MPA@UNC Student Travels to Ecuador: Week Two

This year I spent July Fourth at an Italian restaurant—Romolo e Romo—in Ecuador. This is seemingly as un-American as a person could get on Independence Day, but it’s probably the most at home I’ve felt since I came here on June 25 for a service-learning trip. Surrounded by good friends and good food, it’s hard to feel like you don’t belong. And restaurant owners Guiseppe and Antonio—who emigrated from Italy to Ecuador as volunteers—embrace all as family.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself …

We’re staying about an hour north of Quito, barely south of the equator, at the Villa Maria del Pastor, where we’re building a greenhouse. The Villa Maria del Pastor feeds and educates about 70 at-risk children. The greenhouse will help the six, and soon to be 12, nuns who live at Villa Maria del Pastor provide food to the children and other members of the community whom they assist through their service.

Financing the greenhouse is a core component of our project. The Villa Maria del Pastor already pays approximately $200 per month to Quito’s water utility service. A new greenhouse will make room for additional plants, which require greater water use—especially because a greenhouse won’t receive rainfall. There is no rainwater cistern in use. The Villa has a water storage tank, which a truck would occasionally come fill for their regular water use, but it is located inside a brick shed, and we don’t know the condition of this tank.

The greenhouse will certainly help with the costs of feeding approximately 70 children every day. But, when we administrators are implementing programs to help with one problem, it’s our job to think of the other problems that might arise. This project raised the following questions:

  • Does the benefit of lowering food costs outweigh additional water costs?
  • Is the $3,000 expense of building the greenhouse a worthwhile investment when the plastic parts of the structure must be replaced every three years and the entire structure replaced every six years?
  • Would building a cistern sufficiently offset utility costs at this time?
  • What about in the long run?

Those of us who dedicate our lives to public service do so because we care about our communities, just like the nuns at Villa Maria del Pastor and their partners at TripleSalto, the nonprofit organization that assigned our team to the greenhouse project. But, we can’t forget to ask the hard questions.

After five days of construction, Villa Maria del Pastor is certainly thankful for their new greenhouse [SM1] and what it will do to advance their mission. There is no denying the good feeling you get from helping others. We decided to celebrate the successful completion of the greenhouse project at Romolo e Remo.

Romolo e Remo was started by two Italians—Antonio and Guiseppe—who came to Ecuador at different times to volunteer with the foundation, Su Cambio por El Cambio, which helps get children off the streets to lead productive lives. They fell in love with the volunteer work and the city of Quito so much that they opened Romolo e Remo, where they train the children to cook and then employ them in one of the four restaurants they now own in Quito. The social impact continues, as they buy at least $2,000 worth of local produce each month. When possible, that produce comes from urban gardens TripleSalto has initiated.

It’s collaboration and social change for good.

MPA@UNC student Megan Garrett traveled to Ecuador for a three-week service-learning trip with the UNC School of Government Environmental Finance Center.