A Day to Rest Backs but Work Minds

June 25, 2012

            Today, Monday, we have the day off from building homes (of course, if you read Sunday’s entry you know that a home is being constructed today for Sara, by our friends Ivan and Gato). As typical men, we would “soldier on” if we were building today, but a day to let stiff and sore muscles rest and heal is a welcome reality.

            So instead of working our backs, we worked our minds today. We met with Luis Tavarra, the Social Director of Hogar de Cristo. Luis is a former Jesuit Priest, who has a passion for the poor. He shared with us all that HdC does, not only here in Guayaquil, but throughout Ecuador.

            HdC has it’s roots in Chile in 1945, when a Jesuit Priest, on a cold rainy night, encountered a feverish man shivering. He gave him his coat and invited him to come along to find help. In seconds, the man disappeared—not run away, but simply vanished. Fr. Alberto Hurtado knew than that he had encountered the living Christ, and was called to make a difference in the lives of the poor. From that surprising beginning has grown Hogar de Cristo.

            It came to Ecuador in 1970, and there are currently 4 factories in 4 different cities that create 61 home kits each day (in total, not at each site). HdC thus houses around 150,000 families each year in Ecuador alone.

            Other ministries they are involved with include microlending, working with around 1500 communal banks of 10 to 15 women each. The communal banks first work with trained graduates of the program, who function as social workers, to build up the self esteem of the women (the lending is ONLY to women-men would squander the money, while women invest in their families and communities), and then help the women plan for success. The default rate of the loans is .97%.

            In te area where we are working and building homes, called the perimetral area (outside the perimeter of Guyaquil—we joked about building “OTP”), HdC operates 5 health centers for the approximately 470,000 people who live in the area.

            There are 23 primary schools in this area, serving the population of children. Few teachers are trained, most are simply high school graduates, who are fortunate to have been able to advance that far. Only about 6% of students are able to go “off” (into the city) to High School, and only 2% make it to college.

            In these schools, roughly 1200 children are fed breakfast daily, a soy roll (which we had and was quite tasty), and soy milk (ditto), which are working to reduce what was discovered to be severe anemia some years ago. Since the introduction of fortified soy milk, the incidence of anemia has dropped nearly 50%. In schools where, for one reason or another, HdC is unable to provide this breakfast, anemia is rising.

            Committed to protecting and helping women, HdC also runs the only shelter for abused women on the Ecuadorian coast. We were shocked to learn that while the number one cause of death in women in Ecuador is cancer, the #2 cause is spousal murder. This shelter can house 125 people, to include children (girls to 18, boys to 12). The shelter offers medical and psychological help to the women, and runs a day care so they can get out to look for and benefit from work.

            HdC also has a “materials bank” where local industries give surplus materials, which people use to improve their homes; a process of offering water filters (the primary source of disease here as in many places is water borne illness); a fish farm (tilapia and a freshwater shrimp); and jobs for former sex workers to give them the opportunity to get out of that industry.

            To show that Luis puts his feet where his heart is, he lives in a bamboo home next to the soy milk plant with his wife and daughter. He is truly a man of faith, of passion, and devotion, and we all are impressed with this man.

            A bit of rest this afternoon, then off to the artisanal market for some shopping, then it’s off to the steak house for dinner. If this year proves to be like last year’s, we’ll eat close to an entire cow.

            Back to building tomorrow. As we do so, it is with Luis’ words ringing in our ears: people look to us to see us smile, because when we do that, they see the love of Christ.

One Response to “A Day to Rest Backs but Work Minds”

  1. Betsy Bunte Says:

    Chuck and team,
    Surely you ARE showing the love of Christ in your work the past week. We have been praying for you and for your work there. Blessings and joy–and, oh yes, hope you enjoyed the “cow” for dinner!

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