By Tom Larsen
After three years in Cuenca, Irmgard (Irma) Lafrentz recently returned to her home, friends and family in California’s Silicon Valley. Irma left behind quite a legacy of giving in her short time here, but the final chapter has not yet been written.
Irma was born in Germany where she began her marketing career right out of high school. In 1984 she emigrated to the United States where she started a highly successful Silicon Valley international public relations agency: Globalpress Connections, Inc.
How did she end up in Cuenca? Let’s find out.
“A big part of running a successful business is the connections you make,” she said. “I am good at that but only business was not enough. So, 2009 I started attending Rotary meetings in Cupertino to add community work to my life. Soon I found myself heavily involved and became the Youth Counselor for the Rotary Student Exchange Program of Chapter 5170, based in Cupertino, California.
“We had a young student from Cuenca (Challuabamba) named Carolina Tamariz Malo. Her first host family was not a good match. I was able to move her to the home of my best friends, and they instantly became a real family. In 2013 I visited Carolina and her family and fell in love with Ecuador and its people. After retirement in 2016 I was looking for some adventure a after non-stop work life. Carolina’s mother said, ‘You have friends and family in Ecuador. Why not come here?’ So, I did.”
Always a person who thrived on activity, Irma soon discovered that she wasn’t ready for “retirement” in the true sense. Not cut out for a life of leisure, she began to look around for an organization that needed her help, one where she could use her skillset to effect some real change in people’s lives at a basic level.
Irma began volunteering with the Fundación Casa Maria Amor, a local organization that provides shelter, basic education and job skills training for more than one hundred women and their families each year. All these women have suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse the hands of husbands and boyfriends, even their own family members.
Susan McBride, the organization’s Fundraising Director, told Irma in one meeting that they needed to upgrade their promotional materials.
“What we need,” she said, “is someone who can make a good PowerPoint® presentation.”
“No,” Irma chuckled. “This is twenty-first century. We need a video that is compelling and tells the story of the victims of domestic violence.”
Irma wrote the concept for the video, “A Place to Restart Life” — about three women talking about their journeys — and with help of Esteban Amon, a young Cuencano videographer, concept became reality within 3 months.
To get the video done quickly, Irma funded the video mostly from her own pocket, and it became a cornerstone of the group’s fundraising efforts. Diana Vázquez, coordinator of Fundación Mujeres con Ėxito, a sister organization to Casa Maria Amor, presented the video during her 2-week trip to the US trying to establish new connections with other shelters.
You can see the video here.
But this was not all Irma had in mind: she set out for more. Realizing that internal communication in the El Centro facility was too slow, she had management get a quote for a high-speed network service. Again, to get it done fast, she funded the new network service herself. Ready for the twenty first century!
In 2018 came her biggest idea: her Rotary Club in Cupertino, California was willing to underwrite a global grant if Irma could find a local Rotary Club in Cuenca to apply for the grant. This was done with Rotary Club Tomebamba. Irma is admitting the challenge of grant writing within a different culture, work style and communication. But – after 15 months of hard work, a Rotary Global Grant for $48,000 was approved. Rotary Club Tomebamba is responsible to spend the available funds for more, better therapies for the women and children, add a vegetable garden to the existing green house for healthy food growing and to install a better water system.
Irma stays in contact with the foundation directors and is always looking for new opportunities to help this important cause. She says that she will return to Cuenca as often as she can, hopefully next Spring, to visit with expat and Cuenca friends, her Tamariz Malo family and to get her street food and mercado fix. If you see her, be sure to say hello, and thank you.
Tom Larsen is a Cuenca expat author. Read his new short mystery “Aliento del Diablo” set in Cuenca, in the upcoming September/October Issue of “Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine” or follow him on Amazon