The Start of the Maria Lida Foundation
Dear Family and Friends:
As many of you probably know, I have been seriously contemplating making my life’s work the business of helping the people of Latin America to escape the poverty so many of them face. I have always felt a deep connection to Latin America and want to use the education that I have been blessed to attain to help underserved populations in this region of the world.
Towards that end, after I graduate with my MBA from Washington University in St. Louis in May, I am going to travel to Ecuador and spend much of the rest of the year in Alausi, the little town that gave me my father and beloved grandmother. It is a dream of mine to give back to my roots. To accomplish this dream, I plan to use my time in Alausi to see what I can do to generate economic development to help the struggling people living in this town escape poverty. My faith in Christ and the examples I have seen from many members of my own extended family (who are also doing much to help underserved populations) have motivated me to start this journey.
I am not doing this blindly or without preparation. My Dad, James, and I traveled to Alausi, Ecuador in January of this year and spent a full week there. The main objective of the trip was to do due diligence to answer my most important question: Could I realistically make a difference? We talked to hotel owners, restaurant owners, the sisters at the convent where Grandma O’Neill was educated, two brothers who own a tourist agency in Alausi, ordinary tourists, and many other folks. We were helped greatly in this effort by our Ecuadorean cousins who set all these meetings up. We also took the Nariz del Diablo train ride and it was AMAZING!!
After conducting my due diligence, the answer to my question is: Yes, with a little bit of luck and hard work I think I can make a real difference to the people of Alausi. What is evident to us from our inquiries is that there is a real opportunity to bring significant economic development to the people of Alausi through the means of tourism.
My overall goal in Alausi will be to serve as a catalyst to take reasonable action, wherever I can, to help the town capture the foreign tourist traffic and persuade those folks to stay in Alausi for an extra night or two. When we succeed in doing that, I want to provide opportunities for the town to be able to serve that tourism traffic so tourism money stays in the area and benefits the people.
To pursue all these activities in Alausi, I am forming a nonprofit organization which will be called the Maria Lida Foundation. I wanted to use this name to honor Maria Lida Toledo Benalcazar de O’Neill, my beloved grandmother. Grandma O’Neill always had a strong faith in Christ and served others. From what I have heard from many individuals, Grandma O’Neill was renowned in Alausi for her many charitable actions towards all people. I pray that her spirit will return to Alausi with me to do more good work and give back to our roots.
Thank you very much for your time, consideration, and support.