The call of the Amazon: Hogar Esperanza travels with a group of expats to share sacred traditions

Dec 21, 2023 | 0 comments

Editor’s note: Garry Vatcher is the founder and director of Hogar Esperanza, a Cuenca-based charity dedicated to providing services and support to Ecuadorians and migrants who need assistance. Their services include medical support, disaster relief and financial relief.

By Garry Vatcher

We receive many calls from the Amazon. It is a region that is very dear and special to us. Many tourists see the exotic and the beauty of the area, with tour guides and lodging at nice resorts. But what we see is very different from what most see.

With a 70% poverty rate, appalling health care, dangers lurking everywhere, the indigenous people of the Amazon communities are some of the most beautiful people you will ever meet. So, when we received the call to assist six communities celebrate their traditions, we could not miss the opportunity.

We drove for six hours through landslides and over dirt roads to get to them. They walked for hours through dangerous Jaguar-ridden forests to come and see us. Most of them do not celebrate Christmas like we do. There are no gifts or stockings filled with candy. No Christmas trees or lights. They had their own version and display of a nativity scene. Their celebration was about birth, not in the Christian sense and the birth of Jesus, but about the birth of their nation and of their people.

We were asked to sit in the front while we were welcomed to the community by the elders. We were presented their traditional drink of Chicha, their sacred drink that when shared, invites you into the tribe.

Then the children put on an incredible show of dancing, music and storytelling both in their native language and in Spanish. They performed for us, in a play, their flood myth. The whole audience broke out into joyous applause after each performance, with happiness and smiles, as they shared their culture with us.  For us, it was incredible to feel and see the joy they all had that these eight people from away would want to come to this remote part of the jungle and experience their culture.

Then came the part for which we went. We brought bags of candy and gifts for 300 children of the communities. One of the policies of Hogar de Esperanza is that we allow children to pick their own gifts. We laid the gifts out on a table and allowed each child to pick one thing. Some of them had to be lifted up to the table but the joy and excitement on their faces was special. Many of these children had never received Christmas gifts or bags of candy. It was exciting for us to share our Christmas traditions with them while they shared theirs with us.

The night ended with some very tired expats. But we left exhilarated that we were able to share this special time with them. It will be an experience that we will never forget. As we drove back through the landslides and bad roads, we all thought about those happy faces and the joy we brought to these six Shuar communities. This is the true joy and meaning of this season.

There is tremendous pressure for change in Amazon communities. With high levels of pollution caused by mining, oil extraction and logging; the traditional way of life is under threat. How much longer they can sustain these traditions?

Oscar, our patient coordinator, visits these communities often and the leaders have great respect for Hogar de Esperanza. Oscar, on his worn-out motorcycle, brings medications for our patients there and coordinates the emergency transport of patients to Cuenca for medical treatment with the local leaders and health centers.

I worry every time he leaves on the long journey to the Amazon. Is he going to break down? Is he going to get there safely? From the moment we arrived, people were calling out to him. I stood at the side of the car and watched as everyone wanted to greet him. As director of the foundation, I couldn’t be prouder knowing that the opportunities we are giving young Ecuadorians is life-changing for them and those they help. They are the future of the foundation and the legacy we leave for them, what we teach them, and how we inspire them, will last for years to come.

Foundation Hogar de Esperanza is Cuenca’s emergency charity, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that serves the most vulnerable. We work closely with various communities, health centers and emergency services across Ecuador to identify and assist those in at-risk situations. During this past year, we provided assistance to thousands and to Alausi and Esmeraldas during their emergencies.

Hogar de Esperanza means Home of Hope and we strive to bring hope and relief from the expat community to those in desperate need. To support our work, you can make a donation at: https://foundationhogardeesperanza-bloom.kindful.com/ For other donation options, you can visit our website at: https://hogaresperanza.org/en/donations/

We have operated a Thrift Shop for seven years and opened an Expat Services Center to assist expats with bill payments and other services. You can visit us at: Juan Montalvo 8-28 and Mariscal Sucre. You can also email us at: services@hogaresperanza.org for more information.

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