Minga: the Magical Meaning behind this Quechua Tradition
by Pamela S. Gilbert retired math teacher Boulder, Colorado
Madrina (godmother) of Malingua Pamba, Ecuador August, 2006​

Back in April, 2003, when our Ecuadorian guide who was guiding us along paths that probably had not felt a Caucasian foot, got us lost. Two young teenage boys noticed our plight from across the canyon (no ipod, no cell phone blocking their powers of observation). They had been working all day in what the Quechua (the indigenous) call a ”minga”, a barn raising. Pedro and Lautaro along with 40 other young teenagers were planting fava beans at 10,000 feet high in the Andes of Ecuador on a Sunday. These boys had walked 2 hours without a backpack full of food, no water bottle, and no rain jacket–only their little homemade hoe slung over their shoulder. As luck would have it, we not only saw this minga at 7 a.m., but we stopped and hiked up to speak to the coordinator/motivator of these 40 young adults. The coordinator was a math teacher who taught in the Colegio a Distancia (the weekend high school). I had thought to myself, if this math teacher can motivate kids, why can’t I, a retired high school math teacher from Boulder, Colorado, USA.

It was now 3 p.m. and we had missed the path to cross to the other side of the canyon where our second guide, the jeep, food, and lodging were waiting for us. These two teenage angels noticed our distress and indicated to us how to cross the canyon. They even waited while we down-climbed the steep canyon wall, forged the river below, and climbed up to them, about 45 minutes. Pedro and Lautaro were clearly very content in their life. They had the strength of community behind them-hence the reason that they were aware of our situation and their natural inclination to help us. They mentioned to us that they walked 2 hours each way on the weekends in their attempt to get a high school education. On this day, they walked 1.5 hours out of their way to help us. We took a parting photo.

Six months later, armed with this photo I returned to Ecuador. First I took a one-week (my third total) intensive one-on-one Spanish intensive class. Then I took the bus (6 hrs from Quito) to the small village of Isinliví where I had slept after meeting the boys. I hired a local guide and we started the hike to find the boys by asking the people we met on the path if they recognized the faces in the photo. How incredible that people from Guantualo could advise us that these boys were not from their community but from a community a 3 hour hike away - in a community called Malingua Pamba. (Note: my name is Pam.) [Oh, did I forget to mention the other coincidence that happened before I actually bought the air tickets to EC? One of my Boulder rental houses that had been resisting rental was rented by a family from … yes – you guessed it – Ecuador! Que casualidad!]

Then my head was reeling – what was I hoping to accomplish here? Give the boys a few bucks so that they could go to the weekend high school? Good grief – was the romanticism of all those old movies going to explode in my face? Just then the adult, Jose Alcides Sacatoro, son of the president of this community told me that they could use a second classroom, a teacher, a medical office, and/or a doctor. I told him that I needed to do some research and that I would get back to him.

A three-hour hike later we arrived at Malingua Pamba. There were 47 children playing harmoniously in a playground with no sign of adult supervision. We went to the edge of the erosion canyon and called – actually shouted - across it to two figures working the fields. Pedro and Lautaro started to run when they saw the commotion on our side of the canyon. During the 20-minute wait, I started to tell the children who had formed a skirt of guaguas around me the reason why I was there – the act of being “comedido” – accommodating. Just as I got to the part about Pedro and Lautaro being our rescuers, they arrived; at the same time, an adult appeared on the scene. He took this photo in October, 2003.

Then my head was reeling – what was I hoping to accomplish here? Give the boys a few bucks so that they could go to the weekend high school?  Good grief – was the romanticism of all those old movies going to explode in my face?  Just then the adult, Jose Alcides Sacatoro, son of the president of this community told me that they could use a second classroom, a teacher, a medical office, and/or a doctor.  I told him that I needed to do some research and that I would get back to him.
At first it was decided that we would build a one-room school. The community would do a minga (free labor - an old-fashioned barn raising), I would provide the materials (estimated at $1,000), and we got the half-hearted promise from the local Department of Education that they would provide a teacher. Well, thanks to the generosity of my friends who included $4,000 in their 2003 Christmas cards to me, our vison grew to a building with 2 classrooms, 2 bedrooms for the assigned teachers from the valley with a 2.5 hour commute, a sitting room/kitchen, and the first ever shower.

In September, 2004, less than a year after beginning this project, with great pride, we celebrated the opening of our school that is now called called Centro Educativo La Minga.

Our first class was octavos (8th graders – age 11-13 with an approximately equal ratio of girls to boys.)  They were excited to be able to attend colegio (jr-sr high school) one day a week (better than zero).

For the 2005-06 school year we had 52 students, two teachers and they were meeting two days a week! We are expecting 80 students for 2006-07. As always, it is a struggle to find the teachers who are willing to bear the hardship of living 2.5 hours away from their families, find the money for the fees & books, plus continuing to expand the school to accommodate the expanding enrollment. We have begun to add “La Segunda Etapa” (The Second Story) compliments of a wonderful donation of the Family Newton. We hope to be able to finish it in time for September, 2006.

It is my promise to the community to return to Malingua Pamba every year to continue to help to improve their education, and, as a secondary goal, their health.  I typically go in the spring and fall for a couple of weeks.  Here are some of the things that we have accomplished with the great team work that has grown between my new family and me.



Things accomplished with this marvelous, loving community of Malingua Pamba:



•Built a functioning school along with maintaining 4 computers (no internet), a digital projector, and a copier/fax for Malingua Pamba as well as the 6 nearby indigenous communities
•Built a composting toilet – advantages – doesn’t require water, a place to use dried plant material
•Encourage good dental hygiene with a visit by an Ecuadorian Lions Club and toothbrushes donated by the “Chicago dentists”
•Provide hope for a better and healthier future
Things we hope to accomplish
•Engineers Without Borders-Denver Chapter is sending an Assessment Team with me in my November, 2006 visit with the goals of providing:
irrigation water for their fields; hence a future higher standard of living
water for the two dry months (July & August)
potable water
get the “hot shower” working – the lack of continuous water pressure was scalding
•Get a Matching International Grant from Rotary Clubs in Colorado and Ecuador and Philadelphia
•Complete “La Segunda Etapa”/second story so that we have space for our new class of 30 students plus a computer and sewing room
•Start a reading/literacy program
•Complete the nearby newly started Elementary School
•Start a grey water system plus an organic garden
•Get a dental team through the Medicine: Arm-in-Arm organization
If you are interested in knowing more, volunteering, and/or donating please see our ever improving web site including a link to a power point presentation:  www.escuelaminga.org
We can always use another helping hand.

 

Pam Gilbert
 

Centro Educativo La Minga, Inc. –
a tax-deductible, non-profit corporation

PO Box 1877

Granby, CO 80446-1877

pamelita@escuelaminga.org

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​​Centro Educativo La Minga, Inc. is a Non-Profit, tax deductible organization.

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