Vilcabamba expats Laurie Miller and Larry Evans knew for years that they wanted to become more involved in their adopted community.
“The people here have welcomed us with open arms and have enriched our lives. This is our home now and we felt we needed to give something back,” said Evans, who came to Vilcabamba from Los Angeles in 2003.
The result was the One World Vilcabamba Foundation, established in 2010 by Miller and Evans with help of Paúl Leon, to teach Engish to residents of Vilcabamba. To date, the project has provided instruction to more than 400 students, ranging from school-aged children to older adults. The instruction is free, supported by Miller, Evans and other expat contributors. Last year, One World’s budget was $15,000.
In addition to English instruction, the Foundation supports a variety of community activities, including clean-ups at the local cemetery and reforestation projects.
Classes of 25 students are taught by eight native-English speaking teachers at the Colegio Nacional Vilcabamba, with younger students attending class at 5 in the afternoon and adults at 6. The basic program includes three months of classroom instruction, plus extra study for school children during holidays, and community service projects coordinated with the local government.
Miller says she is often overwhelmed by the dedication of the students. “They are hungry to learn and their enthusiasm is the payoff we receive as sponsors.”
Adálber Gaona, chairman of the town council, or Junta Parroquial, is also enthusiastic about One World and says it brings the community and expats, primarily North Americans, together. “The contribution of the foreigners is very valuable to us, both socially and educationally,” he says, adding that English language skills learned in the classroom often translate into employment with English-speaking expats.
José Sarango is one of the beneficiaries. A mason by trade, he says his language skills have helped him communicate with expats for whom he builds houses. The 26-year-old is attending second-level classes at One World.
One World marked its third anniversary in February and the number of students continues to grow. “We’re very pleased with the progress we’ve made and look forward to the future,” Evans says. He adds: “Best of all, we know that we are involved in the community. We feel at home.”
Credit: Adapted from an article in El Comercio; photo captions: Larry Evans and a Vilcabamba friend; Vilcabamba street scene