Growing up in a decent sized city, there are many aspects of rural life that I have not experienced. Spending two weeks among poor, rural, Ecuadorian communities has been an eye-opening experience on many levels, and my respect for people who are truly living off the land has grown significantly. But nothing has been more inspiring than the genuine sense of community that permeates through the pueblos and small towns we’ve visited. Favors are exchanged on a daily basis, and people collectively make decisions that are (generally) in the best interests of the whole.

Nowhere is this neighborly commitment and connection more apparent than in Mingas – community work days. Projects span the spectrum from building homes for people in need or painting the community center, to fixing the town water system or constructing community gardens. The town council votes on projects that are most necessary to the community, and one Saturday a month (sometimes more often, other times less frequent), the town gathers and works to complete the project at hand.

During our time in Pucara, we had the opportunity to participate in a Minga, constructing a wall around the local cemetery (not exactly our idea of the most valuable community project, but an important initiative for this very catholic society). This was our first experience with volunteer tourism, and it was hard work. But, when you witness the level of participation from all sorts of people, you can’t help but want to contribute. Kids, adults, teenagers, elderly, men and women are all involved in some form, from mixing concrete (a much more laborious process without cement mixers), carrying rocks, raking land, or preparing food for the workers. The workday (well, work ½ day) ended with a big meal for everyone involved.

I’m not familiar with a similar tradition in the US, but we could certainly use it. The concept of donating one’s time for the greater good of your town, regardless of whether you directly benefit from the project, is an inspiring demonstration of neighborliness and good will. I’m certain that some people at our Minga thought a cemetery wall was a waste of their time. But they were there contributing anyway because that’s what the community asked for. Next month, the Minga project might bring an irrigation system to their farms.

Share and Enjoy:
  • email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks