NOTE: Written by Allie Sexton.
Writing from the backseat of a van somewhere in the Andes Mountains, I will share our experience on the investigative trip to the province of Esmeraldas. The Esmeraldas team consisted of Brandon Fulk, Caroline Schier, Margaret (Maggie) O’Connor, and Alexandra (Allie) Sexton.
The Esmeraldas team began their day on December 17th with the rest of the Purdue students; interacting with the children and performing smaller tasks at both the child care center and the elderly center. At approximately 3:00 P.M., the Esmeraldas team began their journey to the coast. Maria had arranged private bus transportation for the entirety of the trip. The Esmeraldas team arrived at Maria’s house in Tonsupa at 9:00 P.M. and settled in for the night.
At 6:30 A.M., Maria guided the team down to the ocean (a 3-block walk) to observe the area in the daylight. It was on this walk that Maria shared insight into the Tonsupa community: Large developers from Quito have and still are, building high-rise apartments along the beach; Tonsupa is only heavily occupied during the Holidays when the owners of those apartments come for vacation; Infrastructure for sewage is extremely limited or does not exist; Water is a scarce commodity for the people who regularly live in Tonsupa (this does in fact exclude those living in the apartments.
The team prepared breakfast at Maria’s and set off for the first of 3 schools by 8:30 A.M. The team arrived first to ‘Jimmy’s school’ – Jimmy was the name of the ‘principal’ – located a short drive from Maria’s house in the city. The school had approximately 6 permanent classrooms and 2 temporary classrooms THAT TOGETHER TAUGHT 350+ STUDENTS. Jimmy immediately greeted us with a warm smile and showed us to his office. He began by expressing his gratitude for our visit and then told us of the water shortage in his school. There are two on-site holding tanks that get filled by the City APPROXIMATELY EVERY TWO WEEKS. One tank is an above-ground plastic holding tank and the other is concrete and partially submerged underneath the ground. Both tanks were visually estimated to hold 200-300 gallons. Jimmy explained that the water in the tanks is used for the sinks and for drinking water, and usually runs dry every 2 weeks. The City trucks in water for $50/load. Jimmy also mentioned that they are hoping to raise the wall that blocks out the school from the street. We bid our goodbyes shortly after 10:00 A.M.
The next stop was at a school further outside of the city. This was the original school that Maria wanted the team to visit (the other 2 schools were a last minute decision). We picked up the Presidente of Tonsupa on the way to the school, on the side of the road! He looked like a normal citizen, with a cowboy-looking hat and some missing teeth J. The school was built right next to a village and we visited both. The school consisted of 10+ classrooms and a concrete basketball court. There were concrete ‘bleachers’ for onlookers to watch games. We were greeted by SO MANY CHILDREN! Some of the classrooms were empty because teachers did not show up – when this happens, the students are forced to go home. Some of the locals guided us to the village homes, where we were told of their individual needs. It was very moving to see. One woman in particular lived in a home that was put up on ‘stilts’. Her grandchild was disabled and recently passed away. She asked for help making her kitchen more usable. This school also suffers from water shortages. A well was driven 9 metres below ground, but it’s dry. There are also bathrooms that a couple from Boston built a few years ago, but because there is no water, they are not very usable. A holding tank exists, held up on wooden ‘stilts’ but it is located close to the road and is frequently stolen from, we were told. The school also gets the tanks refilled by the City, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should to keep water at the ready. The school officials would also like to see a fence be built – there is a spot near the water holding tank that is lacking the fencing and the kids run out into the road. We played with the children a lot. They stuck to us like glue! One of them offered me (Allie) some water, and it broke my heart. I have access to all the water I could ever want, yet these children were so selfless to give me some of theirs. Maria bought candy packets for all of the children, and the team was fortunate enough to get to hand them out to the children, along with suckers. We also handed out the t-shirts we brought.
Next our driver (Omar) drove us all to Sua, where we visited our third school. Jose, the CEM alum at Purdue, is developing an entire ‘peninsula’ in Sua. He is also doing work at this school, so he suggested we go and visit to examine their needs. The school officials were grateful for us, and again, they suffered from water shortages. The school officials then took us to an abandoned building across the road and to the right. The building was abandoned about a year ago. It was a preschool. The site is extremely overgrown, it was a sad site to see.
We then ate lunch at a restaurant that Jose recommended we visit. It was delicious – we had a lot of fruit juices and the ceviche was amazing. Then we visited the site that Jose was developing. It had a beautiful view of the city. Then we went back to Maria’s to collect our gear and began the long drive back through the Andes to Cumbaya.