With thousands of refugees in Ecuador, many of them in Cuenca, one group is changing lives
Eduardo Stein, a special representative of the UN refugee agency, International Organization for Migration (IOM), referred to the ongoing tragedy afflicting Venezuela this way:
“The IOM has never faced such a prolonged magnitude of refugee flight from a country that is not at war. More than seven million Venezuelans have already fled the country following the near-total collapse of the country’s infrastructure which left large swaths of Venezuela’s population unable to meet even their most basic needs. An additional 3,000 desperate people continue to abandon their country every day of the year.
“Six million refugees are currently scattered in other Latin American countries; all are vying to recover from their devastation and hoping to find a safe place to call home.
“South America will never be the same.”
The UN believes that 460,000 Venezuelans are living in Ecuador today.
Meanwhile, the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based nonpartisan research agency, reports that nearly 130,000 undocumented Colombians live in Ecuador with an additional 400 to 500 arriving every month.
As a result, high levels of discrimination against refugees in Ecuador have become increasingly common; nearly two of five refugees have been victims of a crime within the past year. Entire families of immigrants are reluctant to participate in civil society to avoid being targets of the authorities and to lessen the opportunity to be treated as objects of contempt and derision in the community. Yet, even after all of this, they seek to live in Ecuador. The reasons are quite simple; they doubt that the situation in their homeland will improve for many years to come — and they have nowhere else to go.
Exact numbers are hard to come by, but it’s estimated that 15,000 Venezuelans and 4,000 Colombians currently reside in Cuenca.
The tragedy is all but incomprehensible.
However, this gloomy sky also casts a golden ray of hope: Cuenca’s Fundación NÚR, located at General Antonio Farfán 2-17.
When I visited NUR, I was genuinely overwhelmed. It is exceedingly rare to see such a well-organized and dedicated organization with the range of services and scope of vision embodied in the mission of Fundación NÚR. They set a very high bar for themselves – to improve the lives of refugees.
Fundación NÚR has a singular mission: “To push the world toward peace and solidarity.” In order to do so, they established a multi-faceted organization with near-pitch-perfect attention to detail and exemplary business practices that offer a wide variety of programs focused on providing immediate assistance for desperate children and real-world training for aspiring adults. Their efforts are truly awe-inspiring.
Here are but three of their ongoing programs:
- A sponsor-supported program to guarantee food support for 25 families for six months. The sixteen donors who committed their support are so enthusiastic they promised to renew their commitment. A second campaign is now underway to support an additional 25 families.
- An educational activities program for children 4 to 13 years old composed of 355 hours of classes, including art, English as a second language, human rights lessons, and motor skills for toddlers.
- A “new mother” medical program, directed by a pediatrician, a breastfeeding expert, and a neuro-psychoeducation expert. This program, initiated during pregnancy, offers a comprehensive three-year action plan in which the mothers learn the importance of proper nutrition, exercise, and “best practices” for fostering a child’s emotional well-being. Support services include providing clothing, diapers, regular medical checkups, and food assistance. Monthly evaluations and educational meetings round out this comprehensive approach to childcare. Crises support in the event of abuse is provided by two psychologists.
NÚR’s ongoing Health and Vitality program includes twice-yearly medical exams, plus nutrition courses, for children and adults supervised by faculty members of the University of Cuenca.
Fundación NÚR also offers a six-week Holiday Camp for youngsters featuring 60 hours of classes under the direction of six volunteer tutors and two supervisors.
I recently sat down with the Directors of Fundación NÚR, Patricia Garcas and Jorge Araujo, and asked them about their background and how they decided on their mission.
Araujo said, “I was a professional photographer catering to an international clientele. Although my business was doing quite well — my team averaged 1,000 billable photos a week — I felt something was wrong with my life. I had a calling but did not know what it was, so I founded a men’s group in my hometown of Buenos Aires charged with seeking ways to promote a world of solidarity. After many hours of discussion and reflection, my mission became clear.”
Garcas added, “I’m Ecuadorian, but lived in Colombia for 25 years. I began my professional career teaching engineering helped to establish the engineering school at the University de la Guajira-Extension Fonseca. I felt there was more yet to do; the building blocks of Fundacion NUR began to take shape”
After careful searching, Garcas and Araujo settled in Ecuador, eventually finding their way to Cuenca and began growing Fundación NÚR. They currently serve more than 40 children in psychological activities, 25 children in progressive art classes, assist ten pregnant women or recent mothers, support 40 families in need of food, and teach 27 adults ESL.
They maintain a professional staff of 10 with an additional 17 serving on a volunteer basis.
It should be noted that none of the directors or staff receive a salary at Fundacion NUR.
I left Fundación NÚR keenly aware of the heartfelt love and gratitude the mothers and children who rely on the services offered by the Fundacion have for the directors and staff. I was equally impressed with the actionable results and rock-solid commitment to pushing the world toward solidarity, hope, and progress championed by Garcas and Araujo.
The warmth I felt while visiting Fundacion NUR will linger for a long time.
Fundacion NUR is having an open house on Saturday, April 22. I strongly recommend y’all attend.