A recap of 2017 — People making a difference in Cuenca

Dec 22, 2017 | 11 comments

As 2017 draws to a close, I’m reflecting back on our third year in Cuenca. I never get tired of my early morning walks on the Tomebamba, but lately since we’ve moved downtown, I’m mixing it up with walks in the city. I love the sunrises in Cuenca — the early morning light is very pretty.

Work has been busy this year. First and foremost is my weekly column for CuencaHighLife.com.  It’s a great gig — I get to choose my topics, select my illustrations, and every week I get to research and report — it’s a lot of fun and I hope you enjoy the columns too.

I stay challenged by writing study guides for continuing education credits for U.S. registered dietitian/nutritionists — this year my guides included one on how medications can interact with and exacerbate diabetes; another was all about sugars —evaluating different types of dietary sugars and artificial sweeteners. I’m finishing up the year with medical management of type 1 diabetes.

If it’s true that exercising your brain prevents dementia, then I’m good for a couple of hundred years.

I’d like to share some of my volunteer efforts this year, to give readers a chance to consider some possibilities for year-end donations to some very worthy and important initiatives here in Cuenca.

Since arriving in 2014, I’ve shared my nutrition and health expertise with various audiences. This year:

U.S. Veterans in Cuenca: I enjoy meeting with these vets, and this year I presented “Preventing and managing type 2 diabetes”, and we had fun learning how to cut through the “clutter” of fad diets.

Jungle Gym Cuenca hosted my series of hour-long presentations on healthy living topics including “Best & worst diets”, chronic disease prevention (including diabetes and heart disease), healthy cooking techniques, fueling your fitness, and how to dine out healthfully (the gringo dilemma!). All of my fees for the classes were donated to the non-profit Helping Kids in Ecuador (HKIE), founded to provide medical services to children in Ecuador, who would not otherwise be able to receive those necessary services. They do great work — learn more about their efforts (and donate) here.  Kudos to Rachel and Todd Hetzel of the Jungle Gym for hosting, and to Mary and Tod Freeman of HKIE for their tireless work.

Congratulations to Mike Weber, Special Projects Director, and Mark Odenwelder, Executive Director of the CEDEI School in Cuenca for bringing CATCH to Cuenca. CEDEI (Center for Interamerican Studies) and CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) Global Foundation teaches healthy nutrition habits and encouraging physical activity in school children and piloted the nutrition and physical fitness project in 2015 — in the 2017-2018 school year CATCH continues in 28 schools in Cuenca, with support of the Ministries of Education and Health and other public and private institutions.

I again participated in the “train the trainers” three-day workshop where physical education instructors and classroom teachers become familiar with the nutrition and physical activity modules and strategies. CATCH is proven over 25 years to be an effective and sustainable model for preventing childhood obesity in communities throughout the U.S. and is expanding efforts in Ecuador and additional Latin American countries too. Learn more about CATCH here and email me if you’d like to learn how you can help in the schools.

Casa de la Diabetes hosted my “Diabetes Myths & Facts” presentation, with more than 50 expats and locals attending.  Casa de la Diabetes works to help provide Cuencanos and expats with affordable and effective diabetes education and support. This non-profit foundation is a lifeline to many people living with diabetes, and for some, is the only source for supplies and information. Founded by Ana Fernanda Sanchez, Casa de la Diabetes is devoted to improving the lives of patients and their families with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2. From the smallest child to seniors, all can obtain life-saving treatment and education.

Each July more than 40 children with type 1 diabetes spend a fun-packed weekend in the Yunguilla valley, all costs covered by the Foundation. With volunteers supervising and participating, the kids play, swim, perform skits and have a huge bonfire, all the while perfecting their blood glucose monitoring and insulin administration skills, in an atmosphere that’s free and easy. Because they all have type 1, there’s no stigma to having this permanent disease — for many of the kids it’s the first time they feel so “normal!” I can’t say enough about this summer initiative, and it’s a profoundly important time in these kid’s lives — sometimes life-changing. Please feel free to contact me to learn how you can help support El Campo 2018. Learn more about Casa de la Diabetes here.

The Casa Maria Amor foundation provides shelter to women and their children suffering from domestic violence, and Mujeres con Exito helps to transition these women into a successful working career. There are many pieces to this puzzle, and this past October I wrote a column for CuencaHighlife about the foundation (click here to read) and promoted their event to raise money for the new greenhouse. Click here to contact the Fundraising Director Susan McBride, and be assured that the women and the foundation are worthy recipients of your support.

Hogar de Esperanza is a non-profit in Cuenca that helps adults and children affected by chronic illness with a focus on HIV. This year Director Garry Vatcher contacted me and asked if I could help by writing a nutritional guide for patients living with HIV. There are a lot of myths associated with good nutrition and chronic HIV, so I was happy to help.  This worthy organization welcomes your support.  Donate unwanted clothes, books, kitchen equipment, or art and/or buy a treasure at the Esperanza Gift Shop, 11-36 Tarqui, just north of Mariscal Sucre.  The store is completely run by volunteers and 100% of money raised goes directly to assisting patients in need at area hospitals. They’re open Monday through Friday from 11 – 6, and until 3 on Saturday. Click here for their Facebook page.

I’ve worked with a number of new clients this year. Many expats arrive in Cuenca with a healthy outlook — if they’re not currently at their healthy weight, they are on a mission to achieve it. Other expats arrive with pre-existing health issues, ranging from high blood pressure to digestive issues, and nutritional management of these conditions is certainly possible for those motivated individuals.

Are you a “New Year’s Resolution” type of person? Thinking about making a change in your lifestyle/diet for 2018? Next Friday, December 29, in my final column for 2017, I’ll give you the three most important changes that, if made a permanent part of your life, can keep you healthier in 2018, and beyond!

Susan Burke March

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