Lessons Learned: Ecuador

Oh, my…it’s been a while.  So, gentle readers (those of you who might still be around), please forgive the random direction this post may take. I’ve kind of lost my knack. Writing is something that grows rusty when one’s out of practice, and I’m indeed far, far out there. It isn’t just the blog…I haven’t written in my journal once since we landed in Ecuador. I’ve written a few emails to very close friends and family, but only sparingly, and that’s been difficult. I’m not sure that not writing has been the best way to cope, but I cannot say we haven’t grown, or that I haven’t learned.

In any kind of humanitarian work, one of the most vital aspects is monitoring and evaluation, or M&E. I have a healthy relationship with this – it’s the part of the work I find the most valuable, and I have applied it to my professional and personal life without exception. Over the years M&E has become, depending on the organization, MEAL (monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning) or PMEL (planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning). The common denominator there, and something I find indispensable, is learning.  So let this post serve as my personal lessons learned workshop. You are invited. Coffee will be served.

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Ecuador – months 3 and 4 in photos

Second batch of photos from our time in Ecuador. I should state that these photos are only one (small) part of our time here, it’s the “fun/travel part”. Most of our time was spent working and living at the Casa Hogar (an orphanage). But when we got the chance to escape for a day or two, we grabbed it and tried to do short visits to nearby places. These are just a slice of our time in the country, we certainly haven’t spent our time travelling around (unfortunately).
I realise I’m way overdue for this post as we are well into month 6… We just came back from a great trip around the country with two very dear friends who came all the way from Europe to say hola and see Ecuador (photos to be posted in the coming weeks). There has been quite a big shift in our situation here as we no longer live at the orphanage (more on that later). We’ve just found a little studio in a town called Cuenca and we’ll be there for the remaining 6 weeks we have before going back to France.

Ecuador – our first 2 months in photos

With a little help from our friends…

For 30 years, Nancy Calle worked in adoption with some of the most vulnerable children in Ecuador. At the age of 63, when most people are preparing for retirement, she applied to register her family home as a “Casa Hogar” for children in transition. Some of the children now living here will be adopted, some will be reunited with their families once the court’s orders have been met, and a few will continue to live here, because their circumstances – or age – render them “unadoptable”.

But this is not a house of sadness.


The children at Hogar Para Todos are thriving with the support of an incredible staff, including a Clinical Psychologist working with a team of 5 interns, an Early Childhood Intervention Specialist, an Educational Psychologist, a team of specialist support workers, a Social Worker, and the “tias” of the house, who prepare meals, clean the house, ensure school uniforms are ready in the morning and much more.

At the age of 76, Nancy generally rises at 6:30 and weaves her way in and out of meetings and children and staff support until well after dinner is served. All of the children are engaged in education and both group and individualized therapy, as well as numerous other activities every week.

This is not a house of sadness.

But it is a house that has fallen on hard times. While the staff’s salaries and the food for the children are paid by social services and the provincial government, all other costs must be covered by donations: electricity, water, gas, general maintenance, toys, clothes, activities and more. The cost of this part of operations was $82,068 in 2013, $72,841 in 2014, and is projected at $63,558 for 2015.

Until this year a large percentage of the funds to cover those costs came from a Belgian partner organization that sponsored the Casa with donations from many individuals. This year, the director has retired and following the closure of this organization, the Casa has effectively lost 23,000€. For the past two years, costs have exceeded donations, and so there is currently a deficit of nearly $30,000, and it will worsen next year.

There are so many reasons to support this Casa – we have seen with our own eyes how differently it functions, how immediately one gets the sense of “home” here. But the biggest reason to support HpT is because it is invaluable to this community, where there are significant socio-economic problems leading to substance misuse, neglect, abuse, and abandonment. Whatever the future holds, in debt or with healthy finances, the existence of this place is absolutely imperative.

Our formidable leader

Our formidable leader

Nancy Calle is an extraordinary woman. But she is human, and will eventually need to pass the torch on to the next generation, who will continue the life-changing – and literally life-saving work – she began. But before she goes, she wants this house in order.

For many, $30K doesn’t sound like much, and with a little support from a lot of folks, it really isn’t. But is the world to the future of this organization. And this organization has, is, and will continue to improve the world for countless children.

If you can donate absolutely any amount at all, please go to Ammado, where with a couple of clicks you can donate any amount you wish.

And rest assured that this drive for funds is not an end-all effort. At the moment, several players are working together to ensure that in the years to come HpT’s finances are stronger than ever. The organization’s website will be launched in July, and volunteers from Holland, France, and the US are working together to fundraise in a variety of ways. One of these is developing a network of sponsors who can commit to giving a small sum every month. If this is something that might interest you, please let us know.

Group Photo

Further information is available via email in Spanish, French or English at ann.halsig.hpt@gmail.com, or in German and Dutch at w.croes@planet.nl.

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You take them both and there you have…

It has been so tremendously difficult to write.  To find the time.  To find the words.

In the Casa every day is an impossible adventure, with very good and also pretty bad things happening all around.

On the very good side, C was able to convince a couple of seriously talented photographers to make the kids part of their portrait project.  Basically – and I hope my humble words do their incredible journey justice – they’ve come to appreciate how difficult it is to get portraits of strangers while they travel, so they concocted a plan to bring the necessary equipment to print out the shots they shoot and give a copy to the subject on the spot.  The kids thought it was magical and the pictures turned out amazing.


S & A…brother and sister to whom it is very hard to say no…

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A different take on change

As a rule, since leaving the UK, I’ve tried to keep my role within organisations purely consultatory.  That is, I knew when I decided to do this that I didn’t want to work directly with the people the organisations supported – the “beneficiaries,” or more appropriately, the community partners.  That is a role I felt – and still feel – should be occupied by the people who work directly for the organisation.  The people who know those they support best because they are from the same community and cultural context, and know best what those folks will need going forward in part because they will be there with them.

Wanting to work in communities from which we do not come and in which we will not stay is a difficult path to tread.  And of course it doesn’t always pan out the way we plan, in spite of our best intentions.

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