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Expats, artists and local residents provide new hope for a coastal village

A sign at the entrance to La Entrada.

By Ashley Rogers

Shell and Marsha Spivey didn’t know they would be changing the face of a village when they first moved to La Entrada — a sleepy fishing village on the Ruta de Spondylus on the Ecuadorian Coast.

But, they have, and in ways that can only be called miraculous.

From March 5 to March 11, artists from all over Ecuador came to La Entrada to paint giant murals throughout the village, in what is Phase 2 of an innovative renewal project for the small town aimed at revitalizing the spirit of the people and the town’s economy.

It all started when Shell, a former banker and Marsha, a CPA, moved from Arkansas to Ecuador and built the popular bed and breakfast establishment, Villa de Los Sueños in 2010.

A window to the sea at the La Entrada church.

From the beginning, the Spiveys found ways to give back to their new home town, volunteering at a nearby orphanage, and contributing their time and resources to support the kids and senior citizens of the village.

The Spiveys also formed Friends of La Entrada, a grassroots group of expat friends that support projects focused on health and dental care, education, and other basic needs in the village.

“La Entrada is a poor community and not many of the village children complete their education,” says Shell. “Work opportunities here are limited to a few family-run shops and fishing, which is the main occupation.  There are 15 fishing families representing about 50 fishermen.  Fruit and vegetable growers also live here, but there is not much else. We wanted to help change that dynamic.”

To increase the chances for kids to get ahead and create a better future for themselves and their families, the Spiveys joined the town in helping to rebuild the local church – the centerpiece of the village and something they perceived as a possible way to bring income into the village.

Artwork in La Entrada

“We truly believed that building a larger church would not only contribute to a spiritual and community revival, but that a sanctuary overlooking the ocean might also have the potential to increase economic growth if La Entrada could be positioned as a tourist attraction and the church, a destination wedding venue,” says Shell.

“We began to research destination wedding chapels around the world,” he continues.  “The best of these popular destination churches incorporated glass walls that brought stunning natural surroundings into the church. Since our church is located directly on the ocean we believed a glass front would entice wedding goers from around the world.”

But the cost for a glass front was a staggering $12,000 and government leaders in the province of Santa Elena gave the community only three weeks to come up with half the money. The Spiveys launched a Crowd Funding campaign and by the deadline, enough money was raised to pay for the glass.

The church is now nearly complete and word has spread. Already, La Entrada has hosted many destination weddings and the church has enough pews to accommodate over 100 people. When finished, it will hold 160 people.

Rental fees go toward maintenance of the church and other community needs. Ongoing projects include raising money to build additional pews to fill the church, painting the building’s exterior arched window trim and dome, installing the first street lights in the village, and renovating the seawall, which has been crumbling.

“Two years ago, many believed this project was an impossible dream — building the first church in Ecuador with a towering glass wall behind the altar and a view of the Pacific Ocean,” says Marsha. “Today it’s a reality and people are taking pride in their town and they want to do more. I’ve never seen the village so excited.”

Locals are now mobilizing to revitalize their entire village, plastering and sealing concrete block walls, repairing walkways and stairs, installing glass in homes that currently only have window openings with curtains, replacing bamboo walls with concrete, revamping the town square, landscaping, and painting all of the buildings in the village in bright pastel colors with contrasting trim.

A campaign, “Casita del Colores” and Phase 2 of the renovation of this village is underway and the Spivey’s have again initiated a Crowd Funding campaign to raise money for the colorization of their town.

Corporate sponsors like Sherwin Williams and Unidas in Ecuador are helping to provide the paint. The villagers, led by the women of La Entrada and local artisans like 26-year old jeweler and Comuna president, Armando Asuncion, are doing the labor. And, this week, artists from across Ecuador are lending a hand, bringing their talents to create colorful murals throughout the community.

“There are 128 homes in the village that need to be plastered and painted on all four sides. When completed this will be the only village in Ecuador that will be completely colorized,” says Shell “La Entrada hopes to be a model community for many villages throughout Ecuador to emulate. The ultimate goal is to attract tourists and create job opportunities and economic growth.”

The construction improvements will also support new infrastructure including restaurants, stone ovens on the town square for cooking street food, and artisan shops. With a commitment to keeping everything authentic, the villagers hope that La Entrada will be a unique attraction for tourists seeking a genuine Ecuadorian experience and a wedding destination for romantics from around the world.

The community is also planning to conduct workshops on starting new businesses focused on producing goods and services that will attract tourists.  They also hope that La Entrada will become a destination for artists and musicians and, to this end, they are working with the village children to create murals for the village and to teach music education.
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To learn more about this amazing colorization project, go to YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XO5TL_lQOxo

To donate to the Crowd Funding campaign and be part of the Colorization of a Village, visit the Casita del Colores site at: https://www.youcaring.com/comunaoflaentradaecuador-1056897

8 thoughts on “Expats, artists and local residents provide new hope for a coastal village

  1. What an outstanding project! We donated. (Very impressed that you got corporate sponsored to donate the paint! That’s a significant investment.) Looking forward to seeing colorful La Entrada.

  2. What made this work is that the locals are involved, not just given a handout, and are creating pride in ownership. It has also helped build their self esteem and given them hope. Well done and looking forward to seeing more of La Entrada. God bless you and the villagers of la Entrada.

  3. Just wondering: where do the guests and wedding parties stay overnight? Villa de los sueños only has a few rooms, and to the best of my knowledge, there are no others hostals nearby? Other than that – I am totally impressed! Other expats in nearby Ballenita (close to Salinas) are also doing tremendous amount of work in helping the local community there in refurbishing their modest (to put it mildly) homes.

  4. A wonderful project! However, there is a problem with having a destination wedding in Ecuador. At present Ecuadorian law requires non-residents of Ecuador to reside in Ecuador for 75 consecutive days prior to the date they wish to marry. In addition, neither party can be a tourist (T3 visa). These requirement generally means that a couple must be legally married in their country of residence and then have a destination wedding “celebration” in Ecuador. For more information see: https://www.registrocivil.gob.ec/matrimonios/ and
    http://www.moving2ecuador.net/visas-and-customs/marriage.html

      1. I am sure they will. But, since this publications is aimed at expats, I thought that they should be alerted to the rules that apply to weddings in Ecuador. Our son and daughter-in-law had considered a destination wedding in Ecuador until they learned about the rules.

  5. Outstanding news! Great article, Ashley! Marsha & Shell are such wonderful folks…as are the La Entrada locals! Very exciting…it will help for us to assist these lovely people in whatever way we can! Cannot wait to see the village as when we were there in October the plans sounded well thought out!

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