Day 2: Damien House & Hogar de Cristo
Hola folks! Good news, mi Español is getting better! 🙂 Slightly, but better. So it’s beginning to look like morning yoga is going to be a regular occurrence here at Hostel el Madrid, which is actually a really nice way to wake up in the morning. It felt great to get out and stretch, especially early in the morning because it wasn’t quite that hot out yet. The rest of the day was dedicated to touring the different organizations that we will be volunteering at throughout the next couple weeks. Overall I can say it was a huge impactful experience for me and is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Our first stop was Damien House, a care center for patients who have Hansen’s disease, or more commonly known as Leprosy. Going into it, I was extremely unsure of what to expect and how I would react to meeting the people living there. We started out by getting some information on the disease and the house itself. Hansen’s disease is a chronic infection caused by bacteria. Contrary to the stereotype, Hansen’s is not contagious. Skin lesions are the primary external sign, but if left untreated can cause degeneration to the nerves and limbs. As there is such a stigma still surrounding Hanson’s (due largely to biblical passages), most of the patient’s families don’t visit or even call them anymore. Hearing this information I was sad for the people I haven’t met yet and expected the rest of the tour to be a bit depressing. I could not have been more wrong. The first person we met was Sister Annie and she is one of the most amazing women I have ever met. Her energy and her spirit was just so strong that it filled the entire room and hearing her story was such a meaningful moment. She has been working with the center for the past 20 years in the hopes of transforming the center to a dignified place to go where these people can get treated, cared for, and to be loved. It’s because of her that the living standards there have improved so much, and to me it feels like she is the heart of the entire center. As I’m sure she makes all the patients there feel special, she made sure to make each of us feel special by coming around and individually hugging the entire group.
I can’t even begin to describe the overwhelming emotions I felt when we began to tour the center and meet the patients. We visited the women first who greeted us so wholeheartedly, and made us feel so welcome it was unbelievable. Even though we couldn’t communicate directly with them, Annie translated for us that just our presence alone left such an impact on them. I don’t even think they realized the impact they left on us. The happiness and overwhelming joy I had when meeting these kind women truly touched my heart, and it was extremely hard for me to keep my emotions in. When visiting the men it was a little bit more humorous and light hearted. They were a joy to interact with and I think I even made a special friend! It was truly amazing to me that these people, who have been through so much, and have probably gone through so much heartache and hardships themselves, could still be so positive and high spirited. We talked about the 7 dimensions of health and wellness in class, and although most of the patients aren’t in the best physical health, I would say they ARE the definition, and the perfect example of being spiritually healthy. Prior to visiting the house, it was not at the top of my list of places to visit; a senior’s home just did not sound appealing to me. Now I literally can not wait to go back there and get to know these amazing people, and bask in their strength and happiness.
The next place we went to was Hogar de Cristo, a non-profit organization located in the suburban area of Guayaquil that provides sustainable housing and schooling for low income families (among other services). Unlike what we are used to at home, the suburban area is extremely run down. If the bubble is the rich community, then I would describe the suburban area as the complete opposite. Hogar de Cristo provides many varying and valuable services that are needed within Guayaquil. The first place we visited within the organization was a model home of the kind of house that we will be building for a couple of families. A really amazing feature that the organization is trying to pilot (but not one that we will be building) is a system for the family to produce their own food including agriculture, breeding chickens, and growing their own fish. That’s right, I said growing their own fish. This system seems like such an innovative idea that could help improve the lifestyles of the low income families so much. It involves separate tanks, where the fish grow until they are big enough to be cooked to feed to their family. The sanitation system is involved in the food producing system to turn waste into food product for the growing of agriculture etc. Cynthia compared it to “the circle of life.” The whole idea of it is quite remarkable and really is a way that can help prevent the cost of living for families.
Another section we went to visit was a pilot project filtration system for the water involving ceramic pots. It’s a really interesting idea that has apparently been used many years ago by Julio’s ancestors! We were also able to view the assembly line, where people put together the premade walls that could be purchased for house building. The houses we are building in partnership with Hogar de Cristo cost about $1,000 to make per house, while a townhouse/apartment style house costs about $13,000 to make. For a family with an income of about $100-$400/month it is apparent that a house built through the organization is much more affordable for these people. Unfortunately the current political status in Ecuador is creating difficulties for Hogar de Cristo to continue their services. Many families are being displaced out of their homes. The government is removing people from their homes and “re-claiming” the land that they believe belongs to them. As most of the people within some specific areas do not have government documentation, they are literally being evicted from their homes with no place to go. I couldn’t imagine how the people who are getting displaced are feeling, and how unfair it is for these people who have lived there for over 50-100 years to have to uproot and find another place to live, if they can find another place.
The final place we went to today is the school that some of us (including me ^^) will be volunteering at later in the week. Colegio 20 de Abril is located within Hogar de Cristo, providing educational services. It was really exciting to get to see some of the students, and again to see their reaction to us. It warms my heart to see how excited some of them got (even while they were in class) to even just see us. While at the school, we were able to check out the court/space that we will be working at which was surprisingly really nice. For the most part, it was just figuring out logistics and how the schedules are going to work etc. After we returned to the hostel it was a bit of some free time again – where, by the way I had the best empanada. Ever. It’s really interesting (and great) for me being in a place where I can get dinner and dessert for $3.20. Overall I felt the day was a wonderful experience, especially the morning spent at Damien house!
Thanks for reading!!!