Building a School in Ecuador

school_2The Andean mountain province of Chimborazo is between 3,000 and 5,000m above sea level and for the people who live there, life has changed little in hundreds of years. Their houses are circular huts, made from the branches of eucalyptus trees and covered with a thatch of dried grass. There is a low door but no windows. In good weather, the people live outside but in bad, which is often, they crowd inside and light a fire. There are no chimneys and the smoke curls up through the thatched roof. Whole families live in one hut and sometimes, a double size bunk bed fills half the room. Chickens or guinea pigs hide under the bed and bits of them hang above the hearth of blackened stones, getting smoked and no doubt destined for the cooking pot. The people live by herding llamas, alpacas and sheep. They grow quinoa, broad beans and potatoes and as they have spent their whole lives above 3,000m, their lungs and livers have expanded. They are quite comfortable at these altitudes but visitors quickly become out of breath, if they move too quickly.

Among the many communities living in the mountains, there are four more isolated than most. They live at Huanca Pallaguchi, which is 15km east of Achupallas. They belong to the original Cañari people, who built the temple complex of Ingapirca about 5 centuries ago. They were conquered by the Incas in the 15th century but when the Spaniards arrived, a century later, they remained undiscovered in the mountains. Now, at last, they want an education for their children. The government promised teachers but would not provide a school, so the people built one – a series of mud huts, with no floors, windows, electricity or kitchen and with primitive washing conditions. When it was completed, the government sent 12 teachers to teach 180 children. The teachers stay in the village during the week but their accommodation is worse than the wretched state of the school. Only in a country as poor as Ecuador could teachers be persuaded to endure such conditions.

Gill David and Sue Thain went to Ecuador in January 2006, with $8,000 to buy books but ended up committing themselves to build two houses for teachers and a new school at an estimated cost of $90,000. The immediate task was to build two single storey houses, a school kitchen and a classroom for up to 200 children. The building work was completed by the communities themselves, but a building contractor was engaged to provide two hydraulic brick making machines. The estimate for the houses and the first two classrooms was $34,000, but they then needed to be equipped and furnished.