By Lee Dubs
On October 12, Cuenca’s El Mercurio newspaper featured a troublesome front-page story about toys. Due to new government fees and restrictions on imports, there are fewer toys in stores this year and they are more expensive. Consumers are feeling the pinch. And so will the children.
Five years ago, then 20-year-old Carolina Bookstore employee Maria Aucancela started an annual Christmas project to gather toys, goodies, and money for a fiesta for the children of a school in a tiny rural area near Jima, Ecuador, where she grew up.
It is a poor area, and Maria wanted to return something to the school that meant so much to her in her early years with her grandparents. With the generous help of the North American community in Cuenca and some kind friends elsewhere, Maria has been able each year to collect and buy toys and treats, hire a clown, and acquire a vehicle and driver for the December trip to Jima. It is always a happy day in that small community.
The families there now look forward each year to the party, the clown, the games, the treats, the gifts, and the fun. Maria is always asked to speak to the gathering of school children and their little siblings (who also get gifts), their parents, neighbors, and the teachers. She is introduced as a role model: someone who was once one of the kids like them and is now about to graduate from the University of Cuenca and have a career. They are told they can do it, too. Maria never fails to tell the gathering that all of the gifts are from the North Americans. The applause is vigorous.
Maria is asking for help earlier than usual this year for two reasons. First, the newspaper article has created nervousness about getting and paying for enough toys for the 90 to110 children that Maria’s project serves. Second, whereas Maria used to face little competition for funds, every year there are more worthy projects for which resident immigrants seek donations this time of year. Fund raisers and other pleas stretch donors and their ability to give. Last year Maria barely made her budget for the Jima event.
Maria and her sponsors are seeking help earlier this year so that she can be assured she will be able to bring joy again to the families in Jima. A donation jar is available at the Carolina Bookstore on Hermano Miguel and Calle Larga in Cuenca. If anyone would like to provide toys or other treats, please talk with Maria at the bookstore regarding details. She is very careful that toys are age and gender appropriate and of equal value. A large box will soon be in the bookstore to accept toys.
Every cent of cash donations and all toys go to the Christmas project. If any money is left over, it is donated to the little school for needed supplies for the classrooms and for the poorest students. There was no extra money last year.
And we guarantee that Maria will find the toys.
To see photos of last year’s Jima Christmas on the Carolina Bookstore Facebook page, click here.