Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Gary Duncan, Assistant Director of Marketing

We have returned from the Galapagos Islands after four days of visiting five islands that are not only remarkable for their isolation, but also the creatures that live here. From pigmy penguins to marine iguanas, the sponsors were fascinated by our daily hikes over volcanic and almost barren islands that fascinated Charles Darwin almost 200 years ago.

Today, we journey north of Quito to the Imbabura Province which is known as the Lake District in Ecuador. It actually reminds me a lot of Austria with huge snow-covered peaks and lush green valleys full of rushing clear-water streams. CCF has numerous programs in this area, working with people whose work is in agricultural and live in dire poverty. We will stay tonight in a colonial hacienda that once hosted Simon Bolivar on numerous occasions (he is the George Washington of South America) and was instrumental in many countries gaining their independence from Spain.

Today is also the day that the Rodriquez family from Miami will get to meet their sponsored child. The Study Tour also marks the first time we have had an intergenerational group traveling with us, Marlen, her 15 year old daughter, and her mother! We also have the youngest person to ever travel on a Study Tour with us in Ecuador----his name is Luc and he is a very inquisitive little boy who many of the sponsors have called “the Energizer bunny” since Luc has boundless energy and personality.

The weather in Ecuador has been wonderful-- sunny, temperatures in the 70´s and little rain! Kudos to our Ecuadorian staff that have shown us tremendous hospitality and kindness throughout this trip. What a country with such gracious people!!!

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Gary Duncan, Assistant Director of Marketing

Our Study Tour group to Ecuador arrived in Quito late at night after a long delay in Atlanta. Seems there was more luggage on the plane than identified passengers and airline officials had to match each piece of luggage with each passenger on board the plane---we sat in the hot, humid plane for almost two hours before getting clearance to take off for Ecuador. Almost six hours later, we landed in Quito---a small airport that was built right in the middle of the city and surrounded by multi-story buildings. With the TAM Airline crash in Sao Paulo, Brazil, it is not hard to imagine the same thing could happen here.

Our CCF-Ecuador staff was waiting for us at the airport and we were quickly cleared through customs and on our way to the hotel. Immediately, my body could feel the affects of being in a city that is almost 10,000 ft. above sea level---there would be no climbing stairs tonight! I had urged the sponsors to bring altitude medication and several of them needed it immediately.

On Tuesday, we were welcomed to the CCF-Ecuador National Office by the National Director and staff. They presented an excellent overview of CCF programs in Ecuador and generously answered every question asked by sponsors. We had just finished breakfast an hour before arriving at this office, but coffee, juices, sandwiches, and cakes were waiting for our consumption and digestion. Eating during a Study Tour is an obligation, not an option.

Sponsors were very impressed by the program visits that day to rural communities in the Andes. CCF-Ecuador has very impressive programs in micro-credit, early childhood education, and health-sanitation services. At each stop, we were warmly welcomed by the parents committees that actually administer the programs in a truly rural community development process that allows the community to decide the priorities for their children and village.

Ecuador is the leading grower and exporter of roses in the world, and CCF has been instrumental in help poor farmers start rose and carnation production farms. These local farms have brought new vitality and income to communities that have high unemployment and the consequences of poverty primarily impacts young children. Our sponsor group was very impressed by these programs and wanted to know how they could invest in helping rural families establish more self-help businesses.

We leave this morning for the Galapagos and for more discoveries about the beautiful country of Ecuador.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Gary Duncan, Assistant Director of Marketing

No one would ever guess how difficult it is to get a Study Tour group from the States to Ecuador... but we are leaving Atlanta today for a six hour flight to Quito. Let me summarize the details of what it took to get us all in one place for this international departure.

We start working on each Study Tour approximately six months before departure. First, we get clearance from the host country that it is okay to bring a group of sponsors and donors to their country for 7 to 10 days-- hey, it is no easy task hosting a large group with various needs and personalities but all of our CCF national offices do a superb job in making us feel welcome and part of their family.

Betty B and I negotiate the lowest rates, but highest quality, with airlines, hotels, local transportation, in-country restaurants, etc. for each Study Tour. With the Study Tour to Ecuador, we have excellent support from Carlos M. and Zoraya (national staff in Quito) who are busily coordinating trips to CCF program areas; visits to CCF sponsored children and families, tours of local historic and cultural venues, etc.

Despite our best efforts, there are always glitches out of our control (like the US Passport Agency and Embassies that issue tourist visas), but our Richmond staff seems to handle these problematic situations with courtesy and kindness.

Finally— we have done as much planning as possible to make each trip a success and the day arrives for our departure. For the past months, hundreds of emails have been written and countless number of telephone calls have been made to arrange things, answer questions, give reassurance to nervous travelers, and nail down those last-minute travel gremlins that always seem to appear-- like, "I lost my passport, I can't find my ticket, the airline has cancelled my flight to the departure point..." hey, all in a day's work and I am surprised that most situation can be, and are, resolved!

Now is the day of our departure from Atlanta to Quito. Thoughts run through my mind as we sit waiting for everyone to arrive at the world's busiest airport. Please, let the thunderstorm avoid us in this area and everyone arrive safely and find the international gate to Quito in this gigantic airport! I think of the variety of sponsors going on this trip and how great it will be getting to know the new travelers and renewing the friendships with people who have traveled with us before on Study Tours.

Two hours before take-off, we start doing head-counts. Renee and I will be frantically searching the Atlanta airport for anyone who has not appeared at the gate. In five years--remarkably-- I've had only one person miss an international flight and he was stuck in a traffic jam trying to get out of Manhattan to JFK.

I imagine that our CCF-Ecuador staff is feeling anxious at this point knowing that these US sponsors will soon arrive in their country. They are an outstanding staff and have nothing to fear, everything will go perfectly... and if it doesn't, that's just part of the adventure of traveling in a foreign country. Our sponsors are in for a great trip that will be fun, educational, and for many of them, life-changing! We are going to meet our international family for a great reunion and sharing of experiences that make us residents of one world despite different languages, religions, political beliefs or economic backgrounds. CCF sponsorship is a great equalizer of people on Study Tours; we are in for ten days of surprises and companionship.

Vaya con Dios y Adios Compadres!

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Gary Duncan, Assistant Director of Marketing

Edging to Equador

In just a few days, we begin another Study Tour with a group of sponsors who will be visiting the beautiful country of Ecuador. Our flight from the mega-busy Atlanta airport will take us almost six hours over numerous Central American countries and two large bodies of water before we land on a short runway in downtown Quito. I started taking my 'altitude medicine' today to ward off severe headaches, sluggishness, and stomach aches that you may encounter in the high Andean altitude. Our hotel will be in view of six inactive volcanoes...although one continues to belch smoke that can be seen almost 50 miles away.

Although our group is smaller than the usual attendance of 20 to 30 sponsors, we have some unique characteristics contained in this group. First, we will have the youngest Study Tour participant in our 5-year history! His name is Luc and he is 7-years-old. We will also have our first intergenerational group, previous Study Tour participant Marlen and her mom and her daughter. They are from Miami and will bring a unique perspective of family traveling to the CCF Study Tours. We will also welcome back multi-Study Tour participants Jack and Cathie from Georgia. They are always a pleasure to have on these trips and generous with their support for youth projects in so many countries. Jack is a 'technology guru' who uses his talents to help poor villages harness the educational power of computers. We have some new travelers from other parts of the USA that we look forward to welcoming to our travel group.

I am fortunate to have CCF employee Renee of New York who will be helping me with the daily tasks of a Study Tour. Kimberly of Oregon is a new CCF employee of just a few weeks, but she will join us on this tour to see projects, meet National Staff in Ecuador, and get a first-hand look at how sponsorship fees and special gifts positively impact the areas where CCF is working in this country.

I look forward to reporting the events of our journey to you. I will also attempt to get sponsors-- even young Luc-- to add to this blog as we travel throughout Ecuador and explore the Galapagos Island....where there is no Internet service except on tiny Baltra Island and the signal is extremely week and sporadic even on clear days!

Hasta luego!

Gary D.

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