One week after the lockdown began in Ecuador, it became obvious that the poorer people who barely survived day to day were entirely out of food. Individuals and groups swung into action, creating expat volunteers solutions. Others joined with official charities, municipalities, and churches to help.
Some efforts are small. One U.S. expat in Cuenca lives near a large family of Venezuelan refugees. They struggle to feed everyone, even during the best of times. When the lockdown happened, she began buying them food. Another expat realized that a single mom neighbor had been laid off and secretly paid off her growing food tab at a local tienda.
When that single mom’s cable bill became two months overdue, another neighbor paid the bill, so her daughter could finish her school year online. When my young Spanish teacher and her brother became sick with COVID, neither of them could work. After 6 weeks, they still had food but no money for medicine for the pneumonia that she developed. My husband biked to her house and gave her money to buy the prescription. These are the types of volunteer projects that are going on everywhere across Ecuador.
Two weeks into lockdown, a Cuenca restaurant owner suggested that our neighborhood (we have a neighborhood Facebook group) donate enough money to make food baskets for 30 needy families in our neighborhood. Well, the “gringos” jumped into action and overshot that goal! In the first month, 100 bulging food bags were delivered. The second month, another 150 bags went out. The third batch was just as big. It really is a grassroots project. The restaurant owner partnered with Cuenca Expats Magazine and their expat-run “Helping Hands Fund”, to spread the word. They have created something larger, that will serve to fill this need as long as the crisis lasts.
One church (Iglesia Centro Familiar Christiano) works with the Municipality of Cuenca to provide food to low-income families. They are actively helped by a family of Venezuelan expats who came to Ecuador to make a better life for themselves. The expat family brought their language school from Venezuela and established it in Cuenca. Their school’s director and his family volunteer at the church and City to provide and distribute food. “The church also offers emotional and spiritual support to married couples because many of them lost their jobs. They need support to fight “stress and depression.” he said
In the Cotacachi region, there is a new phenomenon of Venezuelans walking on foot back to Venezuela. They want to be with family during the pandemic, despite hardships in their home country. Some U.S. expats go daily to the road, to give the passing Venezuelans food and provisions for their arduous journey. Other expats from North America and Europe are donating food or hiring local indigenous people to do work projects, so they can earn money during this challenging time.
One of the largest volunteer projects is in Olón, a small coastal pueblo. A couple of longtime Cuenca expats moved to Olón in February. They make videos about expat life in Ecuador, and have a large following. Before they were even settled, the pandemic lockdown arrived.
Soon after, a chance encounter with a food drive volunteer made this couple aware that the elderly and impoverished families in the area were starving. Without income, they had no way to buy food. In a video, the expats mentioned an idea to collect money to purchase food for these families and their animals… and instantly, money from other countries began pouring in.
They swiftly set up a system to handle the donations and connected with established food drives in Olón and nearby Montañita. There are two separate funds to buy food for humans and for animals. Working with the presidents of the Comuna Montañita and Comuna Olón, other local officials, and “Juntos por Olón“, they supplied protective suits to the food delivery teams, bought oxygen tanks for the community, and helped “Coastal Animal Rescue of Ecuador” buy food for dogs and cats.
They have now helped to provide meals to several thousand elderly, disabled and poor families and their pets in more than a dozen coastal and jungle pueblos.
Clearly, their move to Olón was a godsend for the beach region!
These stories show the countless opportunities and entrepreneurial expat volunteer spirit in Ecuador. Most have big hearts and creative minds.
Tell us about your expat volunteer experiences abroad.
by: Bonnie Willow