We are so excited to share our first annual report with you! Please click here to view the report.
In Ecuador, Valentine’s Day is not just a day to celebrate romantic relationships, but also the love shared between friends. It is common to see female friends gift each other flowers or male friends share cards, in addition to the stereotypical romantic gestures shared on this holiday. So what better way to honor Ecuador’s inclusive approach to celebrating than by sharing the story of a friendship that blossomed from the mission home.
Jenny and Jocelyn both moved to the mission home as preadolescents. Adapting to life with so many other teenage girls was challenging at times, but when they became roommates they fell into an easy friendship and life got much better. Jocelyn often talks about how beneficial it was to have a friend like Jenny, who was going through something similar to her in those first few years. Though they arrived at the mission home for different reasons, both were unable to stay with their biological families, and both had experienced trauma and had to adapt to being placed in a new living and school environment in their formative adolescent years. But thankfully it wasn’t all serious. They still laugh about the time when Jocelyn tried to hide her portion of tomatoes during dinner, her least favorite food, eventually leading to a huge mess and Jenny and Jocelyn being punished to clean the dishes for the next week.
When they graduated from high school they each desired to study in university, and through the support of Mission Santa Maria are both enrolled in university courses now. Jenny is in her final semester at a university in Guayaquil, studying to become an occupational therapist. Jocelyn lives and works at the mission home and is studying tourism through a part-time online university program. Despite several years living in different cities, the two remain incredibly close, sending each other WhatsApp voice and text messages daily. Jenny often returns to the mission home to help out during her university breaks, and when she does she always stays with Jocelyn. They refer to each other as ñaña, or sister in Quechua, the language of several indigenous groups in Ecuador and other neighboring countries. It is a term of utmost affection and signifies their bond beyond the bounds of blood and genetics.
Over the years they have spent many Valentine’s Days together. They have gifted each other flowers, detailed hand made cards, beaded friendship bracelets, small cakes from the local bakery, and more. Though this year they will celebrate Valentine’s Day apart, you can be sure that they will be sending each other many electronic messages of care and love to honor their friendship. We are so grateful for the friendships that grow out of the mission home, as well as for all of our friends across the world who support young girls like Jenny and Jocelyn. From all of us at Mission Santa Maria, we want to wish you a very happy ‘día de amor y amistad’!
In honor of her birthday today we wanted to share a little about Fátima, one of missionary sisters at the Mission Home. Fátima has been a part of the Mission Home since the very beginning, taking care of abandoned, abused, and neglected children for over 30 years. She is the epitome of motherly love…compassionate, patient, caring, energetic, affectionate, guiding, and stern when necessary. She has been in charge of caring for the little boys for many years now, and at one time cared for as many as 100 little boys at the same time. She calls her life easy now that she only has to care for 19 (ranging in age from 2 years old to 12). But anyone who comes to the Mission Home can see how it would be impossible to find someone else who could do all that she does.
More impressive than her incredible work ethic and dedication to her calling is her simple and pure love. She is gifted with the ability to make anyone that comes in contact with her feel special, cared for, and genuinely loved, a characteristic that goes a long way with the children she cares for. If you come to the Mission Home she will likely be the first one to greet you with a big smile on her face. And even if she is in the middle of doing laundry for her 19 boys or helping get each of them bathed and ready for bed, she will be sure to take a moment to ask how she can help you, and let you know that you are welcome. Since we arrived back at the Mission Home, she has offered daily to take care of Regan to ‘give us a break’. We laugh at the absurdity that we could possibly be the ones in need of a break, when she cares for so many every second of the day. But it is in this way that she demonstrates how much she cares.
We learned of the capacity of Fátima’s love from a past volunteer. An 11 year old boy arrived at the home having survived physical and verbal abuse from his guardians. For the first several months at the home he screamed at everything, and everyone, often throwing all of the contents of whatever room he was in onto the floor or at whoever was passing by. He refused to eat, and flailed his body out of control when asked to complete any task. His destructive behavior was a common manifestation of the trauma many of the kids experience. Fátima was patient. Each day when he would begin to scream or lose control she would hug him, tell him it was okay, and that she was there. After 3 months of this, Fátima knew that she needed to help break this cycle so the boy could have a life again, succeed in school, and begin to heal. So that day when he began to scream she wrapped him tight in her arms and held him for more than 30 minutes repeating that it was enough, she understood his suffering but he could stop the screaming now, she was there and she loved him. He did. And though it took many more months and professional psychological services to advance the healing process, the boy is stable now. He is a good student and a caring older brother and friend.
Fátima motivates us to work harder and to put love at the center of everything we do. Happy birthday to you, our dearest friend Fátima!
We have been back in Ecuador for almost 2 weeks now and we are so happy to be here. Looking back on 2020 we continue to feel overwhelmed with gratitude for your support, and we have exciting plans for the upcoming year. Here is a quick update on what’s going on at the Mission.
The Mission School continues with virtual learning as mandated by the government in response to COVID-19. It is challenging, especially for all our families that do not have access to internet, but the school is doing everything it can to accommodate all students.
The Mission Home has welcomed over 15 new children since the pandemic began. They are adjusting well and it is incredible to see the transformative effects of the love and care they receive here. The kids are divided into small groups to complete their school work each morning, and the tutors we hired provide supplemental education. Many of the children at the Mission Home are thriving with the smaller ‘class’ sizes, and are able to bridge some of their educational gaps better than they otherwise would be. So there’s one positive to virtual learning!
Our University students are doing well while most of their classes continue online. We have one student preparing to graduate in April!
On a personal note, our 5 month old daughter, Regan, is loving Ecuador! We are in the midst of summer so it is very hot and humid, and a drought has forced water rationing so we have no running water after 2pm. It is certainly a new (and at times challenging) adventure with Regan here, but the missionary sisters and the kids at the home already love her so well.
Thank you for being on this journey with us!
Please join us on Wednesday, November 18th, from 8:00-8:45PM Eastern Time, for a virtual toast to Mission Santa Maria and its supporters! We would usually be hosting our New York City event at this time of year, but since we cannot gather in person we hope you will be able to support us with your virtual participation. Please register for the event by clicking here.
Looking forward to seeing you!
In Ecuador, children “went back” to school in June (they typically start in April). The Ministry of Education has mandated that the school give classes virtually due to Covid. Many families in our school do not have internet or computers so it has been very difficult for our students to connect to their classes but they are making it work, borrowing cell phones or sharing a computer with other families. The teachers are printing work packets for those who have no internet access.
The children’s home has adapted quite well. The tutors we hired last year for some of the children are now helping all the children with their school assignments and even have a few hours of classes. So, our children are getting the best education in the school at the moment!
We recently added a new member to the Mission Santa Maria family! Our baby girl was born a month early and we are very grateful we were in the U.S. during this time since she had to spend a few extra days in the hospital. Grace and baby Regan are doing very well now.
Between March and July, we gave out about 1 million meals to families in the surrounding towns. This herculean effort by our fairly small charity was made possible only by the incredible outpouring of generosity of our donors (including many new ones) and the local community who volunteered to put in the hours of daily work to distribute food (pictured above).
We are incredibly proud to have been part of this crisis response. As donations poured in, we were humbled by the generosity of our donors, and it enabled us to reach more and more families. On behalf of thousands of families here, thank you!
In so many ways, this has been a very difficult time for us. It is devastating to see such widespread suffering. People are so grateful for helping them feed their families. The reaction of most people is immense gratitude and joy for the help we bring (which we pass along to you). The few people who receive our help with tears often thank us profusely. The people here are extremely resilient, strong, and kind. We are left with a deepening admiration for our families here.
During the past few months, the Mission Home drew on the Emergency Food Fund twice. We created this Fund last year and it has been getting good use. The children have been very well fed! The women have been busy with trying to adapt to the online classes that the children are taking. The tutors that we hired last year for the children that were not able to be in school are now leading all the children at the home in their daily online classes. Trying to keep 80 children engaged in online learning is no small feat and we are incredibly impressed with our tutors.
Ecuador is slowly reopening their economy, but restaurants, bars and beaches are still closed, which employs a significant amount of people in our towns. Although some people have been able to return to work, many people are left without any income. We expect our area like most of Ecuador to enter into an economic depression. The World Bank estimates that Latin America as a whole will lose 20 years of progress in poverty reduction as a result of this crisis.
The situation has led us to examine our mission and vision here in Ecuador. We believe more than ever that educating children will improve their lives and the lives of the community around them.