39) Visit to the SOS Children’s Village Ricaurte - Ecuador
This time it was a very special visit. It was on Christmas Eve and circumstances had been such for that I was coming to the SOS Children's Village of Ricaurte, Ecuador, just in time to be part of the festivities, and above all, pass this emotional time with family, together with Village people.
On December 23, 2008 noon, I departed from the picturesque city of Cuenca and rode the few miles that separated me from Ricaurte. The director, Rene Zalamea, came looking for me at the road and organized an honorary escort to the entrance of the village on his English style bicycle, a classic two-wheeler.
The reception was amazing in its magnitude. The children, mothers and staff of SOS Village jammed the entrance waiting for my arrival, which triggered the general hubbub with the usual "boarding" of Maira and the intermittent beeping of the horn that was dying under the permanent pressure of the children’s hands. The village was decorated with blue and white colors, Ecuador flags abounded and a large sign welcomed me. A pair of panels displaying the work the children had done with acronyms playing with the initials of my name. A pleasant surprised that filled me with emotion.
There was a reception program that included the National Anthem, words of kindness by the director and even an exchange of gifts and souvenirs! Then it was my turn and sitting among the people I made a brief statement of what had been the journey so far, allowing them to pepper me with questions that they have since they learned of my visit.
We continued with a delicious community lunch where I could taste the typical regional dish, roast pork, among other delightful things that were prepared by the SOS mothers and aunts. Being in Christmas holiday season I was part of the event celebrations, including the "passing by of the Child”, the presentation of artists and varied gifts being the most precious to me, of course, all those containing sweets!
SOS Children's Village of Ricaurte
Ricaurte SOS Children's Village opened in 1997 and is located in the town of that name, a few kilometers from Cuenca, the capital of the province of Azuay. Cuenca is known for its universities and ceramic and furniture factories, and because of its famous poets and artists, is called the "Athens of Ecuador".
The SOS Children's Village was built in an area of 2.5 hectares and consists of 12 family houses (two of them in the community), in which about 74 children can find a new home. They are currently working to expand that number to its maximum capacity of 108 children.
The land of the SOS Children's Village also contains the director's house in the village, with a house for the SOS aunts, guest rooms and an administrative building. Facilities such as a community room, gym, basketball court, parks and playgrounds also exist. It is also planning to build a soccer field and the implementation of a music room and audiovisual equipment.
Two SOS Youth Facilities were opened in 2001 in the city of Cuenca, for boys and girls of the village where 14 young people live in shared floors during their academic and professional training as they prepare gradually to lead an independent life.
Since January 2006, an SOS Social Center that serves as a nursery area for about 90 children is also part of Ricaurte SOS Children's Village. The nursery is particularly valuable for single mothers in the area, allowing them to have a job to support the family with peace of mind knowing that skilled workers are taking care of their children. They also conduct workshops on balanced diet and various health issues. Supporting women is also a major concern, so training is offered in a variety of crafts, improving the status of single mothers, and thus increasing their incomes and their social status.
SOS Children's Villages in Ecuador
The first SOS Children's Village in Ecuador was founded in 1963 by Gerhard Engel, who established the first contacts with SOS Kinderdorf International to bring the idea of Hermann Gmeiner to this country. In the following years an SOS Children's Village was built in Quito, the capital, with a total of twelve family houses. This was made possible by donations from individuals and companies. In 1978 Father Mariani, an Italian priest, founded the SOS Children's Village Esmeraldas in cooperation with the Esmeraldas Vicariate.
Due to the growing poverty in Ecuador, more SOS Children's Villages were created to provide the weakest members of society, homeless children the protection of a family. In addition, youth residences were added for young people from the SOS Children's Villages, where they could prepare for a life of independence.
Between 1991 and 1994 six SOS Social Centers were built in the poorest neighborhoods of Quito, which serve as nurseries. They cared for children of working parents and single mothers.
When in 1995 Ecuador and Peru faced a border armed conflict, SOS Children's Villages launched an SOS Emergency Program on both sides of the border to fill the feeding needs of the refugees. In 1998 they began another SOS Emergency Program when the Manabi region was hit by devastating floods due to the climatic phenomenon "El Niño", supplying the affected population with food, medicines and school materials, among other things.
In early 2000, SOS Children's Villages of Ecuador introduced the Strengthening Program for SOS Families, with the aim of ensuring that children that were in danger of losing the care of their biological families would remain with them. To achieve this, SOS Children's Villages works directly with families of different communities, strengthen their capabilities so they can assist and care for children in the best possible way. This preventive work is carried out in cooperation with local authorities and with other social groups.
Currently there are six SOS Children’s Villages in Ecuador, (Ricaurte, Quito, Ibarra, Esmeraldas, Portoviejo and Guayaquil), SOS Youth Facilities in four villages, one SOS Kindergarten, six SOS Social Centers and a Professional Training Center.
Celebrating Christmas with Family
During the days I spent with the kids from the village, I took the opportunity to make a photo slideshow of the trip and that way, to show them how the other SOS villages that I had already were through the videos in my website. The attention and exemplary conduct displayed by the attendees once again amazed me. They did not want to miss anything and enjoyed the most of every image. So much that upon seeing this "strange" thing that appeared in the video of my visit to the SOS Village of Leon in Nicaragua, they immediately wanted to try the famous Argentine mate.
It got a round organized and we began the “mateada!” Of course, despite my warnings about the bitter taste of the drink, nobody wanted to miss experiencing this exotic concoction that was passed from hand to hand. Of course, the reactions were varied, ranging from total rejection (as evidenced by the inevitable frowning and horror faces), through the ones who stoically accepted the sacrifice in order to look good to me, and even those who liked it and demanded a new round. Those ones were ready to visit Argentina!
There were also sessions repairing bicycles, and not just for Maira, because every single bike in the village fell into my hands to be checked and adjusted. So I ended unsuccessfully trying to imitate the kids who did some tricks deftly on their BMXs, while mine attempts were laughable. But at least I tried!
e closing festivities came with the 1st Communion Ceremony of three children of one household, so that all the people gathered to celebrate and enjoy delicious homemade food, and music by the Village older kids.
I was definitely in the right place for these dates, with family, and enjoying genuine and pure home warmth.
Would you give us a hand?
The reality that children living in SOS Villages enjoy would not be possible without the selfless contribution of people. Your help is essential for these life projects to reach fruition. Want to be part of that future by contributing with a donation?
To donate merchandise or money directly to SOS Children's Villages of Ecuador, you can do so through the following contact:
SOS Children's Villages Ecuador
Fundraising Office SOS Children's Villages Ecuador
Address: Pedro Bedón Oe3-124 entre Veracruz y Ulloa Casilla:17-17-1852
Phone: +593 2 33 16 850
Fax: +593 2 33 16 865
Of course, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR CONTRIBUTION!
Cristina Wagner, National Director of SOS Villages Ecuador, for generating the necessary resources to allow my visits in this country.
Eleanor Bolanos, communications officer of SOS Villages Ecuador, for the efforts so as to make the return visit to the SOS Village Ricaurte possible.
Rene Zalamea, director of the SOS Village Ricaurte, and all the administrative staff who organized the reception for my arrival and the unconditional support during the days I spent with you.
To all the aunts, mothers, children and youngster from the SOS Village Ricaurte: for the warm welcome within their homes. In particular Aunt Nube: for your generous and selfless cooperation to assure a good meal. Thanks!
Danilo: for that great artwork that you made to develop the memento for SOS Children's Village of Mar del Plata.