An Inspiring Woman

Fikrte Abebe - Ecuador


April 23, 2013

In Ecuador, there is a population of about 3.4 million of indigenous people that are descendants of the Inca Empire that existed about 500 years ago before the conquest of Spaniards. To this day, they speak their own language called Quichwa; they dress in their traditional clothing that consists for women of an “anako” (long piece of cloth that serves as a skirt wrapped around their waist and tied with a colorful pattered belt called a “faja”), a blouse with hand-made designs under a small blanket called a “balleta,” and hair tie called a “cinta” that is wrapped down their long pony tails. The men traditionally wear white pants and a shirt under a red poncho but have replaced the white trousers for western style pants for work purposes. Indigenous people for the most part live a life of subsistence farming. They grow things like corn, kinwa, abas, and avena to eat and sell. Throughout their history, the indigenous people have had to fight many obstacles to maintain their way of life. Because of the domination of technology and city living, the indigenous people have been at the bottom of the class ladder in Ecuador for many years. They are commonly looked down upon by Mestizos (mixed) and Blancos (whites) as being uneducated, underdeveloped, and dirty. Because of this, they have disadvantaged opportunities to climb up the social ladder. However, some have been strong enough to breakthrough their obstacles and become important leaders in their communities while staying true to their indigenous culture.

For the last six months, I have had the pleasure of living with one of the most inspiring indigenous people in Ecuador. Not only did this person break the stereotype of indigenous people but also defied the normal role of being a woman in a society that assigns their title solely as wives and mothers. Her name is Sandra Naula and she is my host mother. At first sight she is just any indigenous woman walking down the streets of Riobamba dressed in the traditional wear.  One may think that she’s going to the market where most of the indigenous people sell their harvest. But this woman is more than that. Before she was nominated to run for Assambleista (member of the Ecuadorian parliament) for the province of Chimborazo, Sandra Naula was the director of a government organization called MIES (The Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion), implemented by the new constitution of Ecuador “Buen Vivir” to alleviate poverty. Sandra Naula was busily campaigning for the elections until February 17th when the results of the new parliament members of the province of Chimborazo were revealed.

On February 17th everyone congregated around the tiny television in the living room and my eyes rested on my mom. I thought about Sandra’s perseverance through the trying obstacles of growing up in a single mother home in a society where access to education for a woman of her background was rare. I was fascinated by this woman’s strength. She was a woman who managed to fulfill her societal role as a mother and a caregiver while having a critical and successful career.  I admire her for being strong enough to keep her dreams alive and working hard enough to realize them. Sandra defies all the expectations of her own indigenous culture and those of the mestizo culture. Living with Sandra has not only been a pleasure but also an everyday motivation to avoid making excuses to fulfill my everyday obligations.

Fikrte Abebe