Ecuador straddles the equator on South America’s west coast. Its diverse landscape encompasses Amazon jungle, Andean highlands and the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands.
The province of Chimborazo in central Ecuador as well as the Amazon region are home to large numbers of indigenous communities who suffer from some of the highest rates of poverty in the country. These communities have limited access to education, clean water, economic opportunities, health care services and the resources needed to maintain a nutritious food supply. Children often have to walk for hours to reach the nearest school and many parents keep their children at home to help with household chores.
More than a quarter of Ecuador’s population suffers from chronic malnutrition, and more than half of Ecuador’s indigenous population lives in poverty.
The minga is a way of life in Ecuadorian communities, a tradition in which members of an entire community come together to work on a project for the benefit of all. The minga is a soul mate to, and inspiration for, the WE philosophy—the belief that when we act together, we change the world.
WE Charity has been building schools in Chimborazo since 1999. In 2008, we realized these communities needed more than schools to thrive and we introduced the Free The Children’s WE Villages model. Most recently, we expanded programming into the Amazon region.
We believe that children in indigenous communities should be able to access high-quality schooling close to home. By providing Ecuador’s rural communities with education, clean water, health programming and alternative forms of income, these communities are empowered to transform their lives.
We provide resources, opportunities and connections for community members to lead their own development and lift themselves out of poverty.
We honor the value of ancestral knowledge and cultural identity, including the use of indigenous language, participation in traditions and respecting community processes in all our programming.
Here are some of the projects we are proud to work on in Ecuador:
Education is compulsory and free for children aged 6 to 14. While enrollment rates in cities are relatively high, children in rural communities face barriers, including proximity to schools, and a lack of resources and well-trained teachers. Many also face issues like hunger, illness or duties at home that prevent them from attending class. As many as 25 percent of children drop out by the fifth grade, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
This is where WE Charity helps by:
Access to clean water and sanitation facilities in Ecuador is determined in large part by income, and whether a community is considered urban or rural. Water service is frequently disrupted in rural communities, and water often isn’t drinkable. We help by facilitating the provision of:
Ecuador has made huge strides in its health care system, and people here have a life expectancy of around 75 years, according to the CIA World Factbook. That said, as many as 23% of children under five are said to be malnourished, and hospitals and clinics often lack supplies. We help in our communities by providing:
Access to healthy and sustainably-grown food is one of the most important ways to improve the health of people living in rural Ecuador, and to make sure children’s bellies are full enough to attend school. We help by building and creating:
Empowering the people in rural Ecuador with the tools they need to earn an income is a key WE Villages pillar. Here’s how we help:
We began working in San Miguel in central Ecuador in 2008. When we first arrived, there was an existing school building that accommodated students from Grades 1 to 7, even though the government had recently made education mandatory to Grade 9.
The school was equipped with plumbing and latrines, but no one was properly trained in how to use and effectively maintain these services. Students would develop infections regularly and miss school.
Cut off from larger cities, the people of San Miguel did not have easy access to quality health care, nor could they afford it. With a population that relies heavily on subsistence farming, San Miguel also experienced high levels of poverty.
Since San Miguel partnered with WE Charity and WE Villages, huge improvements have been made in wellbeing of the people who live here. Here’s how.
When WE Charity began working in San Miguel, the community did not have the capacity to build more classrooms and had problems retaining students. At the time, San Miguel only had enough classrooms to accommodate up to grade 7. Today:
A school building provides a physical structure for education, but it should also provide suitable plumbing and clean water taps to keep children and staff healthy. In 2008, only 40 percent of students in San Miguel had an adequate supply of clean water.
While school building and clean water projects are ongoing, WE Charity’s health projects target long-term issues like malnutrition and ensure food security at the same time.
One of the most successful projects we’ve implemented in this community is the San Miguel Girls’ Club, which empowers girls to become leaders in their community. Through a variety of workshops and training sessions, girls are given the tools to become economically independent. The girls are learning to breed and care for animals which they sell in the market, and they’re also engaged in creating artisans jewelry and accessories. The money raised from these initiatives funds girls’ education beyond primary school. Best of all, this program creates a safe space for conversation and learning in other areas such as:
The girls of San Miguel are entrepreneurs on a mission, and they’re drawing on their cultural heritage to build their future. Since November the girls clubs have been training to craft necklace designs and prototypes that are inspired by traditional necklaces from the Chimborazo region.
With the initial training completed, the girls have bought materials and are starting to produce beautiful handmade accessories. But crafting the product is only half of the process; they’re also learning how to build a small business out of their efforts. Recently they had a workshop on pricing, learning how to estimate the cost of a necklace, deciding the profit they want to make and assigning a price for each model.
Artisanal projects aren’t the only projects the San Miguel girls are working on. A loan program was formed to enable the girls to purchase animals such as cows and pigs. By pooling their money, the girls are able to invest in both livestock and materials for artisanal projects. They took some of their investment to buy materials for handcrafts and divided the rest of the money as a six-month loan among the five girls. The interest paid on the loan will be returned to the common pot along with the capital.
Each step of the loan process has been determined by the girls and their mothers in two meetings with WE Charity staff, empowering them to make the decisions that will affect their future.
One of the girls empowered by the girls club is 15-year-old Maria Lourdes. She lives with her parents and two brothers in San Miguel, although her father is often away for two to three months at a time working in construction in Quito.
Last summer Maria attended a summer camp program that WE Charity organized in San Miguel. Through this program and her subsequent involvement with the girls’ club, Maria has found she has new strengths. “I have learned to lose my fear,” she says. “Now I can talk with people who aren’t from my community with more confidence and participate in my class. Before, just the boys were participating.”
Since her involvement with the girls group, Maria has started several income-generating projects, which will help pay for her high school education. She started with breeding guinea pigs, but has expanded her skills by learning to weave traditional cintas (hair ribbons) and fajas (belts).
As she looks to the future, Maria hopes for greater prosperity for the community as a whole. And for her family, she says “I want my father to not go so far from home, to have some work here at home.” For herself she dreams of eventually becoming a teacher and perhaps one day having her own business.