Rachel Hoverman recently traveled with 16 Ohio Master Gardener Volunteers from around the state to Ecuador. She and others are pictured learning from people in Ecuador. (Photos submitted)
Rachel Hoverman recently traveled with 16 Ohio Master Gardener Volunteers from around the state to Ecuador. She and others are pictured learning from people in Ecuador. (Photos submitted)

VAN WERT – Rachel Hoverman recently traveled with 16 Ohio Master Gardener Volunteers from around the state to Ecuador. Hoverman’s excursion represents the ninth trip for Ohio Master Gardener Volunteers to Ecuador.

Hoverman is the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program representative for Van Wert County.

“The group, Tandana Foundation, the nonprofit who organized my trip, offers gardening and health care volunteer vacations in Ecuador and Mali,” said Hoverman. “My trip was Feb. 1-8.”

Their mission is to support the achievement of community goals and address global inequalities through caring intercultural relationships that embody mutual respect and responsibility.

“I love to travel but what really attracted me to this trip was the opportunity to learn from and with a group of people who were much different than myself,” said Hoverman. “The trip gave me much more than a tourist’s perspective of the people and the landscape of the Ecuadorian highlands.”

“We toured the countryside in the morning,” added Hoverman. “We worked in the countryside in the morning and in the afternoon we toured the culture.

“Although the people seemed poor, they are not destitute,” continued Hoverman. “They work so hard that it is unbelievable, they are very self-sufficient. They own their own food and have their traditional way of life.”

Hoverman said the Ohio representatives worked beside the indigenous people and did what they told them to do. She noted that they didn’t use any chemicals in the way that they grew their crops.

“They have volcanic soil,” said Hoverman.”It dries out really quickly and is beautiful soil. They eat a lot of vegetables, rice and beans. They are pretty basic; they don’t eat a lot of meat. They waste absolutely nothing. A lot of plates are scraped. Nothing is wasted.”

The Tandana Foundation is not about "helping the poor" or imposing a developmentalist worldview or any particular religion. Rather, its goal is to create and nurture respectful and responsible relationships among people of different cultures. Giving and receiving are inherent parts of those relationships, and contributing to community initiatives is a great way to make friends.

"We come to learn and to share,” said Hoverman.

Tandana comes from a Kichwa root meaning "to gather together" or "to unite" and represents the spirit of our work.

"Tandana is to unite together, be together, struggle together. This is what you have done and what you are doing. Tandana is not a sleeping word or a dead word. It is a living word, explained our friend Matias Perugachi," Hoverman said.

“The main thing that struck me was that indigenous Ecuadorians are extremely hard-working people; They grow and raise most of their own food, have very large families to support and often travel great distances to work. Their homes can be very simple structures but they are not destitute because of their work ethic and strong community ties,” Hoverman said.