by Cheri Dahl, ChildFund Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs
A few splashes of rain hit the windshield. As I look out the window, the tip of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world, is obscured by clouds as we travel to Patutan to meet with the families of Camino a la Esperanza Association, ChildFund’s local partner.
I am here in Ecuador with members of our board of directors who are reviewing programs and hearing directly from children, youth and family members about the benefits they have received through ChildFund sponsorship.
The parents are excited to share their community’s story of transformation. They start with a huge red map, showing us how the area has been grouped into small clusters of families with a community member assigned to track needs, concerns and risks of that group of families. They point out community risk sites on the map — a house where a mean dog is a threat to children, the home of a recent widow, who is especially vulnerable, and a dangerous, abandoned well. The map is a tool — a kind of safety net for ensuring risks are known and addressed.
As we discuss the map, the parents share that only a few years ago, unemployment was high in this area and children were abandoning school. Many in the community felt hopeless; others began leaving Patutan for opportunities in the city. In response, ChildFund led the community through a process of identifying the greatest risks to children and developing a plan for addressing those risks.
One of the greatest needs was improved access to clean water. Women were traveling as much as 6 kilometers (more than 3 miles) to get water that might meet their needs for two days. Collecting water ruled their day, and the chore fell primarily to girls, often interfering with school attendance.
ChildFund worked with the community, organizing members to partner with the local municipality to bring a water tank to Patutan. The result — high on a hill with the beautiful Andes in the background — is a water tank and treatment facility run by a volunteer water council.
Water is now pumped directly into the homes of 600-plus Patutan families, saving time, keeping girls in school and uniting the community around the management and maintenance of the water facility.
As we leave the water tank site and continue our community visit, we learn that ChildFund’s assistance with small loans is another source of community employment and stability. With modest loans, families have started a variety of successful small businesses.
We stop to visit one — a hothouse where carnations are grown for sale and export. Workers show us how they are grown, clipped and packaged for market. We meet a family whose prospects have greatly improved through their small flower business. They tell us of their plans and hopes to expand.
As we listen, we are drawn to the many colors and varieties of carnations they have grown. We buy 10 bunches to boost today’s sales.
Just as we’re leaving, a huge rainbow appears in the sky.