Camp Kuri Kucho

I am once again blogging my reflection of my Discover Ecuador week.  I want to model for our students as well as share my experiences and learnings.  Two amazing weeks gave me much more to think about than I could write but here are some of my thoughts as well as photo “evidence”.  


For the second week in a row I was away with students for Discover Ecuador trips, it was another great experience.  Working with the 7th grade class at Camp Kuri Kucho (thanks to Gabo Cadenas for the above photo) was an absolute joy!  The community, San Pablo Urku, welcomed us with open arms and we felt totally at home as we worked to support the projects of this small community.  My experience with the 7th graders was just as amazing as my trip to the Amazon the week before but different in many ways, most obvious of which was the weather!


The biggest outcome of this week for me was the impressive and inspiring work achieved by the 7th grade group.  In the week prior to our visit the 9th grade class had been in this community starting and working on some projects.  The 7th grade continued their work in many areas and started a few of their own projects.

IMG_6142 2.JPG
The first five rows of a 15 row water tank.  Each plastic bottle is filled with dirt to create a “brick”.  Foundation laid by 9th grade last week.

Over the course of the week we were able to see the fruits of our labor as the projects progressed.  Our students felt tremendously proud of the work they accomplished.


The main focus of our work was centered around the local school.  In this community they have a school of about 90 students from elementary school up through 10th grade.  The students in this school are from the surrounding villages and could be seen walking great distances to get to and from school each day.  The AC students were able to connect with these students as they joined the 45 minute school break each morning.  Playing soccer, basketball and joining conversations with the local students, our kids got to know the community members better.  The connections they established gave even more meaning to the work we were completing on their behalf.

One of the highlights was the opportunity for our students to take part in a lesson with some local students.  The topic was about the use of pesticides and the harmful impact they can have on the agriculture and the environment.

Classroom “theory” time before doing the “practical” in the garden.

After the lesson our students worked side by side in the garden with the local students to begin planting either potatoes or fava beans (habas).  Since this school is a rural school they’ve worked to establish a sizable organic garden for their students to learn the process and importance of farming.  Much of our service work involved this garden.  It was a unique experience and opportunity for our students to work in a meaningful and real context with the local students.


Ernesto teaching us how to milk a cow and other fun facts about cows and their milk production.

Aside from the wonderful service work completed by our kids we had a lot of other learning opportunities throughout the week.  Afternoon activities allowed the kids to learn to make tortillas from scratch, learn to milk a cow, and upcycle a plastic bottle into a “maceta” (a pot for plants).

Maceta creation station led by our fantastic project leader, Karen.

Each student participated in all of these activities and had the chance to come home with their maceta and a plant.  Other opportunities included learning to conserve water (a very valuable resource in this community) by taking a “bucket shower”,

Buckets getting filled for our “showers”.  Hot water boils on the other side of that wall, each person gets about half a bucket of hot water and fills the rest with colder water.

working as a team to wash their own dishes and silverware, and sharing a bunk space with over 15 other classmates.  All in all, our 7th grade group had the opportunity for a lot of amazing takeaways from the week.


What I Learned at Kuri Kucho

While this was a tremendous learning experience for our students there were also some great takeaways for me too.  We worked hard during the day and enjoyed the afternoon and evening team building experiences.  The students learned countless lessons this week.  I too learned a few lessons of my own through this experience and also a few good reminders!

Last week I talked about how much I learned about my tolerance for rain.  This week, I learned just how valuable rain (and water in general) can be for a community.  San Pablo Urku lies in a very dry area and is currently in the midst of the dry season.  We were constantly reminded of this fact since they only have running water a couple days of the week.  Students (and teachers) had to deal with toilets that didn’t flush with the push of a button, an absence of traditional showers (they waste a lot of water), and dust and dirt all over everything.  While we were there we experienced a day of rain and could see first hand just how valuable that water was to the community.  Water collection tanks filled, plants and crops received much needed hydration, and the whole community smiled as we sheltered from the rain (they knew how important that water was!)  Water, the essence of life, is constantly on the minds of this community…something we take for granted everyday was put into a very different perspective at Camp Kuri Kucho.

Another good reminder of things that we take for granted was the importance of certain types of food.  I can walk out my front door and within two minutes be at a pizza place, a sushi joint, a noodles restaurant, or cevicheria.  In San Pablo Urku the staples are potatoes and fava beans.  Every meal includes one of these very filling foods that also provide an amount of protein to their diets.  Meat is rare and when included it is a treat.  Cuy (guinea pig) are raised by almost all members of the community, as well as chickens.  Cows provide milk,

There were lots of sheep around San Pablo Urku.

sheep provide wool, but both exist as a rare delicacy as far as their meat is concerned.  The last night hamburgers and french fries on the menu, it struck me as to how foreign this menu must be for the local community…something so normal to me is completely foreign two hours down the road.

Wonderful Experience

Waking up each morning to the sight of Cayambe looming over head was an absolute joy.  I didn’t let a chance to appreciate this beautiful sight ever pass me by.

A hike with an amazing view as a reward, beautiful!

We had clear mornings each day and I even woke up one night at about 4:30 to see a full moon hovering just over the volcano…awesome!  Beyond the amazing scenery was the chance to take in a completely new experience with our students.  Visiting this community and working alongside the maestros to improve their garden and water tank was inspiring.  Community service is important for the people we help but perhaps even more important for the inspiration we can take away from the experience.  I feel very thankful to have enjoyed this trip with the 7th grade students.


Why I Blog and You Should Too

Have you heard this before, “you should be writing/blogging/sharing”?  Maybe, maybe not…perhaps it’s been a colleague who’s tried to convince you to share your classroom knowledge and experiences.  Perhaps it’s your friends who know you’re such an amazing cook, photographer, or artist.  If your family and friends are anything like mine then surely someone has insisted you share your traveling experiences so they can live vicariously through your awesome life 😉  But it takes time and effort – time and effort you’d rather dedicate to your craft, hobby, or family…so what do you do?

About three years ago I made the decision to actually do it, to start blogging.  I had considered it for a number of years, mostly planning to write about my travels and experiences.  However, three years ago when I finally committed to starting a blog I decided it had to be about education.  Why?  Good question…

Looking back at my decision I realize (or at least I’m ready to admit) that it was a decision I made for selfish reasons.  See, I had started writing simple emails to the staff at our school.  They were short, one to two paragraph pieces generally related to a piece or two of research that I had encountered earlier in the week.  I never received much feedback from our staff and figured they generally went unnoticed or even worse, ignored!  However, I was seeing growth in myself as an educator and as a learner.  When I first started to send these short pieces to our staff I was trying to help them improve as educators.  However, I realized that perhaps more than anyone it was ME who was growing from this process!

What happened was that in order for me to write a short one to two paragraph summary of an article with a couple ideas, I had to spend a lot more time pondering education than it took me to actually type two paragraphs.  I estimate that for every article I bookmark in my “professional readings” folder, I read another nine or ten that I don’t bother saving.  Beyond reading these articles I spend a lot of time just pondering, wondering, and questioning the information I’ve learned through these readings.  It’s amazing professional development just to go through this exercise on a regular basis.

I hear you, “well that’s great Bret, but it has nothing to do with blogging” and I agree…kind of.  If I hadn’t committed myself to sitting down each week and writing a blog post (I’ve published 85 to date, make that 86 today!) then I would have NEVER gone through the time and effort to have read and learned so much over the last three years.  I’m a naturally curious person and can be easily drawn into anything (even terrible TV shows that I really should have no interest in watching!!)  SO, a lot of the time I spend reading educational articles, following people on Twitter, and listening to TED Talks is time that I would probably otherwise spend on silliness like Facebook, Instagram, or bad TV.  Blogging has redirected my time management in a sense but it has also expanded my horizons further into education than I could’ve ever imagined.

I will continue blogging and writing professionally (I’ve also started writing book reviews of educational texts) because I enjoy it and find the opportunity to grow personally satisfying.  But I’m not you and you’re not me.  You may be similar or maybe not…so why should you blog?!?

There is no way I could ever come up with an exhaustive list of reasons why anyone should blog but here are a few good ones (should you need more of a nudge):

  1. Professional Growth:  As you may be able to guess, I’m not sure I could come up with a better way to grow yourself professionally than by reading and writing about your craft.
  2. Networking/PLN:  Putting your ideas out on the internet is a great way to get feedback from others in your personal/professional learning network.  Conversations that you would normally never be able to have become options when you share your work/ideas with the world.  
  3. Positive Exposure:  Your online presence is becoming (or perhaps already is) a very important part of your professional portfolio.  Sharing your educational thoughts is a big step toward showing the world where your educational beliefs/ideas lie.  (Prospective employers LOVE to see a positive presence!)  AND sometimes cool stuff like this happens…

If you’re still unsure, I’d like to encourage you to try…just try.  Don’t publish anything yet, take some time to sit down each week and just write.  Use Word, Google Docs, or whatever and save your work.  Write about an idea that struck you, an article you read, or in response to something you’ve seen…it doesn’t even have to be about education!  Just start the practice of sitting down to write.  Give it a shot, in a couple weeks I’ll share some tips and articles about setting up your blog…by then you’ll already have some practice and a good idea of what your writing voice sounds like 🙂