Minga at Camp Kuri Kuchu

A Weekend of Community Action Service (CAS) and Dancing Under the Andean Stars by Tatiana Barragíçn

Community Action Service is a big part of the IB programme and here in Ecuador we are fortunate to work with a number of schools who really want to get in an help local communities less fortunate than themselves. On this particular weekend our team consisted of 47 enthusiastic students on a mission to build, from scratch, the foundations of a new and improved kitchen garden at the local primary school. In time, the garden will provide much needed additional nutrition to the childrenäó»s diet and also provide our volunteers and the community an opportunity to work, cook and learn together. Over two jam packed days this massive team worked and sweated as they learned about alternative techniques of plantation designed to be more sustainable and withstand the brutal effects of this high altitude environment. They also had the opportunity to learn first hand about some of the philosophies and beliefs of the people from the Ecuadorian Andes including many of the uses for the traditional medicinal plants that were to form the centerpiece of the garden.

 The team getting started.

The experience started with a journey of two hours from their school in Quito up to our highest altitude camp, Camp Kuri Kuchu, in the Andean paramo. When the group arrived the teachers from the local school received them with an emotional speech that made them think about the other realities that many Ecuadorian people live, especially outside of Quito.

The use of garden tools was not new to these students as they have various programmes and projects at school, some of which include gardening. The project at this time was to construct a spiral structure with medicinal plants and herbs that is the centrepiece for the larger garden. These plants will not only be used to create various traditional remedies, they also help fight off bugs and fungi that attack seedlings and vegetables. The main work was to make a mix with soil, sand and water that could be molded and would dry hard; and the best way to do this was to mix it with bare feet. Some students enjoyed it so much that they made it for the whole two days they were working in the project. The mix was then used to mold the form of the structure by hand. The activity that the students most enjoyed was the direct contact of their skin with the soil. They could feel a direct contact with nature.

 This crew would also work well crushing tomatoes and grapes – might be an idea for harvest time…

 Learning the best techniques for successful planting in high altitude environemnts – it’s all about insulating the roots and providing a bit of protection from the wind.

With more than 50 volunteers in the team, including teachers, we were also able to help the community in their weekend minga (a traditional working-bee) clearing and cleaning up the playground land from weeds and broken pieces in preparation for some planned improvements.

The whole two days weren’t just hard work. As always the fiercely proud community, who just happen to be filled with extraordinary musicians, came together to treat us to a night of entertainment. Traditional music and songs filled the air as we huddled around the campfire. An evening of dancing under the stars; students, teachers, Camps staff and the community, all together, is something we are all sure to remember for a long time.

At the end of the weekend representatives from the community said a big thank-you for all of help the students had given the community, and also asked them to go back and learn more about life in the country of the Ecuadorian highlands. The students finished their work with the satisfaction of all they had achieved and learned, determined to return for another weekend of Community Action Service.

 Our tough rock collectors.

 An unexpected friend arrives to help.

 Getting stuck into the fun bit, planting.