Cuenca volunteers in Esmeraldas are overwhelmed by the suffering but find joy in children’s smiles

Aug 1, 2023 | 0 comments

By Garry Vatcher

After driving all night, 20 hours in total, we made it to Esmeraldas on Saturday around noon. We took the long way, as we had to make a quick stop in Tulcan. I prefer entering Esmeraldas from Ibarra. The scenery along the road from Ibarra to San Lorenzo is stunningly beautiful. Where nature is in all its glory. Trees bend over the road, welcoming you. A reminder that even in what is considered the most dangerous of places, we can still find beauty.

We found a hotel and then met with our team on Saturday night to plan the activities over the next few days. We were told it could be very dangerous in the city of Esmeraldas, especially in the areas where we wanted to go. To me, the city of Esmeraldas is one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador. Its Las Palmas region is safe and walkable with excellent restaurants and inexpensive hotels. Oil tankers line up in the sea, waiting to load Ecuador’s riches. A reminder that although there is great wealth in this city, the majority of those living in the city cannot partake of it. Parts of the city are gripped by extreme poverty, racism and lack of opportunities that feed into crime and despair.

On Sunday, we drove past schools, taken over by the bandidos and then shuttered. We entered areas where even the police rarely venture. Our team in Esmeraldas took us along back roads, avoiding the main streets entering the barrios controlled by the gangs, drug addicts and bandidos. There were children in need.

We also drove to outlying communities where people squat on land. They have built communities far from the problems of the city. The extreme poverty, lack of services, education and basic health care is everywhere. This is the area where we saw the most destruction.

The purpose of our visit was to bring immediate relief and to see how we can help these communities going forward. We wanted to hear their stories, concerns and experiences. Many of those who come to us looking for help in Cuenca, come from this region and it is helpful to know where they come from and why they leave.

Everywhere we went, we were met with incredible people. People who were so grateful we showed up and gave them food. In some places, we seemed to be the only ones bringing relief. To see their smiles and gratitude was well worth the risks we took to go see them.

In some of the barrios, we were surrounded by children. Each of them got a hygiene kit and a toy with the names of our donors on each kit. It was a special moment to see them read the names of those donated to support them. One little girl stared at her kit for a moment and then ran her finger over the donor’s name, showing her gratitude. For someone used to Cuenca’s cold, the heat was extreme. With the humidity, it was 37C (99F) and my phone kept overheating but we managed to get some pictures.

We met three-year-old Dante. Plagued by health problems, his mother who lives in extreme poverty was unable to get the medical attention he needs. It is a common thread we saw in Esmeraldas where basic health care options are out of the reach of many. We invited the mother to come to Cuenca and Mary and Todd Freeman of Helping Kids in Ecuador will be helping him get the attention he needs.

The children were full of smiles and joy. A little gesture of love can go a long way and help shape what a child’s future can be. Many of them are surrounded by violence and poverty. Many of them will grow up with childhood traumas. Some of them will remember the act of kindness from a stranger. It can give them hope that they will find a way out of the cycle of poverty.

Foundation Hogar de Esperanza is a registered Ecuadoran charity with charity registration in the United States and Canada. To support our work, you can visit our donation page at: We also operate Esperanza Thrift Shop, the Expat Services Center and Esperanza Soup Kitchen and Food Bank. To find out more, you can visit us at Juan Montalvo 8-28 and Mariscal Sucre.


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