Posts Tagged ‘Ecuador’

The people of Yana Cocha are a hard working group of indigenous people in the rural Andes. They are considered among the lowest of Ecuador’s social classes and are certainly not used to Westerners coming to visit and help them. Some were cautious at first, but all were gracious and humble.

They live simply in adobe homes with a smattering of modern conveniences. Nothing is built especially well, but they are proud of what they have and are quite hospitable. The people have a strong sense of community, and came together to welcome us with open arms, big smiles and great enthusiasm! We had an official welcoming as well as many, many unofficial gestures of thanks.

Often forgotten by the government, the indigenous people have been promised help by many different groups over many years; community leaders told us that our group led by Bruce and Cherith was the first to actually come through!

Moving Concrete Sections in Place

As is the case in much of Central and South America, sanitation is of a major concern. It is necessary to regularly disinfect hands as the people do not utilize the best sanitation practices, and the cleaning and disinfecting of food and water is typically not a priority. When one of the very polite people in the community would greet us with a warm “buenos dios” and shake hands, our hosts would immediately but quietly warn us in quiet English “disinfect your hands”.

Each day from 8:00 a.m. to usually around 1:00 p.m. we would work in the trenches with the community, helping to drain the area where they intended to collect the spring water in a concrete chamber. From there the water would be filtered and pumped to the homes along the hillsides. It was hard, filthy work, and very often we would be bumping into each other as everyone wanted to pitch in but there were often more workers than work. All of the community members were involved and were excellent, enthusiastic workers; some of the women even raked the mud with children strapped to their backs.

Beautiful Children Watching the Work

The working conditions were not deplorable, just wet, muddy and hard. We saw a few tarantulas working along us, but other than that we did not see any serious insects. (Tarantulas are not as bad as the scorpions we have seen on trips to Mexico and Haiti!)

Initially some of us were a little frustrated with the slow pace and the short days. We were there to work we reasoned, and wanted to accomplish something significant! However, we learned that while Bruce and HCJB designs and leads the effort, it is really a community project and they are to do most of the work. HCJB believes that we should be there providing an example and help, but are not to take over the run the project.

I learned to appreciate and respect this approach, as charity in America has largely been reduced to free gifts of provisions, and not conditional donations of work. Work gives the needy a sense of accomplishment and self-respect that blind donations cannot.

We were also In Yana Cocha to spend time socializing and fellowshipping with other Christians. Every day after work we would make lunch, play with the kids for a couple of hours, and prepare for an evening time of learning and worshipping together.

Sharing Roasted Guinea Pig

Food was generally very good, as our missionary hosts provided us with clean, healthy, tasty food! Cherith Rydbeck is a very good cook and had every day’s meal planned before we left Quito. We were discouraged from eating any local food, as again, sanitation and clean food preparation are not the highest priority to the community.

Still, there is a local delicacy known as “cuy” or roasted guinea pig that is served with potatoes and offered to guests. We knew that it was likely going to be offered to us and it would be a major affront to refuse a prized meal from a poor community member. Sure enough, around dinner time one night a large group of people showed up with more than enough servings of cuy and potatoes for all of us. A little gamey and having a taste all its own, I doubt it will catch on in the US.

We never got close to seeing the completion of this project, but we helped Bruce get it started. With God’s help it will be finished next year and about a hundred homes will have clean water and their residents will have made Christian friends in the United States.

Garcia Moreno Prison credit http://www.fotothing.com

In a visit to Ecuador last month as part of a mission team from Free Christian Church in Andover, MA, I was accompanied by Patrick, a civil engineering student, Myles, an engineer in the aerospace industry, David a well-traveled professional, and David’s two young adult children Marianna and John Henry. We were guests of Cheryl and Bruce Rydbeck of HCBJ Global, a Christian missionary group that now has a presence in 100 countries. Though our primary focus was working on a clean water project with an indigenous community in the Andes, we witnessed some other opportunities to minister to those in need abroad.

The first  was Garcia Moreno Prison in Quito, a maximum security men’s prison. Seeing that this is the FIRST maximum-security prison that I have visited in a third world country, I obviously did not know what to expect!  That being said, Bruce made sure we were fast learners by immersion.
The prison is in the poor historic colonial part of the city, surrounded by food vendors selling to the many family members in line waiting to see their incarcerated father, brother or husband. As one of the largest of Ecuador’s prisons, Garcia Moreno has been referred to as a “prison-city”. Designed to house 300 inmates in the 1870’s, it purportedly has housed as many as 1800. It has an economy of its own, where prison food vendors and “restaurants” are located throughout the prison. Everything from cigarettes, drugs, and prostitutes are sold, as are bars of soap, soda, and snacks.
In South American prisons there are no visiting rooms with glass walls; you simply are let into the prison population. On the visitor days, children and wives mingle with the inmates while prostitutes wander the cells looking for customers. Murders are somewhat common, and there have been many riots. In 2004 inmates took over the prison for 10 days, demanding better living conditions. We were all a little concerned about bringing lovely young Marianna in there; everyone except her that is. It turned out fine and in the two visits we had into Garcia Moreno there were no physical altercations.
Security was visibly high, with heavily armed men in flak jackets seemingly limiting what could be brought into the facility. There were several security checkpoints to go through. At the first one we had to turn over our passport; we were not really thrilled about that… At the second checkpoint, still outside, we were frisked (thoroughly) and given the first of several stamps on our arms. This is about all that would distinguish us from the population. At each point we would receive another mark.

Our Arms Stamped at Security Checkpoints

After being let into the general population, we were beckoned from all angles by men asking for “dollars” in a variety of languages and accents. Others were trying to sell us goods that were purportedly made by them. Everyone spoke at least some Spanish, only a few we met spoke reasonable English.

Conditions ranged from modern to simply medieval, with the only difference being an inmate’s ability to pay for his own standard of living. Money means everything here and there is a daily struggle to get money to pay for basic services. With it, you can buy yourself a reduced sentence and even your freedom. You can live reasonably well and anything at all can be smuggled in for a price. Without money, prison life is sheer misery.

Since prisoners have to pay rent for their cell and pay to maintain it, those without money just sleep on the floor in a communal area and eat sparse quantities of the barely edible food that is provided. Those that have family members who send them funds to bribe officials and guards might have a nicer cell with television and internet. Prisoners live with constant demands from other prisoners and guards for money. On occasions a prisoner’s family is contacted and told that he will be harmed if money is not forwarded.

The typical prisoner is a petty criminal or a tourist who made the mistake of purchasing, sharing or selling drugs and was caught. Sometimes they are desperate for money to get back to their homeland and unwisely choose to work with a drug dealer. There are stories of the drug dealers themselves turning in the future prisoner to curry some favor with police. We were told that very often men that  were caught with only small amounts were given the same sentence as a significant dealer in drugs. The dealer then can buy his way out, while the petty criminal without money just rots here.

There were no Americans in this prison so we got to know a few of the prisoners from around the world that spoke reasonable English. We brought them magazines and newspapers to pass the time. There are a lot of sad stories here; some have learned their lesson and are spending their time praising God and preparing for the time when they get out. Others are just filled with hate and despair, having given up and still using drugs in prison. Again, those with money can get by, those without money suffer continuously.

Consider “Leonard” from Canada who we met during a Saturday worship service. His family sends him money so he has been able to afford a lawyer and lives reasonably well in the prison. He looks fit and confident as he knows he will eventually get out and his time here is long but bearable. He could apply to his country to fill out the remainder of his term at home, but he would then be a felon in Canada and would never be allowed into the United States again. He says he owns property in the US. Leonard’s lawyer recently told him that he got his sentence reduced from six years to three years. The cost for this legal work was: $1500, plus another $5000 for bribes and fees to government officials and judges!

Leonard met a woman while in prison, perhaps a prostitute or a friend of another prisoner. They  developed a physical relationship and now have a child together. Though I doubt that the woman or the child figures in his plans when he is released, he proudly told me that he intends to make sure his new son will be able to get Canadian citizenship some day if he wants it. Sadly he did not mention the woman at all.

Marius is from Lithuania and is close to fulfilling the first three years of his six year sentence. He is one of those who has little money and is having a terrible time behind bars. Once his term is half-filled, he will be eligible for a work release as long as he can find a job and a place to live. Unfortunately for him, there are few jobs and he has no money for a place to live so he is stuck for now. Marius’ close friend Daniel is in a similar state, and they have the marks of helpless despair. Nether of their countries are doing anything to help them.

Consider Yanko from Russia who is hoping to get his country to transfer him home and let him finish his sentence there. He believes it will happen but has no idea exactly when so he just waits. If he is able to get a transfer, the Russian government will simply let him go free.

During a Saturday worship service held in a small packed room, we shared our own testimonies and encouraged the prisoners with the fact that God has a plan for them, even now. We told them that they eventually should be released and may still live a fine life once they get out. Even though most of the service was in Spanish and few spoke English, we knew that we are bonded together in our love for Christ and a desire to serve Him. We could see in their faces evidence of the hard life that they have led and the pain they have in knowing that they have made a mess of their life. But in faces of the more mature Christians among them, we also the joy and relief that they have knowing that God loves them and has not forgotten them.

Raw TV has a show called Locked Up Abroad where they have prepared a true-life dramatization of people who have been imprisoned in third world countries. If you want to get an idea of what the actual experience is like, check out http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xj4qs2_locked-up-abroad-ecuador_travel .  Much of the video was filmed in Garcia Moreno.

HCJB Radio Station In Quito

Quito, Ecuador has been home to Bruce and Cherith Rydbeck for thirty years as missionaries to the capital city and rural communities in the Andes mountains. Before them Cherith’s parents served as missionaries in Ecuador as far back as the 1950’s.

The Rydbeck’s parent mission organization, HCJB Global, is now over 80 years old and now has a presence in 100 countries.  Their stated vision is “To partner with Christians in media and healthcare to bring the voice and hands of Jesus to the unreached peoples of the world.”

They believe in serving Christ by helping the poorest of the poor improve their overall health while bringing them the Gospel through media, water projects, and health/wellness training.

Bruce Rydbeck, a civil engineer who has worked all over the world, manages their clean water projects in Ecuador, providing the expertise while the host communities provide most of the labor. Materials are either donated or provided by the communities or other charities, sometimes with the help of the Ecuadorean government. These are typically projects for indigenous Indians, generally considered the lowest social class in Ecuador.

HCJB Global runs Hospital Vozandes-Quito

The Rydbeck’s periodically welcome mission teams from supporting Churches in the United States. The teams bring goods and goodwill from home,  get involved to a varying extent with the work projects, and help minister in the communities. Together they bond with the community for a short time, bringing God’s love along with a great project. According to Cherith and Bruce, it means a great deal for these people to see westerners come and work alongside them and treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of the people may have never seen a westerner before.
By the time we arrived in Quito, we had taken a three hour flight from Boston to MIami, then a four hour stopover, then a four hour flight to Quito. With travel to and from the airports we had been traveling 13 hours by that point and were trying to adjust to the nearly 10,000 foot elevation. Clearly we needed a day or two to adjust before making the four hour trip to our destination in the mountains.
Bruce and Cherith were great hosts! Bruce is a very knowledgeable person, and took us around Quito visiting important sites. Cherith was the primary organizer, who made sure we had clean, healthy food to eat. When we were in Quito, we generally ate at their house or a restaurant that was pre-screened for cleanliness by Cherith. She is an excellent cook and made us feel right at home; so much so that she immediately put us to work!

Cotopaxi near Quito is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world

After viewing some of the charitable efforts of HCJB in Quito including the hospital, our group from Free Christian Church began preparations for a four hour trip into the Andes. Our destination was the community of Yana Cocha (black lake) where Bruce was about to begin an ambitious effort to contain a spring and bring clean water to around 100 homes built into two separate very steep hillsides.

Communities that want a clean water project make a request to HCJB and commit the labor necessary to build it. They also know that it may take time to raise the funds for the materials and other expenses for the project. Typically the trenches are hand dug, and most of the work is done “the old fashioned way”. Labor is cheap and readily available, while money and heavy equipment is largely unavailable. 
Having started to adjust to the culture and high altitude, we were ready to move on to a more rural part of the Andes.