Teens and Cultural Exchange in Ecuador

Hello dear friends and readers!

I'm thrilled to be joining with adventurous teens Julia and Carsyn to do this post in honor of the Tandana Foundation's ten-year anniversary.  Tandana is one of the wonderful non-profits where I donate a portion of my royalties.  My donations go toward scholarship funds to empower indigenous Ecuadorians through education. This organization is especially awesome because they also facilitate cultural exchange trips for all ages, which has been a life-changing and eye-opening experience for Carsyn and Julia.  I'll let them tell you about their experiences in their own words!

Carsyn in Otavalo with Maria Virginia Farinango, co-author of  our book

The Queen of Water

, based on her own life

Here are Carsyn's inspiring words:

     “In order to live fully you must make the world your classroom. Just recently I have traveled through Ecuador and learned more lessons than I ever could have imagined. 

     The most important lesson I learned, was appreciating an education. In the States we might dread going to school or studying for your next test, but over seas children love school and want to learn. This example is represented in the wonderful book

Queen of Water

when Maria Virginia escapes her life as a young servant by discovering an outlet through education. I had the opportunity to meet Maria in Otavalo, Ecuador. 

     The one piece of advice she emphasized was to never give up on an education. Always push yourself, study harder, and be the best student you can be. Maria inspired me to come home and to have a different insight on learning."

 Making bread during Carsyn's home stay with Tandana

     "As I enter to be a freshman in college this fall, I will be appreciating my education, and remembering that no matter when I think times are rough there is some young girl in the world giving up everything she has to gain an education. So love learning, create a friendship with your textbook, and change the world with an education."


Planting trees during the community minga on Carsyn's trip with Tandana

Julia is another high-schooler who participated in Tandana's program. Here are her fascinating thoughts on her experience:

"Traveling evokes a whirlwind of emotions and new understandings. It debunks what you think you know and leaves a world that is calm chaos. Enticing, unnerving, addictive. What you learn is something that can’t be taught. It must be discovered.

During the time I was in Ecuador I was happy, truly and unabashedly happy with no limits or restrictions. I was free. Back at home now, the world looks differently. It’s like I’ve only been looking at the corner of a painting and traveling has enticed me to step back and admire the entirety of the artwork.

When you hear the stories of people around the world you realize that we are all the same. No matter where we come from or how different our daily routines are, we are all human. We are all family."


Maria Virginia, her daughter Leslie, Anna Taft (founder of Tandana), and me in Otavalo

Here's what Tandana has to say:

"The Tandana Foundation is turning 10 this year! To commemorate the start of our nonprofit status and celebrate a decade of "Joining Hands and Changing Lives" in Ecuador and Mali, we've launched a year-long campaign on that theme."

Veronica (scholarship coordinator at Tandana), Susana (scholarship student), and me

More from Tandana:

"'Ten Years of Joining Hands and Changing Lives'  highlights what is most important to Tandana: relationships. Forging positive relationships is at the heart of our international volunteer programs and community initiatives as well as our school scholarship fund. These opportunities to live, labor, and laugh with people of diverse cultural backgrounds broadens our worldviews, strengthens our communities, and propels us all toward our potential—not as isolated individuals but as globally interdependent ones. In this way, our ability to change lives is amplified exponentially."

The folks from Tandana are wonderful and big-hearted, and I recommend you check out their organization


if you're interested in doing a service-learning or volunteer trip to Ecuador (or Mali-- they have programs there, too!)  And of course, your donation to their scholarship fund would make a HUGE difference in an indigenous student's life.

It's been so special for Maria Virginia and me to be involved in helping people forge these meaningful and life-changing relationships across cultures! I'm so glad Tandana's moving into its second decade and continuing this amazing work.

Thanks for coming by, dear readers...