The Weight Behind a Child’s Eyes
By Jennifer Hardie, Senior Philanthropy Officer, MAP International
Santa Barbara, Ecuador — I was struck by her eyes, the weight behind them, they told her story and the struggles of her young life. She was the same age as my daughter, but living a completely desperate life. I could not look at her without comparing the two young middle school aged girls. The story my daughter’s eyes tell is a drastically different one. She does not have the same worries and concerns that her Ecuadorian counterpart does. Her days are filled with joy, school, sports and fun with friends. Her chores are light and our survival as a family does not depend on her. When she’s hungry she eats, and when she’s sick a doctor is just a quick car ride away.
Life is very different in Santa Barbara, a small village perched on the side of the Arajuno River deep in the Ecuador jungle. The children in Santa Barbara know hunger, their nearest doctor is hours away since the village is only accessible by boat. Their primary school is across the river, but the high school is a two hour walk along a jungle path through the Amazon.
Families are large in Santa Barbara and the older children are expected to help with caring for younger siblings, cleaning and even cooking meals. There is not much time left to be a kid, to be carefree, but life today in Santa Barbara is improving and it is much better than it was just a few years ago.
MAP International began working with this community a few years back at the request of the local government authorities. MAP has worked successfully in other nearby Napa communities and the officials requested MAP also partner with the people in Santa Barbara to help improve their quality of life.
I was fortunate to be a part of this journey to MAP Ecuador. It was a Vision Trip, organized by MAP International to bring some of our partners to the communities where we work to see first-hand the work they are making possible and the lives they are saving. I joined the MAP team only a year ago and this was my first field visit. The Vision Trip was extraordinary and it was easy to see why MAP’s formula for development work is successful. Aid is not simply a hand out. MAP’s Ecuador Director, Maggy Martinez, a native Ecuadorian, partners with the local community members to understand what they need to succeed. Together they analyze the community assets and needs and together they come up with a strategy that will empower the community people to find and embrace solutions to their issues.
I had the privilege of meeting Filomena, an extraordinary woman from Santa Barbara who was the first to step forward to be trained by MAP to become a Community Health Promoter. Filomena told our group “I have learned so much, I am able to help children and mothers when they are sick and I’m able to teach others about health and hygiene.” She told us she wants to learn more, she now sees the impact health education can make on her community.
Santa Barbara is a community with hope, they see the big improvements that can be made with small changes. The health education and enhancements made since MAP arrived has allowed the young girl I photographed to attend school regularly. The same is true for her peers –help from Filomena, a new health clinic, and the health education and the Sawyer water filtration programs have all contributed to providing a more normal life in Santa Barbara. One that is not interrupted by children and families suffering from unknown illnesses and lack of access to medical care. The people of Santa Barbara see the impact they can have on their own community, and this has fueled their desire for more improvements. They now look towards the future with hope and can see the possibilities ahead of them. To learn more about MAP International’s work, please go to www.map.org.