Members of the Rappahannock Rotary had the good fortune to spend 10 days in beautiful Ecuador, arriving in Quito, the capital of Ecuador on November 9, 2018. 
Participating in the trip were Dr. Jim Herrera (Team leader) and his wife Mercedes, Leigh Anne Van Doren and her cousin Russ Crusott, and Tom Carlson and his son Ryan.
Upon arrival, the team was quickly whisked off to Ibarra, about 2 ½ hours from the capital.  Few in the group realized how high they were in the Andes Mountains during the drive to Ibarra, as Quito sits at 9,200 feet above sea level, while Ibarra sits at over 7,000 feet.
The week was jam packed with activities, most of them designed to search for areas where the Rappahannock Rotary Club could expand its participation in projects that would embody Rotary’s motto: “Service Above Self”.  The Rappahannock Rotary Club has partnered with the Rotary Club of Ibarra for several years. 
While in Ibarra and the surrounding communities, the team visited the Prothesis for Life Foundation, a special project supported by the Ibarra Rotary Club.  The group was also able to visit the Foundation Juvilus, a home for young children with AIDs/HIV.  It was tragic, yet inspiring to see these young children who have been abandoned by their parents, cheerfully attending school, learning and preparing themselves to live successfully in the community.  The group also visited a nursing home where they saw senior citizens who suffered from various maladies, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  The nursing home, supported and operated by the Red Cross, has instilled in the employees a great sense of respect for the patients.  Lastly, the group participated in a service project to do some hands on “service” by painting parts of the Ibarra Rotary Club building.  That service project was followed by dinner where the Rappahannock Rotary Club members presented a check to the Prothesis for Life Foundation, an incredible organization that provides prosthetic devices for those who otherwise would not be able to afford them.  The check presentation was followed by an outstanding Ecuadorian dinner that included native dancing entertainment.  The evening was enjoyed by all! 
They bid goodbye to Ibarra on Thursday, November 15th and headed back to Quito to tour several facilities, including a medical clinic built almost exclusively with Rotary support.  The last place visited was a charming preschool that is a pilot program of the Quito Rotary Valle Interoceanico.  The program is designed to overcome nutritional and affection “deficits” for low income families by providing nutritious meals for the children, education and plenty of daily love.  The underpinning of the program, however, is the commitment by the parents to participate in follow-on education classes which will teach them how to prioritize their budgets to ensure proper nutrition and the importance of providing the right levels of affection as their children grow and mature.
On Friday, November 16th, they attended the weekly meeting at the Rotary Club Quito Valle Interoceanico and continued touring the local facilities.  There was time for fun activities and learning as well.  On Saturday the 17th, some of the group visited the “Mitad del Mundo” (middle of the world) national park about 45 minutes outside of Quito.  The park lies directly on the Equator, thus the name.  Fun fact: the Equator was discovered in the early 1700’s by Spanish, Portuguese and French explorers.  With the help of GPS in the 1990’s, it was determined that the explorers were only about 100 meters off the GPS positions!
This was an extraordinary trip that reinforced how much need there is in Ecuador for support from organizations like Rotary.  There are many opportunities for international service projects at places like the orphanage, the clinic and the child care center.  Ecuador has other attributes that make it attractive for international projects: roads are good, crime is low, the Ecuadorians love Americans, and the currency is the U.S. dollar.
The team is indebted to Dr. Jim Herrera and his wife Mercedes for organizing the trip and providing invaluable translation services for the rest of the group.  The Rappahannock Rotarians are also appreciative of Engineer Jaime Castaneda and his wife Nidia for hosting them at their beautiful ranch in Ibarra, Dr. Santiago Salazar who is the President of the Ibarra Rotary, and Odd Hanssen, their host in Quito.  Odd Hanssen is an engineer and Norwegian transplant who has lived in Ecuador over 30+ years.  He is also an extremely active Rotarian who is passionate about the children’s nutrition program being piloted in Quito, he knows numerous languages, and he is truly engaged in his adopted home.