By John Keeble
Sustainable Cuenca, a new expat organisation aimed at alleviating poverty, has launched two projects and is planning a third.
The volunteers, working under the banner of Foundation Avanzar, are helping women in Ricaurte earn a living from making onion rings and vegetarian burgers for Cuenca restaurants. They also provide meals for families staying with seriously ill children at the Vicente Corral Moscoso free hospital. A third project in development is assisting poor people wanting to start small businesses to support themselves and their families.
“Our projects are trying to alleviate poverty and hunger in Cuenca and beyond,” said Bob Higgins, founder and director of Sustainable Cuenca. The organisation is supported by a steering committee and a growing band of volunteers.
Sustainable Cuenca has already caught the hearts and imaginations of local expats and businesses, with donations of cash and goods from individuals, restaurants supporting its aims by paying generous amounts for supplies, and others giving organic vegetables and necessities.
It draws on expat skills in setting up and running businesses, including marketing. It aims to facilitate sustainable projects that can continue to operate in the future without outside support.
A key area of help is providing training.
The Ricaurte project involves about six women who need to earn an income in an area where there is little work. Cuenca’s expats contributed enough money to buy the set-up equipment — including a freezer and food processor — and Higgins found the first customers: two favorite expat restaurants: Bodhi Burgers and San Sebas cafe.
The second project, at Vicente Corral Moscoso hospital in Cuenca, provides soup, rolls and desserts three days a week to families staying with sick children. “The people who go there have nothing,” said Higgins.
The hospital looks after the children but there is no support for family members who stay with them — often sleeping on the floor. “One man said he had not eaten for two days,” added Higgins.
This vital act of help by volunteers, who cook and distribute the meals, is being extended to four days a week in the near future. It costs only $35 to feed 30 people three times a week, though at present this is reduced to $10 by generous donations of organic vegetables.
The third project, not yet in operation, involves enabling poor people to set up and run small businesses like cleaning services and mobile food suppliers. It will include training, micro-loans and support to give the ventures the best chance of success.
Higgins eventually wants to set up a soup kitchen in Cuenca. “There are pockets of people in Cuenca who suffer hunger,” he said. “We want to help people who really need it.”
Generous expats are making all the projects possible with their support. “It has been wonderful with so many generous people,” he said.
For more information about Sustainable Cuenca, and for how to contribute, write Bob Higgins at SustainableCuenca@gmail.com .