Alumna helps village develop sustainablity

IUS Horizon

Isabel Estevez
Isabel Estevez

Isabel Estevez has been traveling to the San Gerardo village in Ecuador since she was 16 to help teach children English through the IUS School of Education course Explorations on Diversity Education.

Now 22 and armed with an economics degree from IU Bloomington, Estevez has a loftier goal: helping the people of San Gerardo to develop a self-sustaining community.

Estevez is the head of The Indiana-Ecuador Partnership for Sustainable Development and she is currently working with IU Bloomington to develop an internship program that would allow students from any academic discipline to assist in San Gerardo by practically applying their learned talents.

“The students would get real-world experience in their career fields, academic credit and the chance to make a profound difference in the lives of people in need,” Estevez said. “We are currently in the experimental phase of the internship program.

This summer we will have some guinea pigs. One of them, a School of Public and Environmental Affairs graduate student, will be traveling to Ecuador on an individualized service-internship program to explore possibilities for introducing alternative energy into San Gerardo by working with our partner [Non Governmental Orginzations],” she said.

Estevez said she wanted to use her knowledge in economics to help the people of San Gerardo get the most out of their traditional skills in textiles so they  are able to keep their culture alive and, at the same time, make a profit. 

“In most developing countries, the primary source of income is farming,” Estevez said. “But due to large-scale industrial farming much of the agricultural resources are being wiped out.”

An estimated 500 people live in San Gerardo, making human resources a scarce asset that must be put to good use. 

Magdalena Herdoiza-Estevez, associate professor of education, has been taking IUS students to Ecuador for the past eight years to teach the children of San Gerardo English through her Explorations on Diversity Education course.

Herdoiza-Estevez said her initial group of English instructors received dozens of gifts after their first visit to San Gerardo, but the amount declined the next year because more of the women were forced to concentrate on raising children and farming while their husbands worked in the city.  

The gifts, Herdoiza-Estevez said, were handmade scarves and handbags called shigras (SHEE-gruhs).

Herdoiza-Estevez said each Shigra takes two days to weave, and the women do it during their leisure time. 

“After the second trip, we noticed that many of the women were forgetting how to make the Shigras,” Herdoiza-Estevez said. 

“We wanted them to be able to keep that piece of their culture alive, but Isabel has taken it to a different level,” she said.

Estevez said the women were initially apprehensive about the idea of selling their products in the United States, because they weren’t confident people would want to buy them.

To combat that problem Estevez said she paid in advance and assured them their products would sell. Estevez also coordinated the logistics and marketing of the goods once she returned to the United States, working with Indiana-Ecuador Partnership volunteers.

Estevez said she hopes to delegate these tasks to marketing, business and informatics majors as part of her internship program in the future.

Although Estevez said she is confident in her ability to help the people of San Gerardo with her knowledge of business and economics, she makes sure that it is the villagers making the final decisions.

“By suggesting that we have a better way of doing something, we are patronizing them,” Estevez said.

“It is important that we not impose ourselves on the villagers since it is, after all, their home and culture,” she said.

Staff writer