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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Paute, Ecuador - A Christmas Mission

Amidst the craziness that most of us experience as part of Christmas, Ron and I suited up to play elves in the town of Paute (pronounced POW-tay) about 45 minutes outside of Cuenca.  We were fortunate enough to be some of the volunteers included in one of the major holiday deliveries through Hearts of Gold Foundation, a non-profit agency here in Cuenca. (I've also written an article for them on their website.) This was our very first trip out of Cuenca since we arrived!  We were quite excited to go.

The trip to Paute was quite beautiful.  We passed through a region that is well known for growing flowers and you could see green houses and fields stretching out to the foothills.  Babies breath seemed the most prevalent crop at this time of year.  I'd love to take time to tour some of the farms sometime in the future.

Getting on the bus

Countryside of Azuay Prefecture
We planned on visiting a school for mentally challenged children and a home for abandoned elders to deliver gifts.  En route we stopped once to look at a project that was spear headed by Hearts of Gold.

The house on the left is a new build, with solid cement construction and luxuries like windows.  The building you see on the right is the residents' current home and also operates as their place of business.  They operate a small store out of the front of the shack.  As you can see, the new building has a nice weatherproof roof, much more space and offers far more security.  It was evident that the matriarch was thrilled with the progress of her new home.  

We arrived at the school and began to unpack the bus.  As soon as we stepped onto the school grounds we were rushed by enthusiastic children, all eager to give us hugs and kisses of greeting.  Even the parents and teachers were visibly excited to see us and greeted us with traditional cheek kisses and words of welcome.  Before we started giving out presents and food, the staff invited us to go out back of the school for a "celebration".  We spent a good hour dancing and clapping with all the children in their courtyard.  They were tireless, but we ended our fiesta with a rousing "Gangnam Style" ...yes, it has made it all the way to Paute, Ecuador!  Then our fun truly began.  We handed out food hampers to the mother's who waited with quiet anticipation and then gave stuffed animals to the students and bags of sweets to all the children which included the students and many of their siblings.

One of the students proudly showing off some of their Christmas arts & crafts made from reclaimed objects.

The start of the "fiesta"...I was too busy dancing to take more pictures.
One mother was moved to tears and gave a very emotional speech thanking Hearts of Gold for their good work.  Of course, we were also offered refreshments, as hospitality is not overlooked no matter how little people have. We left through a phalanx of mothers, wanting to kiss, hug and thank was very very moving...I don't know if I can explain it and I can feel myself tearing up as I write.

Between the emotions, dancing and hot sun, we were all tired, so we took a lunch break and stopped at a Parradilla (Argentinian style barbeque) for lunch.  The restaurant is not yet open, but they allowed us to use their property for our break.  The mother is a volunteer at the abandoned elders home and generously opened her doors to us. (She actually housed many of the elders, while the residency was being built.)  Valley Farms Butchers is a lovely stop, with gorgeous grounds, a swimming pool and delicious and unique treats.  (We had canned green apricots, a local specialty, which were delicious!) They also offered up some very tasty strawberry ice-cream, which was perfect on a hot afternoon. (Another display of hospitality.) Can you believe that I didn't even think of taking pictures of the property???  I do have one of the apricots.

Well sated and partially rested we took the short trip to the old folks home.  We were more prepared, but the enthusiastic greeting was still heart rending.  Another fiesta ensued, with much dancing, this time to more traditional music and the residents danced us off our feet.  Even Ron got in to the action! (He said I was allowed to post his photo!)

Cutting a rug...the stuffed critters we gave as gifts are on the table.

Overview of most of the gang "gettin' down"
You might think it odd, to give elderly people stuffed toys, but they really enjoyed them.  They act as an additional pillow to prop up sore feet or stabilize aching backs and can also be hugged and chatted to in times of need.  One lady kept asking "Porque no bailan?" (Why aren't they dancing?) as the heat in the atrium soared and the day took it's toll on us weak gringos!  I did my best to keep up and slept like the dead last night.  We took time to stop and chat to each resident before we left and they pleaded for us to return.  I don't think they get a lot of visitors, as their own families are either gone or have abandoned them.  Of course, we were given gifts before we left, even though these lovely people have so little.  Mind boggling.

I was reminded that its not what we have that brings us happiness, but what lives in our hearts.  I started out the day thinking about how great it would be to do something for the people in need and I wound up getting so much more in return that my heart can't hold a single extra thing.  This is the Ecuador that I wanted to become a part of and Ron and I have been blessed to have experienced it so soon. (As I listen to "Van Diemen's Land" by U2...if you don't know it, look it's about the struggle for rights and hope.)

More countryside


  1. What a great thing to be able to do, especially at Christmas, how did you happen to get involved so quickly.
    Are there a lot of expats as volunteers ?

  2. I saw an ad while we still lived in PEI for the charity, they were looking for writers so I applied. We've been involved since almost the first day we got here. Almost all of the volunteers are expats, but it's a fairly small operation with only two, maybe three now, full time employees and the rest volunteers. We were lucky to get to go.