Monday, July 7, 2014

Neighborhood Fiesta

The city of Cuenca sponsors free Zumba classes at parks all over town, including one near our building that is rocking from 8 to 9 every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening. We've not participated but most definitely hear the music and enthusiastic instructor urging on sometimes as many as 100 folks from the neighborhood.

So it was a bit odd this past Friday that the music started cranking at 9, but we thought maybe the schedule had changed. Then it kept going--and going--and still going when we went to bed. I learned the next morning that we were celebrating the annual fiesta for our El Vergel barrio (neighborhood).

All weekend. Sigh-----

Sure enough, Saturday night we were living in Party Central once again. I woke up to go to the bathroom at 1:30 and the music was still blaring, so maybe it stopped at 2? Who knows?

Yesterday the fiesta got started in the early afternoon and I at last wandered over to check it out. Our little park was packed with revelers and vendors. Here are some photos to give you an idea of what the celebration looked like.

Yes, somehow she's sleeping through all the racket.

And I'm happy to report that the party finally shut down at 9 last night.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hearts of Gold

Are you old enough to remember the “Paul is dead” hysteria during the autumn of 1969? As a card-carrying Beatlemaniac I was devastated by rumors that swirled in the media for months.

Paul had supposedly died in a car crash two years earlier and been replaced with a lookalike. New “clues” to substantiate the event continually surfaced. By playing Revolution 9 backwards one heard the phrase “turn me on, dead man”—on Strawberry Fields Forever John supposedly said “I bury Paul” (later found to be “cranberry sauce”)—the cover of Abbey Road symbolized a funeral procession. A Life magazine interview with Paul and Linda McCartney published in November 1969 finally quelled the madness.

The memory of this story came back to me because of recent chatter around town about Hearts of Gold, a charitable foundation in Cuenca. One of the founders is also the majority owner of GringoTree, our city’s popular online community bulletin board, as well as a principal in two gold mining projects in Ecuador.

The scuttlebutt has been vague but potentially damning. Money donated to the charity is “maybe” being diverted for personal use—“perhaps” there is a conflict of interest—something “funny” is going on------.

As a supporter of Hearts of Gold, a reader of GringoTree, and with a financial interest in the other venture, these rumors were personally disturbing. Rather than rely on idle gossip, I decided to go straight to the source. All three enterprises share the same office space, so I walked in unannounced and stated the intention of my visit.

What I found was both shocking and disappointing.

The genesis for the Hearts of Gold Foundation was in 2010, when the business owned by a Canadian expat couple sponsored a “Christmas Gold for Children” program that raised money for three orphanages during the holiday season. The outpouring of support encouraged them to formalize their efforts into Hearts of Gold.

The non-profit’s mission is specifically NOT to bring Gringo solutions to Ecuadorian problems. Instead, Hearts of Gold partners with existing local non-profit organizations having in depth knowledge of the community’s needs. Each partner shares the vision of breaking the cycle of poverty and creating sustainable solutions by providing tools and resources in the areas of education and health.

I was amazed at the extent of the organization’s reach. Here are just a few highlights of who is being helped:

• A local orphanage that houses 23 children, 7 of whom have physical or mental disabilities
• A home in downtown Cuenca that provides a safe refuge for women and young girls who come from abusive environments
• An organization near Paute that offers full lunches and medical care to indigent children
• A pre- and after-school program in a rural community outside of Cuenca

In addition to individual donations, Hearts of Gold hosts large events like an annual Christmas Gala, Silent Auctions, and this Saturday the 1st Annual Bar-B-Que Barn Dance. They also have drop off locations around Cuenca for clothing and other non-perishable items that are made into gift baskets and handed out to underprivileged families during Christmas.

This was a huge surprise: the generosity of corporate sponsors covers the entire costs of overhead and administration, so 100% of all donations goes directly to partner organizations and families.

Hearts of Gold’s success, along with plans to eventually become a national organization, led to a decision in 2013 to be recognized as a legal foundation. Massive amounts of paperwork later, the transition was completed and a Board of Directors comprised of outside locals and expats was elected. The Foundation is accountable to five different government agencies for every penny that is received and spent.

So, yes, I was shocked. Shocked to learn how much good Hearts of Gold is doing throughout the Azuay province. Shocked to discover how squeaky clean their balance sheet is required to be.

And disappointed to consider how much damage some of the mean-spirited inaccuracies I had heard might have caused.

Paul McCartney is alive and well. He’s currently on a worldwide tour and recently rocked the house in Quito. Hearts of Gold is also kicking up its heels. At this Saturday’s Barn Dance over 300 supporters will enjoy the food and festivities.

But since uncovering the “shocking” truth about this foundation, I’m left to wonder if without all the unsubstantiated rumors that have been flying around attendance would be even higher.

Those who choose for personal reasons not to support Hearts of Gold charitable activities have my utmost respect. Lots of folks are active in other worthwhile organizations, and some people just aren’t moved to participate in anything of this nature.

Keeping it real, who hasn’t engaged in gossip at one time or another? It’s hard not to sometimes pass along juicy tidbits that come our way. The rub comes when blatantly false information, like a fish story, grows each time it is retold and becomes hurtful.

I have been blessed with meeting hundreds of wonderful locals and expats during my four years in Cuenca. I can’t name a single one that I would label as “evil.” I know that people are basically good and would never intentionally bring harm to others.

But sometimes our actions can bring unintended consequences. I would be personally devastated far beyond those “Paul is dead” rumors if I discovered that my idle remarks had kept a child from getting proper medical care or eating a nutritious lunch, or a battered woman from having nowhere to go.

Yet that is exactly what has happened to anyone who has chosen to badmouth Hearts of Gold without knowing the facts that I have shared. Or worse, has passed along misinformation to others. Or worst of all, has failed to support this worthwhile foundation simply based on this misinformation.

I’m discouraging the dissemination of second, third, and fourth hand comments, so don’t take my word for anything I’ve said here about Hearts of Gold. Go to their offices just like I did and find out the truth for yourself if this knowledge is important to you. Everyone there was extremely kind and helpful to me, my misgivings were answered, and I left feeling proud to be involved.

It is said that “idle time is the devil’s workshop,” and sharing unconfirmed gossip certainly falls into this category. Seeking to speak the truth and resisting the temptation to engage in potentially harmful hearsay is a cause worthy of everyone’s participation.