Give the Gift of Education This Christmas

Would you consider adding Mission Santa Maria to your Christmas list? Here is what we need most this Christmas to continue to best serve the children in our programs.

– University scholarships $400/month
We are so excited and proud that 6 new students have joined our University program this fall. Would you consider supporting one of them?

Our 6 new university students.

– Washing machines for the Mission Home $600
We need to replace a few washing machines at the Mission Home. With the salt water air and all the laundry that is done everyday, even the best washing machines only last a few years. 

Our last 2 washing machines. The one on the right broke three days ago.

– Scholarship Plus Program $1200 or $100/month 
Some of our students lost their parents during the past two years and are not only in need of tuition assistance, but need help paying for bus fare and food during the year. This program will help meet the exceptional needs of these students. 

A mom and her children in front of their home. The children will be a part of our scholarship plus program.

– An English Teacher at the Mission school $7,000/year
Our English department is growing rapidly but in order to make true advances, we need to decrease class size (current class size is 38-40 students, can you imagine trying to learn another language with that many students?). 

One of the English classes. There are less students than usual due to coronavirus precautions.

Read more

Hope and Healing This Season

In our work here in Ecuador, and especially as we prepare for Christmas, a sentiment that constantly comes to mind is hope. Hope for opportunities for the children in our programs. Hope for new pathways as a result of high quality education. And in particular, hope for healing for the children living at the Mission Home. We want to share the story of one child that has brought us much hope these past few months. To protect the child’s privacy, we have changed any identifiable details.

Maria eating lunch after living at the Mission Home for one year. She trusts and loves Charito like a mother.

Maria is 4 years old and has been living at the Mission Home for the last 2 years. She came to the Mission Home with her two siblings. When she first arrived, it was hard to ignore the physical and emotional signs of trauma that she had endured. Most significantly, she walked with a severe limp that had not previously been assessed by a doctor. She often sat down from the pain after only 5 minutes of playing. There were smaller signs as well. She rarely smiled, said almost nothing, and every mealtime would eagerly await her food and devour it in minutes. We see this frequently in new children that have experienced severe food insecurity.

Today, Maria seems like a different child. After evaluation and treatment at the children’s hospital in Guayaquil, she no longer walks with a limp. She has attended Tutor Jackie’s preschool/kindergarten class for the last two years and is one of the most active participants. Anytime she sees a camera, she runs over to offer her almost humorously enormous grin. She shares any treats she receives with her two siblings, and is the most attentive friend to Regan. Whenever we visit the home, she is the first to run to the gate to give Regan a hug.

Maria’s story is not unique, but is a testament to childhood resilience and to the power of love. Maria has lived with a group of 12 other young girls since arriving at the home, and is cared for by one of the missionary women named Charito. Charito has unending patience for all of the girls under her care, and with her gentle but consistent presence walks with those that require the most healing. Charito uses several techniques to help the girls in her care build resilience. In Maria’s case, she found it extremely important to reestablish routines that calmed Maria (regular meal times, a bath every night, and a story before she got in bed). She also focused on enhancing her feelings of safety, staying in the room until Maria fell asleep for her first several months at the home. Maria struggled with self-regulation, and Charito found that keeping a hand on her shoulder through her tantrums rather than ignoring them produced better results. Maria also meets with the staff physiologist regularly, but is always happiest to be back in Charito’s care at the end of the day. The path has not been direct. Maria has had many regressions and still has behavioral issues in school. But her progress is undeniable, and you don’t need to look further than her smile to know that she feels genuinely loved.

We are grateful for the hope that Charito has brought to Maria’s life. We are grateful to witness how transformative this love and hope can be despite her history of trauma. And we are grateful for all of you for being a part of Maria’s journey by supporting the Mission Home!

Read more

University Student Spotlight – Kengie

Meet Kengie! Kengie is 19 years old and grew up at the Mission Home along with her older sister and younger brother. She recently was accepted into a university in Guayaquil and is one of our newest students in our University Program. She will start her degree studying tourism next month. 

Kengie (right) with her sister, Josselyn (left), at a high-school cultural performance.

Kengie reflects very positively on her time in the Mission Home. Due to family problems, she came to the home when she was 12 years old. One of her favorite parts of her time at the home was helping one of the missionaries, Fatima, with her group of little boys. The little boys still affectionately refer to her as ñaña, meaning sister. 

Kengie gives a big hug to missionary, Fatima, and a few of the little boys.

Since she graduated high school and turned 18, Kengie has been living with her grandmother in a city about an hour away. Due to child welfare laws in Ecuador, the home is unable to continue to care for children after they turn 18. Kengie is very fortunate that she has a grandmother to live with, and her grandmother is equally blessed to have Kengie to accompany her in her older age. Kengie returns often to the Mission Home, most frequently to visit her sister who is now an employee at the home, and also to visit the missionaries and the little boys. 

Kengie and Jim playing with some of the little boys.

Kengie states that she wants to attend university because it is the ‘only way’ to have a professional career and find good employment. She is motivated to better herself through education, and wants to be able to take better care of herself and her family than her parents were able to take care of her. She is very grateful for the opportunity to study, and recognizes with immense gratitude all of the people that helped her get here, including all of you! We are excited to support Kengie through this next phase of her education, and are so thankful to be able to do so because of your generosity! 

Read more

Our Friend Viky

We lost a good friend last week. Viky passed away after a four year battle with breast cancer at the age of 36. Viky was one of the first teachers I met at the mission school 14 years ago and she became a good friend. Viky taught English although she graduated from college with a law degree. Perhaps she decided to teach because her mother was the principal and her sister worked at the school as well. I think she didn’t want to have to move to a big city to practice law and wanted her 3 young children to grow up near their cousins and grandparents.

Viky and her husband, Erik, and three children, Isabel, Sophia, and Andreas.

But teaching wasn’t how we became friends, it was through her cooking! Viky was a great cook. Viky learned that I loved an Ecuadorian dish called “Churrasco” (I only loved it for the quantity of food it had: Beef, rice, fried eggs, avocado, and french fries). Viky invited me to her house many times while I was a volunteer and every year when I came back to visit. When Grace and I moved here a few years ago she made us bread constantly.

Viky also helped us with our scholarship programs and more recently with our food drive last year during the Covid lockdown. Even though she was going through chemo, she was very concerned about other families, especially those with young children who were in need. At one point we were testing out a pilot project for data entry in Ecuador which Viky ran since she knew English and was an excellent worker and could instruct and manage the young people we were going to hire. Unfortunately, she received bad news soon after we began the project and had to give it up.
We will miss Viky terribly.  We will miss her friendship. We will miss her determination and care for others. We hope that the work we do to continue to help more families will make her proud.
Read more

The Mission School Reopens to Students!

After a great trip in the United States, we are glad to be back in Ecuador! We feel rejuvenated by the time we spent with family and friends, and are especially grateful to everyone that came to one of our events over the past 2 months. We felt so encouraged to spend time with some of our longtime Mission supporters, as well as to meet many new friends. We are grateful to all of you for being on this journey with us! 

So happy to be back in Ecuador! We returned to the end of the rainy season so most days are cloudy, but the sun is beginning to come out!

We are excited to announce that our return to Ecuador coincided with good news from the Mission School. After a year and a half of virtual learning, the Mission School reopened to students last week. They are the first school in the state to have been given permission by the government to welcome students back into their classrooms. The school was required by the government to implement numerous health requirements, as well as a detailed plan of staggered reentry of the students. 

Students being welcomed back to in-person learning at the Mission School. It was a day to celebrate!

Getting kids back in the classroom was, and continues to be, a huge priority for us. Because of your generosity, Mission Santa Maria gave the school $5000 it needed to comply with the government regulations that allow for in-person learning. This includes hand sanitizing stations, signage, and video cameras for each classroom to comply with staggered re-entry, since the teachers must teach half of the students in person and film the class virtually at the same time for the students still at home. Priority for reentry is being given to students that do not have access to the internet in their homes. 

We have several plans to help the school but it is important that the students return to school first. We will have more updates for you soon.

During this phase of staggered reentry, classes are being taught to half the students in-person, and are filmed for the other half of students at home.

Read more

Festivities and Fun at our NJ Fall Fundraiser

Last Thursday, September 23rd, we gathered at The Primavera Regency in Stirling, NJ, for our NJ Fall Fundraiser. It was the first time we have hosted an event in New Jersey, but hopefully not the last!

Our New Jersey supporters hold a special place in our hearts. This is where Mission Santa Maria was founded, and where so many of our first and most loyal supporters come from. Over the past 14 years, Mission Santa Maria has changed and grown significantly. But the generosity of the people that make this work possible has never wavered.

In addition to so many familiar faces, we were ecstatic to meet new friends at our event. Welcome to the Mission family, we are so glad you joined us!

We have a few more events coming up in the next two weeks. Check out our events page here to see if we are coming to your area. Thank you for being on this journey with us!

Read more

Tutors lead fun learning activities at the Mission Home: Pick Up Straw Game

The children at the Mission Home are well into the school year and, thanks to our tutors, are continuing to actively participate and advance through virtual learning. As we have shared before, we are so grateful for all our tutors do at the Mission Home! Our tutors provide incredible support to the children during school hours, lead small groups of children through their virtual classes, teach supplemental lessons to ensure adequate understanding, provide homework help, and specifically work with children with educational deficits to ensure they can enroll in the Mission School. One of the things you may not know is that outside of school hours, our tutors lead developmentally appropriate, educational activities and games for the children. This not only increases playful learning hours at the Mission Home, but also gives the missionary sisters a little bit more time to finish the thousands of tasks on their to-do list before the children return to their care. 

Children at the Mission Home race to collect the most bottle caps using a straw in the Pick Up Straw Game.

Recently, one of our tutors led the children in a fun pick up game with straws. It was simple yet provided endless entertainment and competition. In addition, the game is great for building oral motor skills in young learners (though all school-age children enjoy it!). Here are the step by step instructions for how you can recreate the game at home: 

The children must use their straws to carry the plastic bottle caps back to their designated cups.

Pick up Game with Straws

Supplies needed: Plastic bottle caps of various colors*, straws, cups 


  1. Line up all the bottle caps, on one side of the room. Line up the number of cups to correspond with the number of players on the opposite side of the room from the bottle caps. 
  2. Give each child participating a straw.
  3. Have the children run from their cup to the bottle caps. Using their straws, the children must carry a bottle cap back to their cup.
  4. The child to collect the most bottle caps at the end of the designated playing time wins. 

If your child is playing solo with a straw and bottle caps, some fun alternatives to the competition could be to:

  1. Write a letter of the alphabet on each bottle cap and pick them up in alphabetical order
  2. Write a number on each bottle cap and pick them up in chronological order
  3. Write each letter of the child’s name on a bottle cap and pick them up in correct order to spell their name 

*We use bottle caps in Ecuador because it is easy to find them in the recycling, but colorful pieces of paper also work great!

Read more

A Survey of Local Youth

A few months ago, we co-created a survey to explore the opinions and views of young local Ecuadorians. The survey covered subjects such as urban planning, education, technology and digital trends, and the current economic situation. Over 200 young people participated, with the large majority being between the ages of 15-18 years old. It was the first time we undertook this type of project. The purpose was to test the survey structure for future information gathering, and also to better understand the opinions of the young people our programs impact. We conducted the survey in partnership with Fondation Botnar, a Swiss philanthropic organization focused on improving the lives of young people globally. 

More than 90% of respondents were interested in participating in an organized activity outside of school.

The results of the survey were interesting and useful for future program development. Some findings were not surprising, for example, most young people thought they would live in the same city in the next 5 years.  Other findings confirmed some of our assumptions. For example, many thought that training in English language, technology, and practical skills were lacking in their current education. And over 80% responded that having technology skills would be very important to their future. And some findings were quite surprising. Despite most of the respondents sharing that their parents completed only primary or secondary schooling, over 90% thought it was possible to obtain a university degree. 

Word cloud created by Patrick Fisher, representative of Fondation Botnar, based on write-in survey responses. Word clouds (also known as text clouds or tag clouds) work in a simple way: the more a specific word appears in a source of textual data (such as written survey responses), the bigger and bolder it appears in the word cloud.

Though there were clear limits to the survey, most significantly that it was administered via Google Docs thereby limiting the pool of respondents to those that had internet access, we were encouraged by the results. The respondents were hopeful about their future and their possibilities for education and economic advancement. Many of the areas that the respondents perceived to be missing in their current curriculum are focus areas for our Mission programs at the Mission School and in our University Program. In particular, we hope to offer more students scholarships to university, to improve English language learning, and to begin a technology program. As we shared in a recent blog post, our English language project is well under way! And finally, given the positive response to the survey method, we feel that this can be an ongoing part of our planning process for program development and assessment. 

Read more

You’re invited to our NJ Fall Fundraiser!

Click here for tickets!

Please join us for an incredible evening of fun in support of an even better cause.

After being unable to gather in person last year, we are excited to host an event in New Jersey this September. Invite a friend, enjoy an open bar, fill up on delicious food, and see how we are changing lives of children through our programs.

(Open Bar 6:30 – 10:30PM)
The Primavera Regency, 1080 Valley Rd, Stirling, NJ 07980
Ticket: $100

Help support our event and receive other benefits by signing up for a sponsorship!

Get tickets, commit to a sponsorship, and learn more by clicking here!

Read more