Partners

My Time at Hogar de la Madre

When I packed for my 3-month internship to Ecuador, I made sure to include my Bluetooth speaker. I pictured myself lying on the beach, laughing with my friends, and playing music to fit the day’s mood. Little did I know, this speaker would serve a totally different purpose. The first time I took the speaker out of my bag wasn’t for a weekend on the beach, or even an evening at home, it was to provide a little comfort to a girl who really needed it.

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Hogar de la Madre is a home for adolescent, single moms and their children. Right now, all of the moms are between 15 and 17 and, besides the two girls who are pregnant, they are each caring for a baby girl. The shelter is more like a small neighborhood than a home, with various buildings for different uses, including bunkrooms for the families, a separate kitchen just for eating, and a nursery full of cribs for when the mothers are busy. The home has a very unique atmosphere that felt impossible to understand after only a few visits. The entire place is run by two nuns but volunteers of all types are constantly coming in and out of the front gate. For example, recently a local elementary school came to bring boxes of food and to sing for the girls. I’ve only heard the place quiet twice: once during a prayer walk led by the nuns and once during a yoga class taught by a volunteer. Since the girls have a constantly changing schedule that includes cleaning rotations, doctors’ visits, and therapy sessions, their daughters spend a lot of time exploring their little world on their own. However, the girls are never far from their daughters and have trained their ears to recognize their own child’s cry from anywhere in the compound. It’s a careful balance within the home of caring for the needs of the girls and teaching them to care for the needs of their daughters. It’s also a heavy place sometimes-when the girls are having a tough day or their babies won’t stop crying. And whenever I’m there, I’m struck by how useful it would be to have a few more sets of eyes and hands.

Just like the girls, I have a different schedule every time I visit. I have spent time watching the babies, cleaning the kitchen, teaching English and even organizing CDs. The only thing I always make sure of is that I will get to spend some time just talking with the girls. One of the girls, Laura*, has opened up to me from the very beginning. She loves the music from the States and constantly watches Youtube to find new artists. Before arriving in Hogar de la Madre, she was a singer on buses and often tells me how she wishes she could leave to sing again. She has big dreams of becoming a Youtube star and moving to LA, where she (and her daughter) can meet her favorite singers: Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez. She sounds like the typical teenage girl and it wasn’t until last week that I found out more to her story.

She, like all of the girls in the home, is there for a reason. For some, it’s because the court ordered it, for some, because their parents ordered it. For Laura, it was a mix of the two. She was a successful bus singer at 16, able to make several hundred dollars a week-which would have been enough to begin a life for her and her daughter. Instead, she was spending the money on drugs. After having trouble with the law, her mother decided enough was enough and sought help. This help came in the form of Hogar de la Madre. Here, Laura has no access to use drugs and must rely on other people entirely to provide for her and her daughter, something she very much resents. She also still feels unlike the other girls. Although the others have accepted their home, she longs to be away from it. She spends most of her time thinking of how and when she will be able to leave.

Her frustration with her situation became the unexpected purpose for my Bluetooth speaker. Because the nuns prohibit the un-monitored use of electronics in the home, she can’t hear the latest music or watch the latest videos and it makes her feel isolated, something even I can understand. So one day, I decided to bring my speaker and we spent an hour listening to all her favorite artists. I could see her stress slipping away as she began to sing along. I really believe that for a few minutes she forgot how frustrated she was to be in a place she didn’t want to be in. The speaker has since been enjoyed by the other girls, too. Last week, they all got in trouble and we had to deep clean the kitchen and classroom areas. At first I expected everyone to be angry the whole time but when I turned on some music, the girls cleaned with smiles on their faces and a few even danced. Their happiness spread even to their daughters, who barely even cried that day.

I often wish that I could speak better Spanish and had more time to help with the hundreds of needs at Hogar de la Madre. There are so many things I want to tell them and so many ways I want to encourage them. From the moms who have a chance to rebuild, to their daughters who will surely have an easier life, there is so much potential inside those walls. It’s hard to fully foster that potential, though, with two 2-hour visits per week. So I think for me, with my limited time, the most valuable thing I can provide is a chance to feel like kids- to have some time to forget the hand that life has dealt them. Even though I can’t personally heal their past or provide them a completely secure future, I’m genuinely thankful to be the one who provides the music.

*Name has been changed. 


Jessica is a short term intern with Manna Project International-Ecuador. To learn more about our internship programs and work with organizations like Hogar de la Madre, check out the Ecuador Programs Page. 

Judging an English Theatre Competition in Ecuador

Have you ever wanted to be Simon Cowell from American Idol? Or maybe you lean more Adam Levine from The Voice? Well fans, you’re in luck. I’m about to share with you the inner details of how it feels to be a judge in a real-life competition. How did I end up so lucky and famous you might ask? I speak English. That’s how.

Here in Ecuador, we work with a University called the Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas, or ESPE for short. Each week, as Program Directors we assist in English classes, giving advice on pronunciation and how to study English. This relationship has been active for years and it is a fun way for Program Directors to make friends in the community that are of a similar age range. That being said, ESPE often asks us to help them with extracurricular activities, one of which recently was a theatre competition.

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Each English class from the three ESPE campuses across Ecuador worked for weeks on preparing a play to be presented at a country-wide competition. These plays were of childhood fairy-tales or stories, adapted in English. This activity helped students learn how to think creatively in another language, while also encouraging fun participation! After weeks of practicing, came the final competition! Seeing as though the volunteers at Manna are native English speakers, we were asked to participate as judges for the final competition. Due to scheduling conflicts, I was the only one able to attend- and boy was it an experience!

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I arrived on site and was greeted by the guards of the military base where it was being held. I was brought to the theatre, and escorted to the front row where I saw with the panel of two other judges- an English teacher from Quito and native Canadian, and an Ecuadorian actor. We were given padfolios with voting ballots and introduced formally to what we would be doing. After being given a grading cheat sheet, we sat and waited…and waited…and waited… for the plays to start. After the slight delay due to technical difficulties, the first play began. It was the tale of Beauty and the Beast, a fan favorite and household classic. The beast costume was phenomenal, and Belle (also known as simply Beauty in this rendition) truly let her voice be heard. Although this tale was certainly as old as time, there was no Emma Watson and therefore, was a slight letdown. Despite this, as judges we could clearly see how much work had been put into the execution of these plays. The backdrops, musical effects, and memorized lines (in English) were impressive and kept our attention!

As the night continued, I felt the pressure starting to mount- choosing first, second, and third places was not just a game! As a matter of fact, these kids really really cared about winning! With various intermissions from Professors singing their favorite karaoke jams (one even belted Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”), the battle of the plays continued.

While my favorite, a tale entitled “The White Falcon” took home the prize, I’d love to give honorable mention to “Scooby Doo and the Gang” who not only one-upped my incredible (not so humbly bragging) Daphne costume, but also used a REAL DOG to be Scooby doo! What a night it was!

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In conclusion, in a few short hours my childhood dream of playing Paula Abdul as a judge for American Idol came to fruition. I was able to support an incredibly important community group we work with, while also experiencing all of my favorite childhood stories- just slightly modified-and in broken English. Nonetheless, it was an experience I will remember forever, and the free ESPE Padfolio I was gifted helps!

 

 

 

If you want to have the opportunity to get involved with community partners, apply to be a Program Director today!

 

Gender Inequality in Ecuador: An Interview with Sociologist Sheyla Ibarra Dávila

Gender inequality is a very serious issue in Ecuador today that affects women of all socioeconomic backgrounds, including those who live in the communities Manna Project International (MPI) serves. At MPI Ecuador, we are very fortunate to have developed a strong relationship with Sheyla Ibarra Dávila, a resident of Sangolqui and also a sociologist who has closely studied the culture of machismo, gender violence, and the state of women's rights in Ecuador. Although Sheyla is busy pursuing her Master's degree in sociology and completing her thesis on International Development Cooperation in Ecuador, she always makes time to share her knowledge with Program Directors and help them to better understand the gender inequalities that exist in Ecuador. The following is an interview Sheyla that highlights some of her research and opinions on the subject. 

An Interview with Sheyla Ibarra Dávila

What interests you about sociology? 

I’ve always loved the social sciences and being able to work with people.  I’m a very curious person and ask questions almost everywhere I go.  Sociology is the perfect field for someone who wants to constantly be investigating, researching and learning.

Why is women’s studies your favorite subject of study?

Women’s Studies is incredible to me because women are involved in all aspects of life, but are not valued for it.  Although the patriarchal, nuclear family is valued very highly in Ecuadorian society, women are the sturdy, yet voiceless, backbone of every family.  Women are intelligent, nurturing, loving and strong individuals and should be recognized and appreciated way more than they are today.  I’m very interested in the cultural roots in the devaluing of such important members of our society.

Sheyla

Sheyla

Can you define machismo for those who are unfamiliar with the term?

Machismo is the exercise of power of man over women.  It can manifest in physical violence but also in attitude and psychological aggressions.  In Ecuador, 53% of women experience this psychological abuse from men, 33% experience physical abuse from men, and 22% experience sexual abuse. 

What is life like for the typical Ecuadorian woman?

As I mentioned, Ecuadorian society values the patriarchal, nuclear family with delineated gender roles.  In most families, women are not allowed to work and completely depend on their husbands financially.  Most men dictate what women can and cannot do, which tends to include the expectation that women should stay at home, tend to the housework and raise children. Even young women who receive an education usually leave their studies or jobs after marriage.  Furthermore, because home roles are not taken seriously, women who have outside jobs are given no extra help from their spouses in taking care of house duties.

Can you speak about gender violence in Ecuador?

Gender violence is a difficult subject because it is exacerbated by Ecuadorian cultural norms.  For example, 90% of Ecuadorian women who experience violence do not want to take action against their perpetrator because family problems are considered private matters. Some women are worried about what others will think if they come out with accusations against their partners, and others fear more abuse if they speak up.  [Most] Ecuadorian women are not taught to have dreams or be independent and because of this, are extremely unlikely to stand on their own in abusive situations.  It has been proven that there is a higher risk of violence for married women and that 45-60 years is the age category experiencing the most abuse because that is the age that women are considered to be most “useless” to society. The racial breakdown of women experiencing gender violence is also interesting: 59% of mestizo women, 76% of afro-Ecuadorian women and 77% of indigenous women experience some form of gender violence.

Has there been legislation passed to combat these problems?

Before the 1970s, women [in Ecuador] had almost no rights as individuals.  The 1970s and 1980s were filled with equal rights activism work, and in 1994 a law was enacted that allowed women to take legal action against abusive men.  In 2008, women were finally given equal civil, political, social and economic rights as men, including the rights to decide freely on their sexual and reproductive health decisions.  While huge amounts of money were put towards social programs to support the legislation, the fundamental problem of machismo is ultural problem.  Legislation can only do so much to break social limitations.

Do you feel the effects of machismo in the field of sociology?

Absolutely. It’s difficult enough that many people do not take sociology seriously because it is somewhat of an abstract science, and Ecuadorians like concrete concepts.  But on top of that, being a female in the field poses its own set of challenges.  Most female sociologists are encouraged to study “softer” subjects such as women, children and the elderly, rather than subjects like the environment or politics, which are typically male-dominated fields.  Women don’t have problems learning in the classroom, but when they finally leave the classroom to conduct investigations in communities, it is very common for people to not respect them or to prefer to talk to a male sociologist. For this reason, 99% of female sociologists do not practice applied sociology.

What do you feel are the solutions to the issues of machismo and gender violence?

That’s a great question.  First, I think it’s important to note that machismo is a widespread problem in Ecuador and doesn’t just exist in one region.  Gender violence occurs at about the same rate in large cities as it does in rural areas.  Secondly, machismo also exists at all stages of life: early on in schools, in family life and in the work place.  While we need to work with men young and old to change opinions and attitudes, we also need to convey to women that actions as large as physical violence and as small as catcalling cannot be naturalized.  Neither those actions, nor any in between, should be tolerated by women.

Sangolqui community member and sociologist, Sheyla

Sangolqui community member and sociologist, Sheyla

While the legislation of 2008 is a step in the right direction, machismo is truly a cultural problem.  I think we are all waiting for the younger generation to make a difference.  More and more young Ecuadorian women are receiving higher education and hold more progressive values than their family members. Seventy percent of uneducated women experience abuse, but this statistic drops to 50% among educated women. Although a 50% rate of abuse is still alarmingly high, it shows a trend of decreased abuse with education and instills hope for an even lower rate in the future. Finally, in today’s day and age, no country lives in its own bubble.  As Ecuador becomes more and more globalized, it will be inspired by the progressive ideas of women who are fighting against violence and machismo all over the world.  As stories and experiences are shared, women can be influenced to encourage major perspective changes to society and mold their reality into a safer and more equal one for all people.


Thank you, Sheyla!

 

 

Community Member Spotlight: Clemencia

One of the many incredible community members that MPI Ecuador Program Directors get to interact with and learn from on a daily basis is Clemencia, who over the past year has become current Program Director's "Ecuadorian grandma" and holds a special place in all our hearts.

Former Program Director Alex, with Clemencia and her family at Clemencia's home in Amaguaña, Ecuador.

Former Program Director Alex, with Clemencia and her family at Clemencia's home in Amaguaña, Ecuador.

Clemencia is from the community of Amaguaña in the Los Chillos Valley, and has been a valued friend of Manna Project International for several years. When she was diagnosed with diabetes, she didn’t know where to turn for help or information about her diagnosis. Since she began attending the Diabetes Club run by Manna Project in partnership with the Sangolqui Hospital she has learned how to make healthier eating choices, and how to incorporate more exercise into her daily life. As the head of the Diabetes Club she has also gained more self-confidence and leadership abilities that have helped her overcome machismo stereotypes and become a leader in her community.

One of MPI Ecuador's major points of focus this past year has been on continuing to deepen relationships with individuals like Clemencia. By taking this focus, we have seen that Clemencia and many other community members have also stepped up and helped Manna Project in immeasurable ways. The involvement of community members in helping guide the direction of Manna Project programming, special events, and more has helped us expand our impact and form prosperous new relationships. Community members such as Clemencia and her sister, Blanca, helped prepare and serve food at our recent fundraising event, the Hornado Solidario, and also search for donations to keep costs down and raise as much money as possible for Manna Project programs.

Program Directors and Summer Interns at Clemencia's home in Amaguaña, Ecuador.

Program Directors and Summer Interns at Clemencia's home in Amaguaña, Ecuador.

Summer Intern Lindsay  at Clemencia's home in Amaguaña, Ecuador.

Summer Intern Lindsay at Clemencia's home in Amaguaña, Ecuador.

I can't imagine Manna Project International in Ecuador without Clemencia! Her smile and positive attitude are infectious, and her disposition to always help, guide, and support Program Directors is one that makes the transition to Ecuador much easier...and leaving much harder!

5K for Books: Running with Manna Project

On Saturday, July 2nd, Manna Project International in Ecuador hosted its annual 5K race for members of the community of Rumiloma and the surrounding areas. Preparation for the race included everything from making a balloon arch for the finish line, to searching for sponsors for the event, and getting the municipal government to block the roads...but in the end, seeing the excitement of the participants make everything worth it!

Over 100 runners showed up to the race to support Manna Project and run the race, with family and friends looking on. Many participants had shown up to Manna Project 5K races for years and were looking to beat their times from previous years! New participants attended after hearing about the race through our partnerships with local organizations like ESPE University, the United Nations Peacekeepers, and more.

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At the end of the event, Country Director Nancy and one of our local volunteers, Pancho, handed out prizes and medals to winners in their categories, and runners and spectators enjoyed a performance from the Municipal Band. Community members, Program Directors, and summer interns also enjoyed a 4th of July barbeque on the roof of the community center afterwards, in celebration of their hard work to make wonderful community event a success.

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