By Susan Burke March
For the non-profit volunteer organization Ecuador Cares, no mission is more important than preparing the orphaned and abandoned children at Cuenca’s Hogar Miguel Leon for a fulfilling life.
Ecuador Cares has a big vision: to help Ecuador’s most vulnerable people. Led by its founder and president, Diane Lenz, and a board of directors made up of Ecuadorians and expats, the charitable organization is currently focused on helping the orphans, as well as the elders, of Hogar Miguel Leon.
Hogar Miguel Leon occupies an entire city block on Simon Bolivar, just east of the San Sebastian church and San Sebastian Plaza. It is a refuge in Cuenca’s historic district for 31 orphans and 65 elders (abuelitas) who would otherwise be homeless.
Ecuador Cares’ choice of Hogar Miguel Leon is a reflection of its mission. According to Diane, Hogar represents a need where its volunteers can make a real, hands-on difference. Ecuador Cares wants its supporters to be actively engaged in changing lives, not just in donating money. It is about elevating people’s prospects, not just today, but for the future.
Most of the 31-orphaned and/or homeless children are girls, and in Cuenca, it’s especially difficult for women to get on equal footing with men as they begin their university education and careers. But there’s hope for these girls, and a bright possibility of achieving more than they could have ever dreamed of.
The homeless children arrive at Hogar Miguel Leon with significant disadvantages — besides having no family, they may have suffered sexual and physical abuse. They may be as young as three-years-old when they arrive, but the older kids, and even teenagers, may never have attended school and may be illiterate. And all the children, once they turn 18, must leave Hogar Miguel Leon due to its limited resources.
And once they leave, they’re out on their own.
Diane introduced me to Sor (Sister) Mariana de Jesus Espinoza, who has been overseeing the orphanage for the past four years. Sor Mariana works closely with Diane and the Ecuador Cares board, to identify the most important needs of the children.
Diane says, “Based on what Sister Mariana advised, the primary need for the children is training to ensure that once they leave here, they can get work. We plan to stop the cycle of poverty by giving these children real skills that can translate into internships so they can support themselves as adults. Our vision is to enable them to get honest jobs at age 18 and give them a future which does not include crime, early pregnancy, or domestic violence in order to survive”.
“In other words,” says Diane, “with God’s help, we want to stop the cycle of poverty right here and give them hope for a positive future.”
Diane says that all monies donated to Ecuador Cares goes for providing services, materials, and support for the programs including training (cooking, sewing, crafts, woodworking, computers); reading to the little kids and abuelitas, and for the big Saturday meal.
“When we started, there wasn’t a single book for the volunteers to read to the children, and today we have more than 70,” Diane says. “We have sessions for the abuelitas, and have bingo, dance, and art. Saturdays are special at Hogar Miguel Leon. That’s when more than 40 volunteers teach the skills that the children will be able to use to get jobs and support themselves after they turn 18. We also have guest chefs who volunteer their time to make the lessons both educational and exciting. Each girl has her own cooking station, and they prepare the meal for more than 125 people, including all the children, the adult residents, the clergy and lay staff too. It is a fun event!”
Diane continues: “But we want to do more for these girls than just train them. Skills are, of course, very important — but many of these girls have had no support emotionally and that can really hold them back. We show them that they’re worthwhile, they’re not ‘throwaway kids’. They are worthy, and they deserve a future. Many of them think they will leave the orphanage with nowhere to go, and we help them to dream about a different future. They need the confidence that they can do something other than repeat the poverty cycle and have a baby.”
Diane said, “The goals of Ecuador Cares are not simply to provide material things for these girls—although important, they’re only a piece of the puzzle that creates secure, successful adults. These girls receive structure, reinforcement, guidance, and love. The volunteers work with even the little ones to set short-term, achievable goals such as learning how to sew, or cook a meal.”
Although it is a difficult path out of poverty, these children and young adults have the support of Sor Mariana, the staff of Hogar Miguel Leon, and the dedication of Ecuador Cares to guide them. Diane notes that Ecuador Cares’ only paid staff is their accountant, who keeps strict and accurate records of donations and expenditures. Diane also says, “Half of our board members are Ecuadorian — they have as much or more to say about our initiatives and goals as our expat members.”
Be part of the solution
Purchase a ticket or a table for the upcoming annual Noche de Gala – You Raise Me Up. This fundraiser, Tuesday November 10, 2015, will be at the Hotel Oro Verde, where the Ecuador Cares team of volunteers has been working to create an elegant and exciting evening…it’s a Gala, so dress up!
The fun begins at 6 p.m. with a four-course dinner, followed by live entertainment by Brian Gary and the Rubber Biscuit. The highlight of the evening will be a performance by the Hogar Miguel Leon children. Diane says they’ve been rehearsing for months, and are so excited!
By sponsoring a Gold table for 10, guests get priority seating for themselves and their guests, an invitation to the VIP reception, and much more. Learn more about tables and sponsorship by emailing email@example.com.
To raise additional money, there will be a silent auction, where you can bid on certificates for restaurants, spas, vacations, and many more valuable items, all donated by Ecuador Cares supporters in Cuenca, in Ecuador, and even internationally. Purchase a lotto ticket: each ticket contains thousands of dollars of donated items. Win a trip of a lifetime to snorkel on Australia’s barrier reef, or an elegant vacation in a 5-Star Mexican seaside resort.
Finally, Mayor Marcelo Cabrera, an ardent supporter of Hogar Miguel Leon, will be a featured speaker. Diane says, “We’re thrilled that Mayor Cabrera has expressed support for our next initiative, a new home for girls who have reached 18, and want to continue their education and training. This will provide further assurance that these girls can continue to learn skills and break the cycle of poverty that until now was almost a certain fate.”
Ecuador Cares…and so does Cuenca! Here’s a tangible, demonstrable way to make a difference to the future of deserving children. Supporting Ecuador Care’s initiatives means more than donating just a cause…it is an opportunity to change lives. To reserve a seat, or donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To get involved, on any level, whether it’s reading to kids or the abuelitas, or teaching skills like homemaking, woodworking computers, or more, click here.
For additional information about Hogar Miguel Leon, and Sor Patricia Rodriguez Ramirez and her work with the older adults, please click here.