Tag Archive | Peace Corps

Peace Corps Video Contest Winner

Every year the Peace Corps has a video challenge. I’ve never gotten my act together to enter but I was curious to see who won this year. Below is the winning video by Jamieson Cox. It’s a celebration of joy and happiness in Paraguay.

Enjoy! Mari

Required Reading: Empathy

Required Reading: Empathy

I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy. Three books that I’ve read recently have touched on the subject but in the separate contexts of: motivation, creativity, and parenting.


While at first glance it may not seem like Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink is about empathy I would argue that in order to understand what motivates others you must always come from a place of empathy.

Pink describes three eras of human motivation – Motivation 1.0 was characterized by the need to survive. Humans were most concerned with food – how to find it and how not to become it. Motivation 2.0, the phase we’ve been stuck in for quite some time, has been characterized by the carrot and the stick. Today, Pink explains, carrot and stick techniques don’t always work. While rewarding or punishing behaviors can help in the short-term, for long-term fulfillment the most important motivators are instrinsic: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, which he explains as,

the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Each of these needs are fulfilled by looking for internal gratification rather than external rewards. Pink goes on to describe Type I (Intrinsic) and Type X (External) motivators. The key is to figure out when one technique will produce the desired rewards, a decision that requires empathy. For most creative jobs, Pink explains, Type I rules while other, more routine work doesn’t offer much psychic benefit and therefore an external reward could do the trick.

In our work as Peace Corps Volunteers I found Pink’s assessment to be spot on. For example, when working with the students at the youth foundation we used external motivators for short-term results such as offering snacks or privileges to those kids who showed up for a meeting. However, in order to motivate through the entirety of a long-term project, it was necessary to involve the youth in the planning, teach new and desirable skills, and tie the activities to a larger purpose that they cared about (town pride, being a role model, community service etc.).

Learn more by visiting Daniel Pink’s website here.

Creative Confidence

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom and David Kelley was recommended to me by **Frankie**, who knows how excited I am about design thinking.

The authors are brothers and leaders at two of the most creative and innovative organizations today: IDEO and Stanford’s d.school. The book includes myriad examples of how a human-centered approach helps in designing products and processes. Empathy plays a large role in this, in particular during the research phase when tackling a new challenge or problem to solve.

You can find an entire Human-Centered Design Toolkit on the IDEO website here, that walks the reader step by step through this process. What strikes me about this approach is how similar it is to parts of the Peace Corps training process. While different language was used, we were encouraged not to provide our ideas or solutions to what we saw as the problems of our home communities but to engage in qualitative research for the first several months to a year before delving into a project.

From the Toolkit:

Building empathy for the people you serve means understanding their behavior and what motivates them. Understanding behavior enables us to identify physical, cognitive, social and/or cultural needs that we can meet through the products, services and experiences we create.

One of the activities from the Toolkit asks the reader to go into a situation with a “beginner’s mind” in order not to carry assumptions or to prejudge a situation. In another activity, the reader is encouraged to observe and not interpret right away. This is very similar to a framework we learned during Training called, “D.I.E.” that encourages volunteers to describe first and then interpret after talking to others from a volunteer’s community who can give a context to the situation in order for you to evaluate it effectively.

Learn more by visiting the Creative Confidence website here.

Brain Rules

Brain Rules for Baby is John Medina’s follow up after his best-selling book Brain Rules. He explains that he was often asked when speaking about Brain Rules how his interpretation of brain research applies to children. Specifically, parents wanted advice on how baby’s brains develop in order to tailor their parenting style. Actually, he says that often a parent would ask him how to use his brain rules to get his child into Harvard. I could write a whole book about what is wrong with that question…

Medina offers various “brain rules for baby” including: the importance of talking to your child and not putting them in front of the TV, a child’s need for demanding yet warm parents, and the importance of relationships to the child’s well-being and long-term sense of happiness. As he summarizes on his website:

You will need to teach your children how to socialize effectively – how to make friends, how to keep friends – if you want them to be happy. As you might suspect, many ingredients go into creating socially smart children, too many to put into some behavioral Tupperware bowl. The two that have the strongest backing in hard neurosciences, and the two most predictive for social competency are emotional regulation and empathy.

Empathy, he explains, is important because, “when the brain perceives empathy, the body beings to relax.” Mastering this “key relationship skill” will improve all of the relationships that a child will develop over time. The quality of one’s relationships is one of the key indicators, research suggests, in determining a person’s long-term happiness. It’s not how much money you make or what your job is. It’s having good friends and partners in life.

When we were living in a low resource community on the coast of Ecuador I would often think about happiness. Many of the folks we lived and worked with seemed to be very happy despite the lack of luxuries that seem to be taken for granted in more resource rich environments. Though there wasn’t hot water, reliable electricity, or access to good transportation in our town and our neighbors couldn’t count on a steady and fair wage, potable water, or preventative medicine, people appeared to be generally just as, if not more, happy than in other places where I have lived.

Learn more at the Brain Rules website here.

Top Twenty of 2013

Here’s a rundown on some of our favorite images from 2013. Just like for 2012, we decided to do the Top Twenty because we couldn’t decide on a Top Ten.

Enjoy & Happy New Year!

Mari & Paul


Best Abstract

Abstract Clouds

Abstract Pants


Best Vacation Postcard

Puerto Engabao

Galapagos Landscape


Best Max

Max Tongue



Best Silly Moment

Mujeres Cambia Fans



Best Mari & Paul Moment

Mari & Paul

Mari's Birthday Kiss


Best Frame

Frankie & Jess in Galapagos

Paul at Guayasamin's House


Best Animal

Galapagos Crab

Galapagos Sea Lion


Best Aerial Photo

Mujeres Cambia Table

Palmar Roof Shot


Best Bird

Galapagos Red Eyed Bird

Galapagos Bird in Flight


Best Interacting with Nature

Paul Cascada

Galapagos Splash

PaulMar Prensa Last Issue

It’s hard to believe we’ll be back in the US in a little over a week. Here’s the last issue of the PaulMar Prensa about our last few months in Ecuador as Peace Corps Volunteers. Click on the image to see the full newsletter as a PDF.

Enjoy, Mari & Paul

PaulMar Prensa

The Home Stretch

It’s hard to believe but we’re in the home stretch of our time here in Ecuador. This past week has been jam-packed with milestones and despedidos (farewells). In addition to visiting various doctors we’ve given away most of our stuff and are in the process of closing all of our Ecuadorian accounts.

The fun part was seeing **Clare** for a day on a lucky layover and hosting 3 of the members of Mujeres: Cambia. Three of the women and one of their daughters took a 10-hour bus journey each way just to say good-bye to me. I haven’t been able to visit the coast like Paul has so they saved up money and we spent a lovely day together, including a visit to the Botanic Garden.

Finally, I had my last day of work at The Nature Conservancy, which coincided luckily with the holiday party including a BBQ and gift exchange. I handed in my last work product, a PowerPoint presentation that can be used for all different audiences (see the cover slide below).

I feel so lucky to have so many incredible people to despedir. It’s always hard to say good-bye but I know we’ll be back someday. Enjoy some images from our crazy week!


The Little One Looks Like Me


Mujeres: Cambia Members Visit

Botanic Garden Entrance

Enjoying the Botanic Garden

In the Greenhouse

The Nature Conservancy Presentation

TNC Title Slide

What I’ll Miss About Ecuador


Living on the beach – I never thought I would end up taking the beach for granted but when you live right there, it’s easy to forget how special it really is. Now that we’re living in a city, I miss the beach more than ever. I miss watching the incredible sunsets, hearing the waves, and commuting to work walking along the water. Max also really misses the beach – he used to run around chasing birds and sniffing the piles of trash.

The fruit – Although our local open air market in Palmar wasn’t the best place to buy it, good and inexpensive fruit isn’t too hard to find. This time of year on the coast you can find dozens of stalls selling watermelon by the side of the road in addition to the ubiquitous coconut stalls. Here in Quito, there are any number of (usually) indigenous women selling mandarines and other fruits on the street. It’s amazing to think of how expensive fruits like pineapples are in NYC – here they cost pocket change. Ecuador is known for bananas and before I came here I had no idea how many different kinds there really are. One way to say banana, like the one you eat with your cereal, is guineo. One day Paul went to a local store to get some bananas but he asked for gusanos instead. A gusano is a worm!

The clouds – The clouds in the Sierra are incredible. I’ve enjoyed photographing clouds in Quito and Cuenca especially. I don’t know what it is about the Ecuatorial light but there is something magical about the way it plays off of the many different kinds of clouds here. We recently went to the Teleférico – a cable car that travels up a mountain so you can see all of Quito spreading out below you. When we went up the cable car it was hard to see much since the fog was rolling in. By the time we had walked around a bit on the hiking trails up top the clouds had cleared and you could see the city below just in time for the ride back down. As they say in Quito, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes.”

How time passes – I used to be so good at the rat race in NYC – rushing around, catching trains, walking long blocks in a single bound. Now, I’m happy to live a life more tranquila – never setting an alarm (these days I just wake up early without prodding), not worrying about being late (the Hora Ecuatoriana means I’m usually the first to arrive anyway), and taking things as they come. I think this has also resulted in a higher tolerance for waiting. I’m definitely more patient than I was before – if I wasn’t I think I’d go a little loca.

Being part of a community – One of the nicest things about living on the coast was being in a small community. I’ve never really lived in a place where I knew so many people and they knew me and said hello to me on the street. It’s a bit like summer camp in that way – you have your place in the culture and it’s comforting to learn the rhythms and the gossip of small town life. Although on the flip side, it means that lots of people you barely know hear about your business but mostly it’s just benign.

30 More Days…


How do you say good-bye to an experience as transformational as the Peace Corps? How do you prepare for living in a new culture, a new city, and a new context that used to be called, “home?” Those are the questions I keep asking myself as we enter our last month as Peace Corps Volunteers.

I remember when I was on the other end – a month away from the start of our Peace Corps adventure. I was stressing out about what clothes and things to pack and how it was all going to fit into two bags. One of our last weeks in Virginia before Staging we were interviewed by a local TV station (see the video here). The interviewer asked us what we think we would miss the most when we were abroad. I said, “loved ones, hot showers, and food variety.” While all answers turned out to be true, I could not even fathom on that morning sitting in my in-laws’ house the more abstract things I would miss so much more about the States.

Things I have missed about living in the States:

Blending in – either I am treated differently because I am a woman or I am treated differently because I am a foreigner. Sometimes that means I am conferred preferential status but other times that means that strangers feel entitled to ask me personal questions, whistle at me, or stare. Blatantly. One day while waiting for a bus a man from my town that I didn’t recognize came up to me as if he knew me and kissed me. Not on the cheek like we were saying hello or being introduced to one another – on the mouth! The worst part was the truckload of men stopped at the corner whistling and egging him on.

My personal space and the luxury of zoning out – whether it is maintaining a distance from my fellow passengers on a bus, listening to music while I walked down the street or closing my eyes on the subway even if I was traveling alone. One of the first things they teach you in the Safety & Security sessions during training is to be vigilant. Awareness is one of the best ways to prevent incidents and thankfully, we have never had any security concerns our whole time in this country.

Being a customer that is always right – here, there are no consumer protections and forget about making returns (even if the item was sold to you broken) or trying to exchange something without it becomming a very awkward or frustrating ordeal. Lack of customer service is a given, unfortunately. Paul recently took his HP mini to be fixed so that one of the members of Mujeres: Cambia could buy it for her family. He left the laptop there three months ago and was assured that it would be ready in two days. After countless phone calls and visits to the store where he was alternately told that his laptop was ready and that it was misplaced, he finally got the machine back untouched. Just a few days ago…in the US there would be some kind of recourse or at the very least an apology from the business but not so here.

Efficiency – while some errands we run go smoothly, there are other times when a big dose of patience is necessary to get things done. Paul applied for the bicycle program here in Quito that would allow him to sign out commuter bikes around the city. He applied two months ago and has never heard back. He had even agreed to pay for the year-long membership that he would only be using for four or five months.

Being sure of my words – as anyone who has ever had to learn a new language and live in that language knows, communication can be exhausting. Sometimes, it feels like a game of charades or guess what word I’m thinking when I don’t have the vocabulary. Other times when I am in front of a crowd or teaching, I expend more mental energy planning my words and saying them in my head first or looking up the correct grammar ahead of time.

Plentiful trash cans and less littering – friends on their first trip to NYC were always surprised at the lack of trash on the streets. While this varied by neighborhood and by context (for instance this isn’t true after street fairs, concerts, and parades) it’s hard to believe but I noticed less trash in NYC on an average day than living in Ecuador. We also lived on a beach but seeing how much plastic washed up on the shore and where those disposable diapers actually ended up has convinced me not to use disposables with our baby.

A Few Faves from Jason’s Visit!

Jason in Palmar

Jason in Palmar

Our friend from NYC, Jason, came to visit us in Ecuador! He and Paul first went to the coast before returning to Quito. A PCV in the Philippines several years ago, Jason took the opportunity to teach the Brigadistas in Palmar about his experience including some Tagalog vocabulary.

Holiday Crafts

Making the Xmas Tree

I enlisted the help of Paul and Jason to help finish the handmade holiday tree (made form cardboard) I made while they were on the coast. Stay tuned for more photos of the finished tree and a link to the tutorial from Instructables.


Jason at Thanksgiving

We were so lucky that Jason could share Thanksgiving with us and 8 other Ecuadorian friends. We had a blast and the hats that we also made last year for the youth foundation (see here for last year’s Thanksgiving pics) were a big hit. We had turkey with all the trimmings including Mari’s first attempt at pumpkin pie with homemade crust!

The Teleférico

Jason on the Teleférico

Quito is a sprawling city of 1.6 million people that seems small when you’re walking around but you can see just how big it is when you take the cable car Teleférico up one of the bordering mountains. You can get out once the cable car reaches the top to hike and enjoy the scenery.


In addition to some beautiful horses, we also met some alpaca on our walk around the grounds that are a designated national park area.

Jason in Hut
While we were there we saw a school group walking around. Jason is exploring one of the thatched roof huts that are probably used for school groups.

Shopping in Otavalo

Jason in Otavalo

We found amazing gifts in Otavalo – it was our own “Black Friday” shopping trip. The largest market in Latin America, Otavalo is located a couple of hour’s drive outside of Quito and boasts everything from textiles, Panama hats, and artwork to cows, goats, and pigs.

Jason, Paul & Pig

We had a great time sharing our Ecuadorian experience with Jason. We hope he had fun, too!

The Index

# of days we have left in Ecuador


# of weeks pregnant Mari is


# of trips back to the coast Paul has made


# of additional trips to the coast he will make


# of trips back to the coast Mari has made


# of trips we have taken to Cuenca


# of Omnibus 107 volunteers who have left


# of months early we are Closing Service


# of total months we will be in Ecuador


# of hours of travel to return to Virginia


# of dogs we are currently taking care of


# of dogs who will travel to the US with us


# of guests coming to our Thanksgiving


# of haircuts Paul has gotten in Quito


# of haircuts Mari has gotten in Quito


# of haircuts Paul has given Mari


Cost of Mari’s commute to work in a taxi


Cost of the same commute by bus


Length in minutes of Mari’s commute by taxi


Length in minutes of the same commute by bus


Length in minutes spent walking to/from that bus


Cost of a lunch special at a local restaurant


Cost of a single movie ticket to a 2D movie


Date the Close of Service Conference starts


Date we fly out of Ecuador


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