Archive | December 2012

Top Twenty of 2012

Last year we welcomed 2012 with this video post and in 2010 I counted down my Top 10 Images from that year. I had quite a few ties that time around so to save me from having to choose, I’m going to do the Top Twenty Images from 2012 (according to me).

Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year!



Best Interacting with Nature

Paul and Heather Hike

Minga in Esmeraldas


Best Pattern

Vivero Funditas



Best Abstract

Zig Zag Sky

Quito Posters


Best Ecuadorian Moment


Cumpleaños Feliz...


Best Vacation Postcard

Blue Footed Booby

Pelican Perch


Best Frame

Cuenca Window View



Best Group Photo

Mujeres Cambia Group Shot

Neo Juventud


Best Aerial Photo

View from Above



Best Night Photo

El Castillo



Best Boat Photo

Boat on Beach

Boat Next Door

Mujeres Cambia 2012

Starting a Savings Program at Mujeres Cambia

Paul Talks about Investing

Several months ago we started a social loan fund at Mujeres Cambia. The idea behind the fund is that if a member has an emergency they can ask for a loan from this fund. What we didn’t realize in the beginning was how popular this loan fund would be. One member asked for a loan for $10 for a birthday cake for her son. Another asked for a loan to buy prescription glasses for her daughter. It didn’t make sense, especially because we saw the group bringing in money. In addition, there were more people asking for loans than we had available. Bringing in more money wasn’t enough if the women didn’t have a savings plan.

So, we added a Savings Program to the financial literacy component of the group. In the past few months we have helped members open up personal bank accounts at a local bank. Of the 18 members in the group, 2 had accounts when we started while the remaining 16 had never had a bank account before. So far, we have opened 12 new accounts and counting! The process is actually rather complex and is further complicated by the fact that some women in the group share the exact same name as other women, meaning that they have to prove their identity even further at the main bank branch in the city before they will be approved. The next step is how to work with new account holders so that this tool can be helpful in their lives.

Starting in 2013, we will work with the group to maintain financial diaries in order to set personal financial savings goals. A financial diary can be helpful because it helps identify what you spend on an average month and what are the emergencies that put a strain on your regular monthly budget. The next step is to use this information to set personal goals for each member that will prepare them for the financial strain of a death in the family or a medical emergency.

Recently, I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast entitled, “Could a Lottery be the Answer to America’s Poor Savings Rate“. The podcast investigates the success of several savings programs that incorporate a lottery component.

Melissa Kearney, an economist from the University of Maryland made an interesting point about gambling in America. She said,

So we know Americans like gambling. They always have, the majority of them do it, and they’re going to keep doing it. And so what we do is take seriously the idea that people want some small chance of winning a large sum of money…So a lot of Americans think the lottery is their only chance at winning big sums of money, why don’t we take that appetite for gambling, for a product like this and attach it to a savings vehicle that offers some positive return? It’s a win-win situation.

Prior to listening to this podcast, we had been thinking about how we could encourage members to participate in the Savings Program. The idea of a raffle appealed to us, but was this the right approach? Hearing the podcast and talking to members confirmed our suspicions. The women wanted to save but they just needed the tools and an extra incentive. We will start the monthly raffle in February. To participate, each member will bring her end-of-the-month bank statement in to compare against her personal monthly savings goal. If she has made her monthly goal she will receive a raffle ticket for the chance to win a prize. First prize in February is an iron.

Best of luck, ladies!


Landfill Harmonic


Thanks to **Steve** for sharing! This is an incredible and inspiring story. Maybe we’ll start something like this here in Ecuador…

One Day on Earth

A Week in the Life…

Art Center Classes

Working with youth means that our workweek starts on Thursday, runs through the weekend, and leaves us with Tuesday and/or Wednesday as our “weekend” to run errands, catch up on household chores, and rest (what’s that?). Here’s what a typical week looks like for us right now:


In the morning we prepare our lesson plans and catch up on work. Mari teaches a craft class to a women’s group in San Pedro in the afternoons (not to be confused with San Pablo where Mujeres Cambia is located). The San Pedro women’s group is just getting started but with hard work and a little bit of luck it could grow to be another group like Mujeres Cambia. Time will tell! Right now we are working on paper crafts (other than jewelry) that we are hoping to sell in Salinas.

Paul either joins the women’s group meeting and/or has meetings with Neo Juventud staff and students about specific projects like painting and installing trash cans on the beach and training staff on accounting and marketing. Right now he is working with Fundación Neo Juventud’s Treasurer on the group’s books as well as training a new Palmar Pizza manager.

Mujeres Cambia Silkscreening


We usually have Mujeres Cambia meetings in the afternoon, which means preparing for them in the morning. Some days prep means printing out recent sales lists to give to the Treasurer while other times it means printing labels, folding brochures, editing organizational documents, and other oh-so-fun behind-the-scenes stuff.

At the meetings we take photos of new items for inventory, make labels, talk about upcoming events, review any social fund loans that are due, vote on how to spend group fund money, and share new designs. Last Friday we had a special activity: making Mujeres Cambia t-shirts! The women have been very excited to learn how to silkscreen and to create their very own MC uniforms. Uniforms are very big in Ecuador and are not just for students. Many professions and associations also have uniforms. Now we do, too!

Occasionally, as was the case last Friday, we are invited to events at night. Last Friday we celebrated the birthday of one of the youth group members with dinner, cake, and live music at the Center for Art & Design.


Saturday is our longest day because not only do we teach a class of kids in the morning, we have Open Studio Time after lunch and then a class of teenagers in the afternoon. To top that off, often we are invited to events on Saturday nights but sometimes we’re just too tired.

The lessons last Saturday included making line designs with the younger kids (I can still remember when I learned how to make line designs – my 5th grade math class!) and silkscreening and print-making with the older kids. We also prepared for a project to paint and install 10 trash cans on the beach.


Mornings are usually pretty lazy and laid back (thank goodness!) but we also have Open Studio Time at the Art Center after lunch and we teach a photography class in the afternoons. Our photo project in the afternoon consisted in taking photo montage portraits of class members.

Nights we usually have a Skype date with someone or we just cook dinner and relax. Once in a while we have a special event to attend with our host family like a baptism or a wedding. This past Sunday we exercised and then spent the rest of the morning preparing packages of Mujeres Cambia jewelry to send across Ecuador and to the US in time for Christmas. Once in a while Paul also has Spanish classes on Sundays with a friend of ours.

Art Center Classes


We have our weekly meeting with the President of Fundación Neo Juventud in the morning and the Mujeres Cambia meetings in the afternoons. Lately, we’ve been invited by the folks at a hotel in Salinas to have a table selling jewelry on some Mondays or Tuesdays. It has been a great opportunity for the women to practice selling to gringos – many of whom don’t speak any Spanish.


Our weekend starts! We sleep in a bit (if Max doesn’t wake us up barking) and then get stuff done like food shopping, laundry, cleaning, going to the Post Office, planning for classes and events, visiting the Vet with Max, and relaxing. Last Tuesday we took Max to be neutered, which all of our Ecuadorian friends think is rather odd. In addition, we went food shopping, saw a movie, and Mari got her haircut.


Depending on the week, we either have another day like Tuesday or we could end up with meetings for the youth foundation, impromptu Mujeres Cambia activities, or Spanish classes for Paul. Last Wednesday we had some Mujeres Cambia orders to fill so some of the women came to our town to drop off the goods before Paul had a meeting at Neo.

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