My heart is full one moment and it breaks the next. We are back in Quito and have been incredibly blessed with an opportunity to volunteer at the Working Boys’ Center. We have been here for two weeks now, and definitely understand why it is so difficult to leave this place. In fact, our departure date keeps changing.
This opportunity is the result of a small world connection. One we wrote about after our first day in Quito. The short story, someone named Don contacted us out of the blue because someone told him about us – two people who had quit their jobs and were going to volunteer around the world, their first stop Quito. Don so happened to be going to Quito with his church and he suggested we meet. So, our first day in Quito, Don’s last day in Quito, we met and learned about the Working Boys’ Center, where Don and his church had just spent a week. We met Madre Cindy and talked about contributing some time as volunteers.
Madre Cindy said to us the other day, “this will be the best year of your lives – doing things for others and helping these families.” We indeed have been helping, even in very small ways. Each morning we help serve breakfast at 6am to 600 children and parents. Each morning, these families get on a bus, ride for an hour or more, to come to the Center where they receive a piece of fruit, a piece or cake or eggs, and a hot beverage. Although humble, this breakfast is helping these families survive and save for their future. These families receive two more meals each day, a shower, assistance with saving and their children attend school.
Our first week here we were able to go out on home visits. At first, Cory and I recoiled at the idea of stomping into someone’s home to inspect the way they live. However, we were encouraged by Madre Cindy to attend because to the families, having visitors to their home is an honor. They are proud to share their stories and feel privileged to welcome groups into their homes. We visited three homes that day and I’m not sure we were prepared for the intensity of the experience. Our bus drove us away from the Center. Here we all were, 16 gringos, Padre and Madre Miguel, and three families directing us to their homes. We drove about 20 minutes out of the city, up into the mountains, where the poorest of the poor settle – where there are no services. The bus navigated various dirt roads, deep with ruts, until we stopped before a small concrete structure surrounded by dogs, chickens, dogs and pigs.
We stepped into the first home and were first overcome with just how small the space was. All told, there were three rooms – two bedrooms and an all-purpose room that contained a kitchen and storage. There also was a small closet-sized room that contained a toilet, but we also learned that they did not have running water. Padre asked the woman several questions about her budget, her family, and how much they have saved since becoming members of the Center. It should be noted that the Center is not a charity. It has very strict expectations of each family that it accepts. The entire family must sign on. The family must save a minimum of $20 per month. They must attend each day. They must shower each day. They are shown the benefit of taking their meals at the Center, despite the bus fare to and fro. The intent is to help the entire family to gain financial independence and obtain skills through education, the parents included. So at night the parents attend classes to learn how to read and they also learn simple math so that they can budget and save.
We all politely stood in this woman’s home, listening to her answers to Padre’s questions while looking around the meager rooms. She told us they have five children – 5. Seven people sleep in those two very small rooms. Two beds for seven people. I fought back tears as I stood before this woman, who proudly explained they had saved $120 since they joined the Center three short months ago. They hope to save enough to buy a piece of property so that they can build their own home.
The next two home visits were similar – the details of each home don’t really matter – it would be almost impossible for you to imagine it anyway. And I don’t say that with a “shame on you”. It is a statement of fact. I’m no different – I never could have imagined that a family of 6 or 7 or 8 could live in impossibly small homes with no running water. You hear about it, sure. But, these are people I now see every day at the Center. We serve them breakfast. We return smiles and Buenos Dias. We hug their children, over and over again each day. And each day, they come here, get their breakfast and work to make their lives better. They don’t want charity – and they certainly don’t expect it. So, my emotions in that home felt even more terrible because I didn’t want her to think I pitied her.
It took some time to digest the home visits. And each day I ask myself what I can learn from this experience and these amazing people. There is such beauty here. And no shortage of love.
So, as I listen to the news of the world, and hear the wave of hate against refugees, I look around me at people who are struggling. Thankfully there is no war here. There is poverty, certainly. And in Ecuador, most everyone is Christian, Catholic to be precise. But it strikes me that people are the same everywhere. These people whom Cory and I come in contact with on a daily basis – we don’t speak the same language, we come from vastly different backgrounds and we are different races and religions. But, we are the same in that we want the same things in life. We want to be loved. We want to be safe. We need food, clothing and shelter. We love our families and friends. And we hope that someone will help us in times of need. That’s it. Pretty simple really.
p.s. For more information on the Working Boys’ Center, you can visit the website of The Center for Working Families, which fundraises for the Center in Quito: http://www.c4wf.org, or their Facebook page: Working Boys’ Center. Maybe you’re looking for an end of the year tax deduction? The families here would sure appreciate your kindness!
Also, as you may remember, our camera crapped out after our hike from Lloa to Mindo… Madre Miguel loaned us her point and shoot but we’re not able to upload the photos to our computer – hopefully we’ll get that fixed soon so that we can share more of the story here.