Nadia’s adventure - continued…

Hola a todos,

So here I am coming to the end of my time here in Ecuador. I’m happy to say it hasn’t gone by too fast. I have been on the road more or less for the last week and a bit, finally making my way back to Banos my old stomping ground, hanging out with friends in the Capital Quito and spending a very cold and windy night at the edge of the breathtaking crater lake Quilatoa.

I finished my work at the reserve just over a week ago and as challenging as some of the work could be and as cold as the showers were, I have to say I miss it. I spent most of the last week working at the school in order to have everything in place before I left. I had to finish up materials, write a manual for future volunteers that come to teach English and mostly introduce the children to the work and practice what they were already familiar with. A month is such a short time and yet I had already gained most of their trust. by the end they were inviting me to work with them, which means they were enjoying themselves. I barely entered the class and I would get “Nadia, English?” I look forward to hearing about their progress.

I also enjoyed the afternoon work, which usually consisted of planting or weeding in the organic garden, preparing coffee beans or my favorite making bread for breakfast the next morning. My first attempt at the bread was very successful I must say and set a high bar for the other voluteers. With a variety of potential ingredients I decided on an orange chocolate loaf. I’m excited to start making bread at home, although it will be hard to beat fresh orange rind from the morning harvest and cocoa from one of the leading producing countries. I tried another recipe though with spring onion, rosemary and spices that should translate well back home.

I won’t miss however the burrowing bugs that gave me an unrelenting itch, sharing my shower stall with a tarantula, “shot-gunning” for people leftovers to supplement our rationed meals and racing to the breakfast table to secure a bowl of oatmeal, or not being able to figure out which of my things is giving off a the funky smell in my room.

What I will miss the most is the crew, and their open mindedness and willingness to learn and share their experiences. The group can make or break the experience and for me it made it. I happened to be the oldest during my stay there, with some 19 year olds and the rest in the early and middle 20s. Age didn’t seem to play a role for the most part although I was dubbed “abuelita” meaning little gramma.

When we went away for the weekends however they saw that I was far from an abuelita with my all night dancing and salsa moves. The weekend in Canoa for example, when I last wrote, was full of dacing barefoot on the beach as well as chowing down on delicious empenadas at 3am, refusing to try a drink called a “scorpion” and wading in the pacific while waiting for the sun. It finally came out the day we left just in time for us to soak up a bit.

The next weekend was spent in the capital of Quito. Isabel took myself and another volunteer Kevin to a famous old local Salsa bar. This is where the hard core salseros come. I was taught some new moves in French by a local who had spent some time in Switzerland, travelling is full of surprises.

Our last weekend together we all headed to Banos. For most of the young folk it was a weekend of adventure, zip-lining, mountain biking, hiking, but for my new found Ecuadorian friend Isabel and I, it was a weekend of relaxation. Taking advantage of no schedule and sleeping in till noon, eating tasty food, soaking in the local natural hotsprings and resting up for a little dancing at the local discotecas.

I was happy to see that things haven’t changed too much, most of all the spectacular views. Of course that’s not just Banos, Ecuador is full of spectacular views. I never get tired of seeing snow capped volcanos jetting up out of the already soaring Andes. From lush jungle vegetation, to the rocky and sparse paramo and the colourful quilted land in between. I made my way through all of it on my way to Quilatoa. Local legend has it that this crater lake is bottomless but scientists say about 250 metres. Standing on the rim of the crater about an hour hike from the lake below was breathtaking. As the clouds passed over the sun, the light moved accross the walls of the crater aluminating the vegetation and the bringing out the turquoise colour of the lake.

I happened to meet an american girl who was on my “chicken” bus from Latacunga city, but who I couldn’t see for the all the people that we had packed in the bus along the way. I was trying to figure out where the bus driver meant when he would yell “mas atras! mas atras” (further back). One guy had to exit through a window because he couldn’t get through to the door. Lucky we weren’t stopped by the police.

But when I got off the bus, there she was and together we headed off to the rustic cabin accomodation deciding to share a room. After we hiked down to the lake together and got a brief Quichua lesson from 2 little girls who rent horses to tourist, we were ready to hike back up and recharge with some local fare. The way up was definitely harder than the way down. At almost 4000 metres I was catching my breath every few minutes.

That night we sat around a wood burning stove, their only mean of heating, exchanging some travel stories with a Dutch family and a couple from Quito. Back at our cabin a fire had been put on for us in our stove and we had 5 layers of blankets to keep us from freezing. It was a peaceful sleep, with just the sound of the wind howling and the fire. I was ready to head back to civilization the next day though and we lucked out with a ride back to Latacunga from the couple from Quito.

So that is where I am writing you from now, Quito. I hung out with my friend Isabel last night before she had to head back to the reserve this morning, as she has 2 more weeks of work. I only have a few days left and no real plans. There are a few things of interest close by including a huge indigenous market this Thursday.

Despite Ecuador’s size and having now spent a total of over 3 months here between this visit and my last, there is still lots to explore. I already have a list of places for the next time I’m here, which I hope will sooner than 6 years, as well for the sake of the friends I am leaving behind.

So until you see me back home or we chat on skype or email or facebook, I sent all of you an ambrozo de Ecuador.
Ciao y hasta pronto.


September 9, 2011. Professional Development. No Comments.

Nadia’s Adventure!

Here is a note from Nadia…

Hello All,

Well it has been a while since I have had the opportunity to hit the road again for any significant amount of time. And as many of you also know it has been a dream of mine for the last 6 years to return to my beloved Ecuador. It would appear that the stars have aligned for me this summer, and here I am writing you from the coastal town of San Vincente.

This time I have come back with more than just a travellers itch, although I do currently have an unrelenting rash, possibly from a plant I touched yesterday, a hopeful possibility of the millions of other things it could be. Anyways, as I was saying I came with the goal of giving something back to Ecuador, for all it shared with me the first time around.

Thanks to the magic of google, typing in the words ´Andes´ ´Volunteering´ ´Agriculture´ and ´Montessori´ lead me to an amazing foundation called The Tangare Foundation, where I could find a position as a volunteer in agriculture and conservation, and teach English at a Montessori school, while living in the pre mountain/cloud forest of the Andes.

The weeks before leaving were filled with, cutting, pasting, laminating, bargain book hunting, and everything else that went with making English materials, like those that I made for French at my school in Toronto. As well as a 2 part yard sale, that brought in a whopping 150 dollars for the building of a new classroom. {three cheers for Jade and all her help}

So after a long sleepless night of packing and making copies at Kinkos, I was laminating my last page as my brother pulled in front of my house to take me to the airport. I arrived in Quito 2 saturdays ago and have been working like a busy busy bee.

After the weekend in the beautiful old town of the second highest Andean capital Quito, I was off to La Hesperia reserve that I would call home for the next 4 weeks. You are immediately greeted with a 20 minute walk up the steep trail to the main site of the reserve. It set the tone for what was expected of the volunteers. With a quick lunch and tour, we were put to work filling plastic pop bottles with sand, which is the eco method of construction that will be used to build the next classroom.

After dinner all 9 volunteers including myself, returned to the volunteer house. It is very basic, a mosquito net protects me from the enormous bugs that manage to find their way in {thanks Jody}. We played a little cards before retiring at 9pm. I had to check the clock a few times to be sure, as I don´t think I´ve gone to bed that early since I was 10 years old. Sleep was going to be needed though as the next day was tree planting Tuesday.

After a yummy oatmeal and volunteer hand made bread breakfast we set off with Donkey and a cart of baby trees to the awkward, sloping, densely overgrown site to start planting. One person machetties through the forest to clear the trail while the other one plants and then you switch. It is as exhausting as it sounds but also extremely satisfying. It feels a bit counter intuitive to destroy everything in your path in order to conserve, but the trees need a chance to compete against all the other vegetation, which don´t take as long to grow. Machettying is a good release of any frustrations I´ve learned and cold showers are a welcome after each day, which is good, cause cold is the only kind they have.

The next day for me was a school day. I spent the day observing the children at the Montessori school on site. I was right at home in their beautiful little class, not only filled with Montessori materials but colourful butterflies and insects that fly in through the open aired building. I marveled as a child sat doing some cutting work and then called out ¨mariposa¨ to her friends as a beatiful butterfly flew past her. She followed it with her eyes for a minute and then carried on her cutting work. Would have put a smile on Maria Montessori´s face for sure.

I then had my first English circle time with the kids which went splendidly. Since then I have been alternating between the school and slave labor, I mean agricultural and consevation work. They switch it up to keep things interesting, like weeding and planting in the organic garden, clearing hiking trails, and as of now I have done every step of producing coffee, except grinding the roasted beans, which I could do at home anyways. We will hopefully get a chance to taste the fruits of our labour next week. We also have the job of taking the mule down and back up the 20 minute steep trail back to town, which takes more like 2 hours with ¨Mula¨. It´s a good time to stop and smell the flowers, or look for monkeys, or any of the plethora of birds.

Wednesdays we play soccer with the locals, who are way better than us, and Fridays we either have a hike or an extra day off for a long weekend. Last weekend I headed to the market town of Otavalo, to check out a festival and hang out with a long lost friend. Otavalo´s views did not dissapoint. It is a beautiful Andean town, surrounded by mountains, volcanoes, a lagoon and some waterfalls. I also satisfied my craving for brunch, or as I call it here ´desalmuerzo´ complete with bacon, eggs, pancakes, fruit and tea. I hope to leave something else behind, my obsession with brunch. I´ve got my friend thinking about opening up a cafe specializing in Desalmuerzo.

And that brings me to San Vincente, where I will leave you. I am about to meet up with the rest of the volunteers to enjoy a beach weekend in the chill town of Canoa minutes from here. I think it´s about time I get my ¨Salsa¨ on.

I will try and update you again soon. There is essentially no internet at the reserve, so on weekend when I leave, I try to find a moment. Don´t let that stop you sending messages and letting me know what´s up on the top half of the world. I can´t wait to bore you all with pictures, I have tons already!

Ambrazos a todos. Hasta pronto.
Love Nadia

July 2, 2011. Professional Development. No Comments.

CAMT Conference: The Montessori Outreach Project

On Friday, November 5th, Nadia went to the Canadian Association of Montessori Teachers’ Annual Conference. Below is a summary of a workshop she attended.

We read about the universality of Montessori education through Maria’s teachings, and her many years working around the world, but there is something truly amazing about witnessing it in action. This is what Jamie Rossiter and Pam Leudke had the opportunity to do, through their work in the rural region of Mbeya Tanzania.

Jamie and Pam had the chance to go to Africa and share their years of Montessori teaching experience with the local people, through the Canadian based charity “The Olive Branch for Children” run by Deborah McCracken, a Montessori graduate herself.

The goal for successful community development projects, anywhere around the world, is of course sustainability, and this fits so in line with Montessori’s philosophy “Help me to help myself”. This is what The Olive Branch for Children is striving for with their Montessori outreach project.

The first step is educating teachers, and there is a growing demand for this training. The attendees are villagers/teachers who are chosen and supported with a stipend, by their communities, in order to study. Until recently villagers might have had to walk long distances every day, in order to attend the training. This goes to show the commitment and the enthusiasm of the Mbeya area people to learn about Montessori philosophy and methodology.

The project has grown now and this year there was a facility to house and feed the trainees during their 10-day workshop, so that their focus could be on learning. How do you cram Montessori philosophy and methodology into 10 days? It is impossible of course, but they have to start somewhere, and so they focus on the cornerstones of Montessori, such as; learning by doing, multi-age classes, positive classroom management, peace in education, care for the environment, and so on, while also keeping in mind the circumstances of the villages, and being aware and considerate of the local culture.

The fact that there is very little in the way of resources/materials, means that part of the training includes extensive workshops in material making. This task is made even harder by the fact that some of the Tanzanian trainees may not have worked with certain tools before, like scissors or rulers, and these require some practice. They also have to adapt many of the materials and find creative solutions. For instance they may have to make their own moveable alphabet by using a donated set as a template. They make trips to the local market to see what is readily available and will suit their purposes, like sheets of vinyl to make mats, since they are durable, washable, and still roll up.

Finding local materials at the market does not only eliminate the issue of costly shipping from across the world and the hassle of getting it out to the rural areas, but it feeds the local economy and avoids creating a dependency.

As well as resources the environmental conditions are taken into account when making materials. We don’t have to worry here about the elements, as our schools are housed in buildings complete with doors and windows. This is not always the case in rural Tanzania. From partially built structures to makeshift shelters, to the shade of a big tree, classes are carried out wherever they are given space.

One can’t help but admire the work that is going on here, both the Montessori trainers, like Jamie and Pam, and the many Tanzanian trainees, who are taking on each challenge as a learning opportunity.

The program continues to evolve through reflecting on its successes and where it has fallen short. For example, one major issue that became apparent, was the disconnect from what was learned in the training workshops to how it is applied in the classroom. Without actual observations or practice teaching it is difficult to know where to start and to recognize if it is being implemented correctly.

Thankfully this will no longer be the case, as there is a school up and running where the training centre is located, and this year’s trainees spent their mornings observing, practice teaching and reflecting. There was also emphasis on group problem solving, so they can learn to manage their own issues. This is important especially because ultimately these teachers and their communities are responsible for their schools and will be held accountable.

The financial support from the charity will only continue until 2012, and then it is expected that these new schools will run themselves, and be able to pay their teachers. The schools, which can achieve this independence, will succeed and carry on. The hope is that all the schools reach this point. The goal for “The Olive Branch for Children” is to primarily focus on continuing to educate the teachers.

The Montessori Outreach Program is a wonderful example of the “sowing” Maria Montessori spoke of, “To sow everywhere without ceasing to harvest”. It is not only an inspiration but a reminder that Montessori is much more than a classroom filled with materials, it a vision for a better future, whether it be for our local community or the global community, it is a vision of peace and education.

If you are interested in finding out more, getting involved, or supporting The Olive Branch for Children Montessori Outreach Program, by donating or volunteering, go to:

November 24, 2010. Professional Development. No Comments.