Tuesday, October 31, 2006

How to get involved: at home and aboad!

Habitat´s vision is: "A world where everyone lives in a decent home"

This post is in response to the inquiries I have received, both before I left the States, and since I have arrived here in Ecuador, about what it takes to:

  1. Fly to Ecuador (or other countries...) and build a house with Habitat?
    1. As an individual, or
    2. With a team.
  2. Be a long term volunteer with Habitat International?, (similar to what I am doing now);
  3. In general, get involved with Habitat.
I have linked this entry (click the title) to the "Get involved" site on the Habitat for Humanity International website. There are also MANY links below!

Answer to Question Number 1 (Travel to another country to build):
  • Global Village is the primary program through which Habitat receives international-building groups. We recive groups here in Ecuador which have formed online and are made up of complete strangers, university students, church groups, interest groups etc.
    • Individuals can apply online to join an ¨open team."
    • Groups which are already formed (friends, family, colleagues, students, churches, etc.) can create ¨closed¨ teams which are not posted online.
      • Team leaders must attend a Habitat Global Village leaders training before the trip.
  • Other ways to volunteer as a builder internationally:
    • If you are traveling individually, or with less than 4 people, you can contact individual international offices (such as Ecuador- ivp@hphecuador.org) to determine what work is available and how you may assist.
    • If a global village team is already scheduled to build in the location you are interested in, you may be able to join them.
    • Global Church Partnerships
Answer to Question Number 2 (Longer term, 3 months up to two years, individual international volunteer opportunities):
  • International Volunteer Program (IVP) is a new pilot project in which I am participating; I believe it is about to complete 2 years of existance.
    • General Information
    • Positions Available
    • There are positions all over Latin America, and positions have been created in Asia, Europe and Africa.
    • These positions are specialized in nature and can be anything from Volunteer Coordinator (this is what I am doing), to Website Development, Fundraising, Community Relations, etc.
Answer to Question Number 3 (In general, how to get involved with Habitat):

Biking with the "Dutchmen" from 15,000 feet!

I went on a two-day trip with "The Biking Dutchmen" the weekend of the 21st-22nd of October.

The guide owner really is a Dutchman. Apparently he showed up in Ecuador 30 years ago, planning to be here only a day... and then he found his future wife (an Ecuadorian who speaks German) and eventually started this mountain biking business. (I have included a link- click on this entry's title).

Two refitted landrovers follow group of bikers around for trips of generally 1 to 5 days and provide food and simple lodging. Apparently there are also trips for a few diehard groups from Europe that do multi-week , all over the country, tours!
I needed to get OUT of the city, and this seemed like a good way to do it! This particular "tour" included downhill from the refuge parking at the Parque Nacional de Cotopaxi (Cotopaxi is the tallest "active" volcano in the world), and then down hill from Quilotoa (an awesome volcanic crater lake) and a then a bunch of ups and downs through a gorgeous valley system! (see pic above).

Below is Cotopaxi from a much lower point than our initial 15,000 feet! The terrain here is called Paramo, a highlands grasslands which is only found in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru (and maybe a bit of Chile).

This next pic was taken from the top of our decent from Cotopaxi. You can see the refuge in the background where travelers stay and sleep for a few hours before attempting to climb. The cyclists in the forground were all part of the two day trip and are from Scotland, Germany, Switzerland and Holland.

Here is the sign at our initial point of departure, citing the altitudes of the park... I have a metric/british system conversion web page included in my links on the left!

Below are some of my fellow cyclists, Hernan from Argentina and Tine from Scotland.

Here is the crater lake Quilatoa. After our Cotopaxi adventure (and my one and only dramatic fall, from which I still have some nice bruises... I am not sure I am a natural downhill biker!). Our group split, and those doing the one-day trip returned to Quito, while 14 of us continued on.... to a hostel to get some rest before the next day of biking!
The hostel, and the WHOLE town... of 20 families.... had lost electricity that night, so we had an adventure finding places to sleep in the dark. The original plan in the morning was for everyone to take a morning hike down to the crater lake, return for breakfast and go for a fairly easy downhill ride for about 35 km. We were given another choice, however, to take a longer and more challenging route, but to not have time to hike to the crater lake. Everyone decided they wanted the longer challenging ride.
Four of us decided that we ALSO wanted to hike to the cater lake, and I am glad we did! The lake was beautiful with the sunrise. We had to complete our hike by around 730am in order to get breakfast, so we started it at 6am. I decided to jump in the lake to have the full experience:-). It was COLD! No thermal vents still active in this crater (actually I am not sure)!
The days biking was absolutely awesome with views around every corner. We were on an old , barely used, dirt road that went through a few towns.

We ended our trek when the road turned to steep, unkept, cobblestone! I definately would recommend these trips to others... as long as you have spent at least some time on a mountain bike.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Path to a New Passport

Losing a passport (ehhem... having it stolen by force), is definately not a travel experience many of us daydream about. However I am finding the replacement an interesting process and I hope that it ends sucessfully... in a depressingly blank, but new and good for many more years, US passport.

Step 1. Contact the local Embassy-Consulate Section.
I called the US embassy here in Quito the morning after my passport was stolen. I asked what I needed to do. I was told I needed to make a police report at the police station which covered the area where the crime took place and that I needed to bring a report to the embassy. I was told I could make an appointment for that afternoon at the consular section, however I decided to be a bit more realistic about the time it would take to make my report at the Ecuadorian police (smart thinking Erin!).. and I made the appointment for the next morning (today).

Step 2. Report the stolen Passport to the Ecuadorian Police.
This was actually more complicated... but at the same time ridiculously suferficial... of a process than one might think. First I tried to look up the coverage areas for the local police online. After many unsuccessful leads, someone remembered that our secretary´s uncle works for the Ecuadorian Police. She called him and found out there really wasn´t anything near where I was mugged. Rather I should go to the "Policia Judicial" downtown. Valeria, a co-worker, and I headed to the "mariscal" the most touristy area, and the area most full of bars, restaraunts in Quito. When we entered we thought it was the right place: lot´s of pissed off-sad people were making "denuncios", reports of robberies and other crimes. However when we described our situation and the word "extranjero" entered the conversation... it was "to the tourism police" for us.

Step 2. (Continued). Report the stolen passport to a differentEcuadorian Police.
Next we went down the street one block to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where a Tourism police attache is located. As soon as the problem was discerned at the front gate we were escorted with gusto to the third floor, which appeared to be the police lounge. This police station was much better off than the former.... nice couches, TV on, police officers lounging around and socializing. We were the only "clients" in the office at the time and were immediately seated and address. Unfortunetly, it was soon apparent that this was also not the right place. The officer was surprised to find out that I didn´t have anything, other than the passport, of much value to report. Apparently this police stations sole function is to help tourists recover insurance funds for expensive items. This officer could write me a report to be used to give to an insurance company but he assured me that I needed to go to another type of police office, "a comisaria."

Step 2 (Continued for the 2nd and last time). Report stolen passport to Policia Comisaria.
The third station was a bit further away and not in such an obvious location. We finally spotted the sign and then walked right by it again by accident. When we finally found ourselves in front of a guy with a computer... and a typewriter(!). All I had to do was tell him where I was, what was stolen, and the passport number. He didn´t ask for identification although I did show other forms of identification. It was lucky that we had made copies of the passport (although, then again... that is the only reason I had the passport with me in the first place when it was stolen), as I was able to get the number through the office. I had the number saved in other places as well... but just not with me. After paying 25 cents for the paper on which the report was going to be typed-printed (both), I was the proud owner of a "denuncio". yeah!

Step 3. Go to the Embassy for Passport Appointment.
This was an experience. I went to the Embassy this morning and there were all sorts of people waiting at the embassy this morning in the Consular Affairs section (did I really want to work at one of these!¿¿?... Foreign Service offices usually have their first two years´ assignments working in a Consular Affairs office doing VISA interviews... yikes!).. People were waiting for visa interviews... passport applications for foreign-born citizen´s etc. I actually was the only person to walk into the United States Citizen´s Passports office after going through security and then finnally figuring out which direction in the large internal office and multiple waiting rooms was appropriate. When I finnally talked to someone I found out that whoever I talked to on the phone had been obtusely incomplete in their directions (you need a "denuncio" and an appointment here). I actually needed another report, from the Ecuadorian Policia Migration Services office, varifying when I used the passport to enter the country... and that I actually did use the passport to enter the country. Also, the photos that I had planned to use for my Ecuadorian Visa before I left the states would not meet the requirements for the Passport, so I needed new photos. Lastly I needed to fill some forms and have proof of: 1. US Citizenship, 2. Indentity

Step 3. (the former will actually be Step 7). Get a Migration Services Report.
The "Servicios Migratorios" office was, of course, at the other side of town. After I left the Embassy I stopped by the South American Explorers (see side-bar link, these people are awesome) to pick up my nalgen bottle I left there on Tuesday (the fateful day of the mugging), and to check out the location of the Servicios Migratorios on the Club´s BIG map. After determining my route, I headed North. This part of the process was relatively painless, all I had to do was produce the "denuncio" and pay $5. The wait was only about 15 minutes.

Step 4. Obtain Passport Pics.
At this point it was only 11am and my appointment at the Embassy had been at 9am. I figured since I was making such good time, I should continue in pursuit of the remaining components required for the passport. The embassy had recommended a photography shop and I was familiar with the area of town, so I decided to make things simple and take their recommendation. 4 photographs, 2x2 inces, on white backing, in color, without certian types of finish ....etc, etc, etc.... $6.

Step 5. Fill out documents and Collect Proofs of Citizenship and Identity.
This doesn´t seem too bad... I am filling them out now. The problem is that an address for mailing of the passport purposes is requested... and I think I would rather pick it up. The paperwork also lists forms of Proof of Identy that are considered approipriate. It appears my driver´s license and international "youth" cards should prove sufficient for this. The problem is the "Proof of Citizenship". The list of possible proofs includes ... a passport (an old one will suffice), an original birth cirtificate, or notice of registration or proff of approved registraion in a US consular office. This is a problem: I obviously do not have the passport, because it was stolen. I don´t have my orignal birth certificate, although I suppose it COULD be sent via mail and then i would have to keep track of another document. I did register online with the US Department of State. HOWEVER, I never recieved any sort of confirmation, or proof of excepted registration. I am able to access my registered account, and all the information is there. I decided to contact the Embassy again to ask about this point.

Step 6. Contact the Embassy Again... for another appointment and to inquire about proofs of Citizenship.
So... the person I talked to at the embassy this time said.... "they can get proof here". So I made another appointment for Monday. I will also bring a copy of the former passport and the report of the registration I filed with the State Department. We´ll see how it goes... stay tuned.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

"My Heart" in Santo Domingo

An unexpected activity during building in Santo Domingo was the "gardening" our group did. The area the house was located had a small garden plot in the front yard and many of the other houses on the street had well-tended gardens.... so Reymundo, the house owner we worked with was excited when we offered to plant his.

Joselyn, the daughter of a "maestro" (teacher) on the worksite, and I became the planters and the two Northern Ireland guys, Mark and Andrew, became the fencebuilders (the fence-building became an epic task, see photos). As we started, I asked Reymundo how he wanted the design of the garden laid out: stripes, certain plants in certain areas?... He wanted me to put my name! "I can't do that!" I told him (that seemed really wierd, to have my name in his front yard!). Then he told me to put a big heart in the middle, to symbolize the love that was going into the house.

The plants we used in the garden came from a nearby park! Joselyn had some gardening experience and knew which plants grew from runners, so all we had to do was cut chunks off witha machete and stick them in the dirt. I had some misgivings about letting the 12 year old hack away with a machete... however it was obvious that she had more experience with the knife than I did... so I couldn't really object.

As we planted and the garden started to take shape, Reymundo was very impressed and said that the heart was mine and that I was leaving it there at his house...

Here's a photo of me, with my fellow gardener Joselyn, after we had finished our multi-colored plantings: yellow, red, and a few shades of green.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Wow. Ecuadorian Election Trivia

In Ecuador, voting is obligatory once one reaches their 18th birthday.

However, once a citizen reaches the age of 65, they are no longer required to vote.

Military and national police are not allowed to vote. I am guessing this has something to do with preventing the politicization of the armed forces... there have been attempted and successful military coups.

If you do not vote, and you were supposed to (legally required to), you cannot leave the country legally, process passport-visa papers, make certain transactions at the banks... etc.

No alcohol will be legally sold in Ecuadorian liquor establishments from today (Friday, the 13th of October) until Monday, the 16th of October, because the elections will be held all Sunday.

The election workers are randomly selected citizens! This process sounds kind of like jury duty in the US. If your name is selected, you must be at your assigned table, at your precinct, in order to manage that table from 7am until 7pm! (as far as training, oversight ect... I have no idea how that part of the process works at this point).

The TSE, ¨Tribunal Supremo Electoral¨ ¨garantees¨(according to their propaganda) democracy. Here is their candidates page link: http://www.tse.gov.ec/Candidatos2006/

Thursday, October 12, 2006

National Elections: This Weekend!

There are 13 candidates for president of the Republic of Ecuador!!

Elections will be held SUNDAY, this weekend, for President, Vice President, Diputados (“Deputies,” for congress representing the country’s “provinces” which are similar to the US states), Concejeros (similar to state representatives, but here for the provinces), Consejales (similar to city counselors) and Parlamentarios Andinos (these representing Ecuador in the multi-nation Comunidad Andina de Naciones, Community of Andean Nations). Voting is mandatory for Ecuadorian citizens over the age of 18 and is, for the first time, available for Ecuadorians who have migrated to other countries (mostly the US, Spain and Italy).

There will almost certainly be a presidential run-off; in order to win a candidate must have 40 percent of the vote and win by at least ten percent. With 13 candidates, this would be an incredible feat. Not all the candidates represent national parties; some represent alliances which gained enough support to be recognized in the elections.

There are considered to be 4 front-runners in the presidential race: Rafael Correa, Cynthia Viteri, Alvaro Naboa, and Leon Roldos. These four candidates took part in a live forum last week (see link on right if you are interested).

The woman pictured above is Cynthia Viteri. I have posted her propoganda pic, so you have an example of the typical ¨woman candidate pose.¨ Ecuadorian colors on the bracelet, over the heart, are particularly standard! Viteri is the only woman candidate among the 13 and seems to be well liked as a person. However there is much apprehension about her financial backing originating of the ¨old politicos¨, and she currently stands as fourth in national polls. She is considered to be on the right, more conservative range of the political spectrum.

The candidate pictured to the right is Naboa, the richest Ecuadorian businessman, and considered to be the farthest right of the four leading candidates. He has run in two previous presidential elections. He has been traveling around the country working hard for the ¨poor vote¨by distributing gifts and healthcare. Naboa is currently second to Correa (below) in the national polls. Naboa has spoken of cutting ties with Venesuela and Cuba if he is elected.

To the left is Correa, currently first in national polls. He definately has the most ¨catchy¨campaign with an upbeat theme song, commercials featuring a snapping belt, and the most vibrant colors: neon green and electric blue. Of the forerunners, he is the candidate most supportive of Hugo Chavez in Venesuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Correa is an economist who had a three month stint as the Minister of Economics, during which he established a national following. Correa obtained his doctorate in Economics in the US. Many Ecuadorians are concerned about Correa´s potencial to make irratic decisions and his general stance against any action that ¨the government¨ has previously taken. He is the only candidate of these four who has suggested he would support a change, or at least the addition of, another currency other than the US dollar (which has been used here since 1998).

Below is the candidate currently in third place in the Ecuadorian polls. He is considered a moderate left (as compared with Correa), and is the candidate of the alliance of two parties, the ¨Red Etica Democracia¨ and the Izquierda Democrática.¨ Roldos is a former Vice-president, former Deputy (congressman) and attorney by trade. His foreign policies lie somewhere in between Correa and Naboa (as do Viteri´s), and are more diplomatic in nature.

Up until about two weeks ago, 70 percent of Ecuadorians were unsure of their choice for president. I am not sure what the uncertaintly number is at this point, however it is still high enough to swing the election in a variety of directions.

This election should be very interesting as Correa, the candidate currently rated first in polls, and Naboa who is second, are the most extreme of the four in terms of their foriegn policies (however in opposite directions). Also, Correa is one of the candidates who does not represent a party, but rather an alliance. He has suggested disbanning congress and states plans for a national assembly to reconsider the national constitution.

The next round of elections (between the two finalists), will be held the 26th of November.

When the new president takes office in January, it will have been 10 years since the last time an Ecuadorian president completed a full 4-year term.

The current president is Palacios. He is not a candidate for President, he was the Vice President under Lucio Gutierrez, who was the last president elected to ofice, in 2003. Palacios was elevated to President when Gutierrez was removed during a popular uprising in 2005. Gutierrez, among other things, had tried to remove the Ecuadorian Supreme Court, . When I represented Ecuador for NMSU’s Model United Nation’s team in 2003, Gutierrez had just taken office. It is interesting to see the next phase of Ecuadorian government first hand.....!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Carmen´s Article (words from a Global Village Volunteer!)

This is the second part of a two part article that Carmen wrote documenting her experiences with the Habitat for Humanity Global Village program. Unfortunetly I had a bit of trouble adding some of her pics, so the article is not entirely complete! Carmen was my "roomie" my first week in Ecuador, and nursed me back to health when I was pretty ill for a couple days... and then I went to the doctor with her the next day!

Have Hammer, Will Travel…Part 2

Thoughts on the Road with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program

By Carmen Español

*Carmen taking a break

Take 1 Family + 1 part Sweat + 2 parts Love = 1 Habitat Home (and Global Village Community). This is the basic “recipe” of my Habitat experience. It’s hard to put into words as I sit here writing a description of the project. It was truly an incredibly amazing experience that I’ll never forget, and I am sure that my whole team would agree with me. I learned that a house is more than bricks and mortar and a building. It’s a home that represents the community of individuals that create it. I left a big chunk of my heart in a home in Santo
, Ecuador

(*Carmen and baby Aliso)

I worked alongside the “maestros” Raymundo and Jose and 16 other Habitat volunteers from the US, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, New Zealand and Puerto Rico, as well as the local affiliate staff of Ecuador. In the short course of our stay, we became a small “family” as we physically worked together, ate, played, and interacted with one another.

(*Pic: James Plastering)

There were many construction lessons to learn on the project – how to mix cement, how to plaster, etc. But many life lessons as well. From the children I learned that language is not necessary or required for having fun or falling in love. No directions necessary for blowing bubbles. We all fell head over heels for the children and easily had fun without knowing a word of Spanish. It was easy with the innocence and sincerity that is a wonderful quality children have. Erica, Marianela, Anita, Natalie, Andrea, Diego, Santiago, Leann, and baby Aliso’s smiles will be forever etched in my memory.

(*Pic: Erin getting water for the cement mix)

So too, will the hard work, companionship, and solidarity I witnessed from my team members – Jad, Lacy, Prissy, Betsy, Mike, Jimmy, Steve, Dave, Erin, Greg, Andrew, Marc, Francisco, Hugo, Ana Lucia, Valeria, and Narcisa be remembered. Many hands make the work light.

(*Pic: Dr. Marianela)

On Day One, I thought, I’m not gonna make it to the end of the week! I was exhausted and spent. Then we got to the hotel, showered, and were off to the welcome reception arranged by the local affiliate staff. The families and staff would all be there to meet us and get to know us. It was great to hear in our introductions, the various reasons people came and how their first day went. I was glad to hear that I wasn’t the only one who felt TIRED and then felt really proud of all our work when Hugo announced that our team had accomplished 3 days scheduled work in 1 day. We all went, WOW! Then the families shared their stories, and it felt like we were a team helping to make a dream come true. We worked together on something tangible and we could see the fruits of our labor and progress each day. The kids shining faces and hugs made all the soreness fade from memory and motivated us.

(*Pic: Greg, Prissy, Lacy & Dave taking a little siesta after lunch)

Each day we had activities planned after our work day ended and so our days were full of hard work and cultural activities. Day One we had the welcome reception and dinner with the families, Day Two a soccer match with the families (we won!) and dinner with them, Day Three a visit to the Tsachiles indigenous reservation, Day Four a visit to an orphanage for boys, and Day Five the dedication and blessing of the mostly-finished house and farewell reception. Our R&R day we had to head back to Quito, and stopped on the way back at Mindo Rainforest for hiking and rafting. Of course, we managed to squeeze in a little dancing and karaoke on a few of the days we weren’t totally exhausted.

The farewell reception with the families was joyous and wonderful, until the end. It was difficult emotionally and wrenching trying to say goodbye to everyone. We had formed attachments to the children. They were crying and clinging to us. After half an hour, the parents had to quite literally pull them off and drag them away. We were all upset, especially the guys.

I would encourage anyone reading this, to consider a volunteer vacation such as this. It is truly a rewarding and wonderful experience. Here are a few words from my team upon arrival home:

(Pic:v*Jose pulls Marianela from Ken to go home)

I wish you all to settle back into normal life with fond memories of our team and our time in Ecuador. Never forget what we did there, and how we did it, with love.” ---Marc from Armagh, Northern Ireland

“You have certainly set the bar high for any teams I will work with in the future. Excellent team spirit, excellent hard work, excellent company and excellent memories. Please keep up your social contributions. As we saw our efforts truly change the lives of a family.” ---Jad from Washington DC

“Thank you all for making last week a very . . .very good week. Even with the rain forest experience (laughing) . . . If any of you meander your way to Chicago, please do give me a call . . . Mi casa es su casa . . .OR. . .as Jad would have said in Spanish . .. ‘My houso is your houso’, subsequently punctuated by "buEEENO!!!!!!" ---Ken from Chicago

For more information about Habitat International, go to:


For information on the Ecuador project, go to:


For Part 1 of this article go to page 4 of:


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Carumba! Some random things…

Last summer in Peru I saw these animals kept as domestic pets, and eaten. Cui, (COO-EE) or guinea pig, is also eaten in Ecuador. I have not tried it, although I thought I would.
However, after seeing these guys being roasted, I am having second thoughts!
Here’s a flower that is blooming all over Quito right now. It looks like a type of hibiscus, but I haven’t ever seen hibiscus plants that are full -sized trees like these!

We have entered ¨Winter¨. There are two seasons in this high altitude, equitorial city of Quito: winter and summer. ¨Winter¨ apparently lasts until somewhere between March-May and is characterized by increased rains and cooler-colder weather.

From my neighborhood, three volcanos are visible, depending on the air quality and weather on a given day. Here is COtopaxi, the most famous of the three.

Provinces are named after their volcanos or mountains. I live in Pinchincha, because the primary volcano is the Pinchincha.
This is a phot taken of Quito from part-way-up the Pinchincha volcano. The was only snow on the mountain... my understanding is that it never snows in the city below. The Andes are the longest mountain chain in the world... aren´t they beautiful!?

Here is a pic of one of my favorite fruits here. It is mostly fun because it has a brittle, hard “shell” and you open it by cracking it.

The inside is full of greenish jelly filled membranes which each contain a seed (Definitely not for those of you have problems with weird textures! And I know there are several of you out there!). The seeds are kind of crunchy and the jellylike parts are sweet, (but not overly so).

So… pretty much it is an alien-fruit! (at least to me!).

Here’s an animal that was being maintained as a pet by the “Colorados” in Santo Domingo de los Colorados. It was trying to fight with a cat, a dog and its owner family! It actually bit a little boy on the ankle! I thought it looked like a cross between a mongoose and a ferret.

It is a …..? probably some type of amazon ferret? If someone knows please tell me!

There is a large public park a close walk from my apartment, “Parque Carolina”, which I was pretty excited about. It has three “zones”: the sports zone, the arobic zone, and the aquatic zone. The sports zone has playing fields and courts of all types: tennis, soccer, volleyball, basketball… a short moter-cross bike circuit along with bikes to rent, horses to rent, a skate/bike park. The arobic zone has a whole maze of exercise stations and the aquatic section has a small lake with paddle boats. You can rent a horse, a motorcross bike, or a boat in this park...

The whole park is surrounded by bike trails and walking trails with marked distances. I was happy to find so many runners at Parque Carolina my first weekend here--- I hope to have amazing lung capacity, after running regularly (still working on this part) at 9 thousand+ feet, when I return to the States!

My new favorite park, however, is the ¨Parque Metropolitano.¨ It is on a mini-mountain (so higher than 9 thousand feet) in the middle of the city! I believe I read somewhere that it is larger than Central Park in NYC!! and it does seem to be! I went running there last weekend... and my run turned into a very long exhausting hike... because I was having such a good time exploring the park! Pics to come, the views from the park are awesome (I didn´t bring my camera on my ¨run¨).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

My Habitat Job

I am working in the “Volunteer Development” office within the National Habitat Office in Quito.

Here’s a photo of my co-workers in the Volunteer Development department: Hugo, Jonathan, and Valeria. Valeria and I have the same birthday!—except she turned 25 and I turned 26;-).

A LOT is changing organizationally in Habitat Ecuador!... I unknowingly picked an ¨era of flux¨ as my time to arrive here! This is both exciting... and will make things more challenging.

The first change is that the national organization is consolidating affiliates, from 7 to 3, in order to achieve greater outcomes in the areas that need it most. Building will be taking place in: Guayaquil, Santo Domingo, and Tosagua. These towns-cities are in the provinces with the greatest need in terms of housing deficits and poverty. Also, Habitat Ecuador must become financially independent of Habitat International (Americus, Georgia, USA) within the next few years and they are pursuing this goal by concentrating on the areas where houses are most needed and are most easily erected in order to both conserve resources and accomplish the greatest impact.

The next change is a shift in leadership and personnel! Already, I have been to the farewell party for the current director. Hugo, former Volunteer Mobilization Church Relations Coordinator, will be our new Director... which means the Volunteer Mobilization Department is losing a person. On top of that, Valeria is finishing school and cannot travel with international brigades until February! So our office of 4 (including me), is now staffed at 2.5, and I will be traveling with brigades from the end of November until March.

This is the Habitat Office building (you can see the Habitat sign on the second floor window), and the view of the mountains from the street in front of the office.

In addition to:

a. General support within the National Office and Volunteer Development office
(I have already helped out with several translations, the annual report and project proposals), and

b. Traveling with the brigades almost non-stop beginning in November,

my job is to strengthen the volunteer program by:

(not necessarily in order of importance)

1. Define and further develop an individual volunteer program:

  • Expand the breadth and depth of volunteer opportunities for individuals
  • Create mechanisms for general and profesional volunteerism
  • Coordinate with all Ecuador Habitat departments to gain participation from all areas
  • Promote the new and expanded opportunities through national and international means

2. Improve the brigades’-general volunteers´ orientation process:

  • Create materials and method to convey the global, national and local housing and living conditions context in which the volunteers are working.
  • Educate volunteers as to the country-specific economics, politics and cultural factors which contribute to, or aggrivate, the country´s housing problems.
3. Build the international volunteer brigades program:

  • Increasing the number of brigades
  • Broadening the geographical representation of the brigades to have a greater proportion of the world represented (volunteers are currently primarily from the United States).
  • Creating an “alternative” brigade volunteer track for those volunteers who either feel they are not capable of building, or for times during the year that construction work may be saturated.

4. Improve volunteers´ follow-up process:

  • Create mechanism for volunteers to share their experiences in their home countries to be shared with their families, clubs and community orgs, friends, coworkers and classmates.
  • Improve follow-up communications with volunteers by creating news bulletins and other materials regarding Habitat Ecuador, and Habitat International.