January 27th, 2013
During the Winter break I traveled to Ecuador to continue collaborating with the community of Las Mercedes. I was really excited to work in the project for a full month and my time there was invigorating and motivating but also incredibly busy and tiring. There were several exciting happenings that I am happy to report to everyone:
1. The Las Mercedes Drainage System with EWB
Near the end of last year our project submission to build a local drainage system in Las Mercedes was accepted by Engineers without Borders (EWB), which is an NGO that carries out civil engineering projects around the world to help communities such as Las Mercedes build much needed infrastructure. The idea is that EWB will help the community build a drainage system in Las Mercedes to help minimize standing water during rainy season and reduce the spread of infectious disease that are mosquito-borne such as malaria. After quite a bit of planning, we completed our first project conference call between community members and the Engineers Without Borders team that we will be working with directly from the University of Miami.
I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about the meeting since we were planning on conducting it via Skype in the Mayor’s office. The possibilities of the different “technical difficulties” that could arise seemed endless. In the end, however, the meeting went off extremely well. Although the Mayor was not able to attend, several members of his staff participated including the vice-mayor of Huaquillas, Gabriela Macas, and a city attorney, Geovanny Ramos. The President of Las Mercedes, Nancy Piedra, and Health Promoter Edith Torres also participated and they were able to speak directly to the EWB team about the needs, desires, and concerns regarding the project. As the meeting moved along and we passed around my laptop from person to person it was clear that this collaboration is going to work out very well and I am excited about the possibilities. At the moment, we are waiting final approval on the travel plans for the EWB-Miami team but hopefully they will carry out their initial project assessment in May.
2. The Las Mercedes Health Center
Over the past few months the community of Las Mercedes has painted the walls of the health center enclosure and they look great! They also put in flowers, trees, and rocks in preparation for the inauguration over Winter break. However, the public hospital of Huaquillas underwent a leadership change in the past few months creating an opportunity for our health center to be integrated into the national health budget instead of working with the local government that is always strapped for resources. Not long after arriving in Huaquillas, I met personally with Dr. Freddy Granda, the new director of the hospital, and the hospital coordinator, Dr. Segundo Verazco, and they presented a plan to equip, staff, and run the health center this year pending approval from the higher leadership in the Health Ministry. During the break, we completed a formal petition for the health ministry and the plan includes a full medical staff including 2 doctors, an orthodontist, and several nurses. At this point, we are waiting to hear back from the health ministry regarding the proposal but we are pretty optimistic.
3. The Las Mercedes Co-op
We are also in the midst of creating a community cooperative in Las Mercedes that will be community-led and serve the needs of the community that were identified in the survey conducted this past summer. The general idea behind the cooperative is not to earn profit but to serve the needs of the families in Las Mercedes to improve their standard of living. Over the winter break, guidelines were established by community members for creating the community co-op. Currently, the community members are developing a plan of action that will be presented in the community in May for discussion, approval, and implementation.
4. Our new website
Thanks to the help of one of my students, Therese, our website also underwent a makeover during the break. The new webpage is a bit more user friendly and definitely much more attractive. We always appreciate input from supporters and we would love to hear your thoughts – www.lasmercedesproject.org.
To finish the post I would like to include some of my favorite pictures from the trip. Thanks for your continued support!