infrastructure in the Las Mercedes elementary school to the need for the installation of a sewage system.  Ultimately, it was clear that the sewage system was the project with the highest priority since the septic tanks were falling apart and becoming unserviceable (not to mention extremely toxic for the environment).   Putting in a sewage system, however, is extremely expensive and is monetarily beyond the scope of EWB, our non-profit, and the residents of Las Mercedes.  Nevertheless, we thanked everyone for their participation and told them that we would be hanging around the community all week to carry out the preliminary evaluations to determine the feasibility of various projects.

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Local government officials provided the EWB team with a tour of Las Mercedes and the water treatment plant

On Monday morning, May 20th, we were supposed to meet with the Mayor to kick off the week, but at the last minute the meeting was moved to the afternoon, so we had to make some quick adjustments to the schedule.  In the end, the change was actually a blessing – let me explain.  After making a few phone calls, we were able to move the Las Mercedes and water treatment plant tour up to 9am.  Alghough the tour went along well, many unexpected challenges popped up as we assessed the possibility of putting in a sewage or drainage system.  These difficulties definitely made us doubt the feasibility of either or both projects.  Later on that day, at around 11am, Geovanny, the city lawyer, informed me that the Mayor was going to call me in a minute with some big news.  I was a little worried.  The Mayor called and after exchanging a few pleasantries, he told me that the money was finally approved by the state government to put in a sewage system in Las Mercedes.  This was amazing news!   Essentially, the local government is now going to install a sewage system.  With this news in hand, we re-oriented our plans quickly and decided that the collaborative project could entail connecting each house to the sewage system since the local government will only put in the system itself and not connect the houses.  The local government officials thought this idea was fantastic and was also quickly approved by the local residents, namely the President of Las Mercedes, Nancy Piedra.

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The EWB team was given complete access to the plans and studies that have been completed by the local government engineers

At 2pm, we met with the Mayor of Huaquillas and presented the idea.  After a little explaining and a bit of politicking, we all agreed that the installation of a complete sewage system would be the project that would be carried out in the community.   To connect a house to the sewage system can cost anywhere between $150-200, but as a collaborative project, we can all work together to reduce that cost to practically the bare minimum and insure that every connection works as intended.  Needless to say, I am very excited about this project, as are the residents of Las Mercedes.

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The Mayor of Huaquillas, Manuel Aguirre Piedra, with the EWB team after the meeting.

We started the evaluation on Tuesday, May 21st with the project idea in hand.  Edward arrived early in the morning with his surveying equipment and we broke into two teams.  Peter, Miguel, and Maria went with Edward to complete the surveying of the land.  The other team, consisting of Daniel, Joey and I, worked on the community-based needs assessment questionnaire.  Later that day, while the surveying group was working hard, my group met with community residents to finalize the questionnaire for the door-to-door assessment.  After a few heated debates, which I loved, we finalized the survey.

The land surveying group finished ahead of schedule freeing them up to help out with the application of the questionnaire so on Wednesday, May 22nd, we began the survey.  The community members did an amazing job leading everything up – they were running around, talking like sociologists, and showing off their skills, making me feel quite proud.  In the end, we collected 109 surveys in only 1 ½ days!

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Marcia, the Treasurer of Las Mercedes, completing a survey

After we finished the survey early Thursday afternoon, we headed up to the Ecuador/Peru border to pick up some knick-knacks.   As usual, the border was filled with people selling and buying everything from birds, to baby goats, to bootleg hats.  After our border adventure everyone headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit.  Later that night we headed to Las Mercedes for a party at the President’s house.  The President and her team prepared an amazing dinner for everyone and most important, no one got sick!  After eating, we danced for quite a while on the President’s patio and Miguel showed everyone a few of the moves he learned growing up as a Salsa king in Miami.  By 10pm, everyone was pretty tired so we headed back to the hotel to rest up.

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The President and her team threw a going away party for the EWB team

On Friday, May 24th, the EWB team headed back to Guayaquil to catch their flight the next day.  Unfortunately I couldn’t accompany them, but I was able to say goodbye at the hotel.  Even though I took a nap about an hour after they left due to fatigue from the week, I am going to miss them.  The next step in the project is for them to submit a proposed plan to EWB headquarters for approval and within two months we will sign an agreement between all the participants – EWB, our non-profit, the residents, and the Mayor.  Needless to say, I am very excited about the prospects and if we can carry out this project in the coming year, the impact in the community will be incredible.   As I have noted previously, typhoid fever is common in the community, but with improved infrastructure – namely, a complete sewage system – the typhoid rate will be considerably decreased.

In addition to the sewage project, things are definitely moving in the right direction for the health center.  This coming week we are finishing up the paperwork to hand over the center to the health ministry.  If everything goes as planned, the health ministry will equip it and provide a full medical staff.  For now, this is my primary focus and hopefully I will have an update soon with some great news.  For the moment, please enjoy the pictures below!

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A number of Las Mercedes residents came to the meeting with the Mayor to show their support


George and me having lunch together. George is 83 years old and he was born and raised in Huaquillas. He loves to talk history as well a practice English with me.


The newest mural of the Las Mercedes Health Center enclosure


Celebrating Mariana’s birthday by smashing her face in the cake — It’s tradition.

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Developing the questions for the survey questionnaire with local residents

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The EWB team and me at a marker that divides Peru/Ecuador

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Perhaps this is my favorite picture — This lady tried to sell me a chicken in downtown Huaquillas.

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New directions for 2013…

January 27th, 2013


The community of Las Mercedes painted the walls of the Health Center enclosure with depictions that conveyed important messages and represented their culture

During the Winter break I traveled to Ecuador to continue collaborating with the community of Las Mercedes. I was really excited to work in the project for a full month and my time there was invigorating and motivating but also incredibly busy and tiring. There were several exciting happenings that I am happy to report to everyone:

1. The Las Mercedes Drainage System with EWB
Near the end of last year our project submission to build a local drainage system in Las Mercedes was accepted by Engineers without Borders (EWB), which is an NGO that carries out civil engineering projects around the world to help communities such as Las Mercedes build much needed infrastructure. The idea is that EWB will help the community build a drainage system in Las Mercedes to help minimize standing water during rainy season and reduce the spread of infectious disease that are mosquito-borne such as malaria. After quite a bit of planning, we completed our first project conference call between community members and the Engineers Without Borders team that we will be working with directly from the University of Miami.


We completed the community meeting with EWB via Skype in the Mayor’s office. The President of Las Mercedes, Nancy Piedra, is sitting to my left and our Health Promoter representative, Edith Torres is in the yellow shirt.

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about the meeting since we were planning on conducting it via Skype in the Mayor’s office. The possibilities of the different “technical difficulties” that could arise seemed endless. In the end, however, the meeting went off extremely well. Although the Mayor was not able to attend, several members of his staff participated including the vice-mayor of Huaquillas, Gabriela Macas, and a city attorney, Geovanny Ramos. The President of Las Mercedes, Nancy Piedra, and Health Promoter Edith Torres also participated and they were able to speak directly to the EWB team about the needs, desires, and concerns regarding the project. As the meeting moved along and we passed around my laptop from person to person it was clear that this collaboration is going to work out very well and I am excited about the possibilities. At the moment, we are waiting final approval on the travel plans for the EWB-Miami team but hopefully they will carry out their initial project assessment in May.

2. The Las Mercedes Health Center
Over the past few months the community of Las Mercedes has painted the walls of the health center enclosure and they look great! They also put in flowers, trees, and rocks in preparation for the inauguration over Winter break. However, the public hospital of Huaquillas underwent a leadership change in the past few months creating an opportunity for our health center to be integrated into the national health budget instead of working with the local government that is always strapped for resources. Not long after arriving in Huaquillas, I met personally with Dr. Freddy Granda, the new director of the hospital, and the hospital coordinator, Dr. Segundo Verazco, and they presented a plan to equip, staff, and run the health center this year pending approval from the higher leadership in the Health Ministry. During the break, we completed a formal petition for the health ministry and the plan includes a full medical staff including 2 doctors, an orthodontist, and several nurses. At this point, we are waiting to hear back from the health ministry regarding the proposal but we are pretty optimistic.


This is my favorite painting. On the far right a man is cutting down a tree with a machete but the tree is crying.

3. The Las Mercedes Co-op
We are also in the midst of creating a community cooperative in Las Mercedes that will be community-led and serve the needs of the community that were identified in the survey conducted this past summer. The general idea behind the cooperative is not to earn profit but to serve the needs of the families in Las Mercedes to improve their standard of living. Over the winter break, guidelines were established by community members for creating the community co-op. Currently, the community members are developing a plan of action that will be presented in the community in May for discussion, approval, and implementation.

4. Our new website
Thanks to the help of one of my students, Therese, our website also underwent a makeover during the break. The new webpage is a bit more user friendly and definitely much more attractive. We always appreciate input from supporters and we would love to hear your thoughts –

To finish the post I would like to include some of my favorite pictures from the trip. Thanks for your continued support!


For New Year’s, the tradition in Ecuador is to burn paper mache dolls and depictions. This one was our favorite – the world is being grilled by the toxins being released by corporate factories.


Geovanny’s brother, Javier, celebrated his birthday during the trip.


Getting ready for the community party to celebrate the New Year.


Community members built a few beds for plants outside the health center.


No smoking!


We carried out a community work party to place tons of rocks on one side of the health center where the cars/ambulance will park.


Jazmane and his little 7 month old sister. He takes her on a stroll every single day. What a great and proud big brother!

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An Amazing Summer

Monday, September 10th, 2012

It seems like just yesterday I was arriving in Las Mercedes to begin the summer.  After returning to Hawaii to begin the fall semester, I have finally had a few moments to reflect on all of the important events and accomplishments that happened over the past several months.  Without a doubt, we achieved more than I could have dreamed this summer.  Here are a few of the highlights that make us the most proud:

  • Thanks to our volunteer civil engineer, Edward Duarte, the Las Mercedes Community Health Center enclosure was completed.  The community, led by the President Sra. Nancy, is now leading up the beautification of the health center, which includes painting murals on the enclosure and planting flowers, trees, and grassy areas.  We must certainly give special thanks to Edward who led the direction of the completion of the health center and didn’t charge us one single cent.  In fact, he often donated materials and provided workers at no cost.

Edward with my mom and I. Edward is our civil engineer who led and directed the building of the health center enclosure. He graciously donated his time (as well as many materials) to our construction efforts in Las Mercedes.

  • A community-based needs assessment was completed by a group of highly active community members.  The group designed the community survey, carried out 123 door-to-door interviews, and analyzed the data.  In the end, they identified four future projects:

1.  Creating a youth and family computer center that will provide youth with the opportunity to complete their school homework for free instead of having to pay for computer usage at an internet center.  In addition, the community will run the computer center to include regular training programs for adults in order for them to learn how to use email and the Internet.

2.  Creating a community cooperative in order to create jobs within the community.  The community coop will be run by community members in a transparent and public manner.  In general, community members can form groups to submit proposals for starting a business.  Our foundation will help with the start-up costs and in order to receive funds a portion of the profits from the business will be put into a community fund to be used for local projects.

Every saturday a team of volunteers went door to door to interview families about their needs, issues, and dreams.

3.  A community-led recycling program where all profits are put into the community fund is an exciting possibility that emerged from the research.  In Latin America, plastic, cardboard, and other recyclable materials can be turned into good money.  In that sense, a locally run recycling program is not only a positive for the environment but also can produce community income to be used for local projects.

4.  Creating a program to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancy in the community.  This would involve the entire community and require not only education programs but also avenues of support for young women.

  • Dr. Andy Balder, a physician from Massachusetts and the father of Nat (Peace Corps volunteer in Arenillas), participated in a medical brigade in Las Mercedes that was run and directed by the local government.   Overall, the medical brigade was a tremendous success and we are hoping that we can expand it in the next year with the help of Dr. Balder.  To carry out the brigade, Nat and Sarah played a crucial role as our designated translators for Dr. Balder.

Dr. Andy Balder, a physician from Massachusetts, participated in a municipio led medical brigade in the Las Mercedes Basic School.

  • English classes were carried out every Sunday in the casa communal of Las Mercedes.  Throughout the summer we had a number of special guest teachers including Jairon, Ana, and of course, my mom, Marcia.
  • Jairon and Ana, students of mine from HPU, participated in a special student program that included working in the local elementary school and assisting in the execution of the community-based needs assessment.

Jairon, Ana, and Dr. Bywater working on the health center enclosure while I take pictures. Ha.

Needless to say, it was an incredible summer!  But not everything went perfectly.  Due to various political changes within the Ministry of Health in Ecuador they are no longer offering any help or assistance to our project.  But all is not lost and as we say in Ecuador “there is always a solution.”  The Mayor has promised that he will staff the health center with a medical doctor and nurse; however, we need to equip the health center with medical equipment.  Accordingly, we are now actively searching for organizations that can donate healthcare equipment to our health center.  If you know an organization that might be able to help out please let us know!

The last thing I would like to say is that I want to thank everyone for their tremendous support.  We could have not come this far without the help of so many great people along the way.  And, although many of our supporters have never visited Las Mercedes, we consider each and every one of you a vital and important part of our community.  Thanks to your support and help, there is a new culture growing in Las Mercedes –one that includes hope and optimism as well as a renewed desire to create a better, stronger, and healthier community.  Thank you again for your tremendous support and to view more pictures from the entire summer on Flickr, simply click here.

My mom and her new crew!

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Almost there…

Thursday, July 26th, 2012


The Las Mercedes English class

Over the past few weeks, several visitors have arrived in Huaquillas to volunteer.  Jairon and Ana were students of mine at Hawaii-Pacific University, and they arrived in early July to help out in various aspects of the project.  They leave in a couple of days but everyone is sad to see them go, particularly the kids of the Las Mercedes elementary school who woke up everyday excited to work with them in their classes.  For this blog, we have the pleasure of sharing some brief remarks that Jairon and Ana have would like to share with everyone regarding their experiences:


Jairon and Ana, the newlyweds, enjoying some amazing tortilla de yucca at Sra. Carmen’s house.

After graduating from Hawaii-Pacific University, my wife and I wanted to put the academic life aside and celebrate our achievement, for that reason we came to Ecuador to visit some family and enjoy the wonders this country has to offer to the world. After traveling around the country, we met with Professor Dana and visited the Las Mercedes Community. While at HPU we had the chance to work and learn about the community through our Sociology practicum, and now that we are here in Las Mercedes everything makes more sense.  I clearly understand that development does not come from ideas in a textbook, but from the willingness of the people to create better days. In Las Mercedes, we worked as English and gym instructors, we also went door by door taking surveys about the economic situation of Las Mercedes, and we even had the opportunity to contribute to the construction of the health center that will open soon. After all that hard work, we ended up with more than we expected to receive from the community; new friends, new experiences, a stronger understanding of world societies, and the satisfaction of having contributed to making this planet a little more joyful for new generations.

— Jairon Jarrin


Coach Jairon with the 6th grade class from the Las Mercedes basic school.

From the time Professor Dana invited me to come to Las Mercedes, he warned me that this community had a lot of needs, but he affirmed that help of any kind would be greatly appreciated. I decided to come to Las Mercedes with my husband to get to know the community and help in any way we could. A couple days later after getting to know several people and watching them working in their own projects, Professor Dana suggested that I could help by giving English classes to the children and helping out at the local elementary school. After interacting with the children and talking to the school’s principal, I felt a great sense of appreciation. I feel people in Las Mercedes have been very open and welcoming to me and my husband and have taught me that even with very little resources there is always hope if the community is willing to unite and work together.  Therefore, I would say that my experience in Las Mercedes has been a mixture of hard work and satisfaction.

–Ana Figueroa-Jarrin


Jairon and Ana stretching out the kindergarten class before exercising.

The Health Center Construction Progress

One of the Ecuadorian expressions that I have learned over the past few years that always seems to be relevant to everything that we do here is “poco a poco,” which basically means “little by little.”  Without a doubt, this has become our motto for the health center construction.  As an American, my culture has drilled into me the idea that time is money and everything must be done as completed as quickly as possible or all else is simply lost.  In Ecuador, and in Latin America in general, there is a quite a different concept of time, which can be a very refreshing approach to say the least but also this philosophy of how time flows can be incredibly frustrating and stressful at certain moments.  I can recall a countless amount of times where we, those pesky and annoying Americans, have borderline harassed people on a daily basis waiting for what seems like an eternity to receive an answer, response, or sometimes just an acknowledgement of some sort.  But, to our surprise, Ecuadorians rarely become annoyed, angered or act out by refusing to participate, do business with us, or by telling us to get lost.  I certainly couldn’t see myself having so much patience.  In fact, what is particularly surprising is that they often respect the fact that we simply refuse to give up.


The installation of the health center water pump. We have water flowing now!

In order to reciprocate, we attempt to put aside our “time is money” concept for the most part and carry out similar practices.  In this sense, we treat our Ecuadorian amigos and familia with respect, patience, and care with the aim of always looking to solve the issue and reach an agreement instead of allowing the “ugly American” to creep out as our frustration and anger takes over.   In all, the reciprocity and mutuality that we have practiced certainly has been tough but this type of empathetic approach based in humility, sensitivity, and understanding has created the path for the building of a new world where seemingly opposing cultural beliefs and ideas are able to work harmoniously to reach places where so many people thought we would never arrive.  With this approach in hand, we have surpassed a tremendous amount of barriers over the past year and we have now reached the final phase of the health center construction!  All that remains is the painting and beautification of the building – perhaps the most enjoyable part – that will take a few weeks to complete.  So without going on for much longer, I simply want to share an assortment of pictures that depict the progress of the construction over the past several weeks.  Thank you for all of your support and soon our dream will become a reality!


The sun setting in Las Mercedes.


We decided on the “orangsicle” color for the inside of the health center.


After digging the holes, the next step for the health center enclosure was to put up all of the pillars. There are 24 in all. This is a slow process as you can see.


Once the pillars were in place, the blocks were laid one by one. This is all such labor intensive work in the hot sun of Huaquillas.


Every day we advanced just a little bit more…


Along the sides and for the front of the enclosure only the bottom portion has traditional blocks. For the upper portion of the walls we used what they call “claraboya” in order to provide some light and make it look a lot more “bonito.”


The front of the health center will have two doors: One for vehicles (ambulance) and another for the patients.


The front of the health center before the doors were installed.

The main gate for the health center where an ambulance, car or truck can enter.

The entrance for the patients.

The only step remaining for the enclosure is to paint it!



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The final phase of construction begins!

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Last Sunday, June 3rd, we officially began the final phase of construction for the community health center in Las Mercedes by holding a community work party (“minga”).  The goal for the minga was to dig 24 holes for the health center enclosure and the community came out in force to support the effort!  Sure, digging holes sounds quite simple and easy but in reality it was incredibly difficult.  Not only was it about 90 degrees with the sun blazing but the ground was almost impenetrable at times.   On top of that, each hole needed to be about 2 ½ feet deep by 2 feet wide.  But none of that could stop us and we worked through the blistering heat all day.  The high level of camaraderie and commitment kept us focused and even little kids were trying to help out by digging their own holes (see picture below).  At various points during the day, other community members brought snacks, lemonade, and other goodies for everyone. In all, it was an amazing day and perhaps one of my favorite moments in my 3 years working Ecuador.  Needless to say, we are off to a good start!

Edward insuring that the measurements for the enclosure are accurate.

The dream team of hole digging – Juan Zapata (blue shirt), Manuel Moran, and me.

Taking a little rest…

The kids going to work!

Community collaboration in practice is quite beautiful.

Although the minga was the official start to the final phase of construction, the installation of the inside ceiling to the health center began a few days earlier. The workers came from Machala, about an hour away, and they are living in the health center until the job is done (about 2 weeks). I brought them a couple of air mattresses that Edward let me borrow and they seem pretty comfortable in the health center. I have to admit that I was a little worried about the quality of the work since Edward was able to negotiate an incredibly low price. But after only a couple of days my fears were gone. The inside ceiling is looking great and the pictures below don’t even do it justice!

Putting the final touches on the inside ceiling in the pharmacy

The ceiling in the lab. Looks great!

In addition to the construction, we have started the community-based research study that I received a grant from Hawaii-Pacific to carry out this summer. The objective of the research is to analyze the local economy with the goal of creating sustainable solutions to the economic problems that families face. But the focus of the project is not just to create jobs and sources of income but also to build a local economy that serves the needs of the community. Therefore, the first step is to carry out a community-based needs assessment to identify some of the most pressing community needs. In this sense, my role in the study is to simply facilitate the process so that the community members are in complete control not only of the study itself but also in the development of project ideas that emerge from the research. Currently, our team of investigators (about 20 community members) is developing the interview questionnaires. They are excited to participate in the study and I have been very impressed at their motivation and their desire to create change within the community.

We divided into groups and each one was tasked with developing the interview questions for the theme assigned (healthcare, education, basic services, etc.).

After creating the questions, each group presented their ideas to the entire team of investigators for discussion.

We are also now close to becoming a registered organization in Ecuador.  Once we are officially registered, we are eligible to receive medicine and other materials from a large charitable organization in Guayaquil. On Monday, June 3rd, the required documentation was tentatively accepted and we should receive an official answer within 8 to 15 business days.

English classes have started up once again — every Sunday in the Casa Communal of Las Mercedes. Surprisingly, the students seemed to have retained a significant amount of what they learned from last year. They are even starting to say apple correctly (instead of App-ley). I am also teaching them how to bowl using a ball made of plastic and bottles full of rocks. They seem to really like bowling and they have to count the points in English (twenty, thirty, etc.).

The students hard at work. They are so intelligent. Sometimes I wish I could get my university students to work half as hard!

Bowling – Las Mercedes Style!

I am all settled into my new apartment that is about 5 minutes from the center of Huaquillas. I actually live across the street from the Mayor and his brother-n-law is the owner of the building. It is very safe and quiet at night even with the pig behind my room that snores pretty loud sometimes. I am getting used to the roosters too.  I guess that is about it for now but I wanted to share a few of my favorite pictures from the first few weeks.  Enjoy!

Darlita and I enjoying some cane sugar. Not only is it delicious but also fun to eat.

Edward enjoying his lunch during the minga. Lots of white rice and cola.

I cut Edisson´s hair one day with my clippers. It turned out OK. He actually cried at several points during the haircut. I think he is starting to tear up in this picture.

In one of my first few days back in Ecuador a rainbow appeared over the health center. I am hoping that it was a sign of good things to come…

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