An Amazing Summer

Monday, September 10th, 2012

It seems like just yesterday I was arriving in Las Mercedes to begin the summer.  After returning to Hawaii to begin the fall semester, I have finally had a few moments to reflect on all of the important events and accomplishments that happened over the past several months.  Without a doubt, we achieved more than I could have dreamed this summer.  Here are a few of the highlights that make us the most proud:

  • Thanks to our volunteer civil engineer, Edward Duarte, the Las Mercedes Community Health Center enclosure was completed.  The community, led by the President Sra. Nancy, is now leading up the beautification of the health center, which includes painting murals on the enclosure and planting flowers, trees, and grassy areas.  We must certainly give special thanks to Edward who led the direction of the completion of the health center and didn’t charge us one single cent.  In fact, he often donated materials and provided workers at no cost.

Edward with my mom and I. Edward is our civil engineer who led and directed the building of the health center enclosure. He graciously donated his time (as well as many materials) to our construction efforts in Las Mercedes.

  • A community-based needs assessment was completed by a group of highly active community members.  The group designed the community survey, carried out 123 door-to-door interviews, and analyzed the data.  In the end, they identified four future projects:

1.  Creating a youth and family computer center that will provide youth with the opportunity to complete their school homework for free instead of having to pay for computer usage at an internet center.  In addition, the community will run the computer center to include regular training programs for adults in order for them to learn how to use email and the Internet.

2.  Creating a community cooperative in order to create jobs within the community.  The community coop will be run by community members in a transparent and public manner.  In general, community members can form groups to submit proposals for starting a business.  Our foundation will help with the start-up costs and in order to receive funds a portion of the profits from the business will be put into a community fund to be used for local projects.

Every saturday a team of volunteers went door to door to interview families about their needs, issues, and dreams.

3.  A community-led recycling program where all profits are put into the community fund is an exciting possibility that emerged from the research.  In Latin America, plastic, cardboard, and other recyclable materials can be turned into good money.  In that sense, a locally run recycling program is not only a positive for the environment but also can produce community income to be used for local projects.

4.  Creating a program to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancy in the community.  This would involve the entire community and require not only education programs but also avenues of support for young women.

  • Dr. Andy Balder, a physician from Massachusetts and the father of Nat (Peace Corps volunteer in Arenillas), participated in a medical brigade in Las Mercedes that was run and directed by the local government.   Overall, the medical brigade was a tremendous success and we are hoping that we can expand it in the next year with the help of Dr. Balder.  To carry out the brigade, Nat and Sarah played a crucial role as our designated translators for Dr. Balder.

Dr. Andy Balder, a physician from Massachusetts, participated in a municipio led medical brigade in the Las Mercedes Basic School.

  • English classes were carried out every Sunday in the casa communal of Las Mercedes.  Throughout the summer we had a number of special guest teachers including Jairon, Ana, and of course, my mom, Marcia.
  • Jairon and Ana, students of mine from HPU, participated in a special student program that included working in the local elementary school and assisting in the execution of the community-based needs assessment.

Jairon, Ana, and Dr. Bywater working on the health center enclosure while I take pictures. Ha.

Needless to say, it was an incredible summer!  But not everything went perfectly.  Due to various political changes within the Ministry of Health in Ecuador they are no longer offering any help or assistance to our project.  But all is not lost and as we say in Ecuador “there is always a solution.”  The Mayor has promised that he will staff the health center with a medical doctor and nurse; however, we need to equip the health center with medical equipment.  Accordingly, we are now actively searching for organizations that can donate healthcare equipment to our health center.  If you know an organization that might be able to help out please let us know!

The last thing I would like to say is that I want to thank everyone for their tremendous support.  We could have not come this far without the help of so many great people along the way.  And, although many of our supporters have never visited Las Mercedes, we consider each and every one of you a vital and important part of our community.  Thanks to your support and help, there is a new culture growing in Las Mercedes –one that includes hope and optimism as well as a renewed desire to create a better, stronger, and healthier community.  Thank you again for your tremendous support and to view more pictures from the entire summer on Flickr, simply click here.

My mom and her new crew!


About lasmercedesproject

The Las Mercedes Project is a grassroots organization with the aim of creating social justice in the field of health care in the city of Huaquillas, Ecuador through a democratic, inclusive and participatory community based health care program.
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