Casa Maria Amor: I arrived in time to celebrate with the first graduating class of their big new project. La Asociación Mujers con Exito [The association of Successful Women] – a name they picked right from the start of the laundry and was it prophetic. The vocational training started expanding last year with a grant from Germany. The staff at the Casa is very professional, competent and smart. With this grant, they were able to rent a new building, outfit it with equipment, hire instructors and staff, and teach any woman who wants to learn the art of commercial cooking. Its kind of like NECI [New England Culinary Institute] in Cuenca. They got this grant because of the success of the laundry, which is still going strong, and is a companion vocational training piece with the cooking school. All the women who live at the Casa as well as other women who have “graduated” or who go there for services can participate. But it is voluntary, not obligatory. The women also participate in self-improvement classes like parenting, nutrition, gender issues, learning their legal and human rights…
At the graduation ceremony, they presented me with a beautiful plaque thanking me for starting them on the path to their dream – real autonomy. Needless to say, the tears were flowing all over the place! I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to return every year and see the progress these women make. While there is a lot of turnover at the Casa, the women and their kids stay involved with the Casa and its services, and so I get to see them all. My returning every years not only means a lot to me, also means so much to them, since they really think of me as their fairy godmother, and love my continued involvement in their lives. As I love them!!
There are two particularly bright girls who are 15 and 16 – Evelyn and Mayra. They don’t go to high school because although high school is free (all public school, from elementary through college is a right under their new constitution and it is all free) having to pay for uniforms, school supplies, books, transportation and the loss of income to the family puts it out of reach for a lot of families. So, these two will become my goddaughters and I’ll help them anyway I can.
Please know that even though I am the human being and the face they know, they also realize that all this came out of the generosity of family, friends and groups in the USA, and it boggles their minds! There is NO culture of volunteerism or philanthropy here, so for people like us - who didn’t even know them - to help them is astounding to them, and very very deeply appreciated.
All of South America is burdened by the history of colonialism, repression, corruption and the deep divide between the rich and poor. But thankfully this is changing, and pretty quickly. Indigenous people have organized. Countries like Ecuador have rewritten their constitutions taking back their countries from oligarchs and the multi-national corporations who were in cahoots with them, whose corruption and greed squandered their wealth. And from my first hand look at the grass roots process of change here in Ecuador, it has been totally transparent and corruption free. Every citizen 18 years of older HAS TO vote (kids 16-28 can vote, but its not obligatory), each candidate gets a little bit of money (maybe $3000) from the government to spend on campaigning. NO PRIVATE MONEY AT ALL is allowed. Voting is always on Sunday, and lots of other good ideas that I think we should consider adopting.
This year, I work with the kids at the Casa every day. They are all ages from toddlers to about 13. Its an outgrowth of my teaching Spanish to Nancy Reid’s class at the elementary school. Her students are avid to learn Spanish and to see how other kids live – what’s the same and what’s different. Her students made a fabulous book as a gift to the kids at the Casa. Each student had their own page, with their picture and all kinds of neat information about their likes, dislikes, hobbies, families, etc. It was a huge hit with the kids at the Casa, so I’m using it as a tool to teach them a little English, a little geography, a little reading, etc. I also take them on outings to museums – since they all love to draw – (and for all of them a first) and other fun places. They are also making their own drawings, messages and photos for me to bring back to the kids in Nancy’s class.