Christina and I are still on the coast of Ecuador. We’ve been here for about 2 and a half months.
A few weeks ago I started working as Field Coordinator for All Hands – Project Ecuador. My job now includes managing all the logistics and coordination of all our current projects. Right now there are 50 volunteers and 8 drivers that need to go to 8 different work sites every day. So far I have been extremely busy.
On top of coordinating all the work for existing projects, I’m responsible for finding new work for the weeks ahead. This means going out to surrounding communities and talking with people to see how we can assist them and their families. Last week, I took an assessment team to the small town of Nuevo Briceño, about 20 minutes in-land from our base in Canoa.
Back in 2008, a flood destroyed the coastal village of Briceño. In response to the flooding the government decided to move everyone in-land to start over, but offered little assistance for housing. Since then, the people of Nuevo Briceño have been working to built back their community, which consists of about 120 homes. After the earthquake this past April, over half of these homes were destroyed and the families are now living in donated tents or tarp shelters.
We have the funding to build 11 temporary bamboo homes in Nuevo Briceño. To start this project, we had to do a full assessment of the area to determine who is in the most need of assistance. Last week, we went around and interviewed families and took photos of their current living conditions. The interview consisted of about 30 questions. Their answers were later entered into a formula that would determine their level of need.
These assessments were really difficult. Not only was it hard to tell who was answering our questions correctly and honestly, it was hard to hear the families stories and listen to them plead their case for attaining one of our most basic needs.
It was also very difficult to determine, based on appearance, exactly who owned what piece of land. Most people were sharing tent space on the same plot, which may not have been owned by anyone living on it. The second place we assessed had approx. 17 people living on the same piece of land, in 6 different tents. Almost every family we interviewed had small children and a lot of people had disabilities or sicknesses.
The formula for the assessment was a great idea, in theory. One good thing about using this method is that you can find out who needs a house the most, and the families may feel that the selection process is less biased because it is coming from a computer formula. The bad thing is that, without any official records for land ownership, it is almost impossible to determine who is telling the truth and who is not.
At the beginning of the day, I told our assessment team to keep an eye out for the family most in need and that we would meet at the end to determine what family we would break ground with starting the next day. At first I thought it would be hard to determine which family to choose out the dozens we interviewed, but we ended up unanimously deciding on the same family.
About halfway through our assessments, I walked by a man standing on crutches with only one leg. I asked him if he wanted an assessment and to take me to his home. Without even interviewing the family, I could see their situation was rough. They were a family of 8, living in a dilapidated donated tent. The youngest baby was sick and the only male adult in their household couldn’t work because he was disabled. During the contract process, I found out he was also illiterate. They were the most gracious of hosts and offered us papaya from a nearby tree. The bribe must have worked because the next day we started to build a home for them.
We all felt really good about our choice of who to build for first. The next day, I told the president of Nuevo Briceño the news and that I needed his signature to move forward. He was noticeably displeased with the choice. Before our assessment process, he had taken me around the community to show me the families who he wanted the homes built for. Many of them were his own family and friends. My Ecuadorian fixer, driver, and friend, Pajarito, was also displeased with my decision. (Pajarito was good friends with the president).
After a few days of building, I realized if we wanted to get 10 more homes built without any hiccups I would have to respect the wishes of the community president. The next day, I went back to the president and offered to build home #2 for one of the 5 families he had previously selected. He was extremely appreciative and all is good again in the world. For the rest of the homes, I plan on using the formula but also weigh heavily my assessment team’s feedback.
We finished our first home in Nuevo Briceño for the first family last Saturday. This is the first home we’ve built for someone who is wheelchair bound. To accommodate his needs, we altered the design of the home to have a ramp, instead of stairs, and to have salon-style doors that easily swing open, instead of a traditional door. He and his family were very happy with the home and our design adjustments.
Some other projects we have going on in Ecuador are as follows:
- Building a community center for 500 families who lost their homes in the earthquake in Manta
- Building permanent homes in San Miguel (1 completed so far)
- Building a fence and playground for a school in San Miguel. Since the previous schoolyard fence fell in the earthquake, many students have stopped attending. The parents said they would only send their children back to school if a fence is rebuild to create a safer learning space.
- Clearing land, deconstruction and demolition of homes destroyed in the earthquake
Christina starts her marketing position tomorrow and we are both really happy. If you would like to support the work we are doing here please visit our fundraising page…https://give.hands.org/fundraise?fcid=681944