I write this as I look out my window and see the clouds starting to creep in and take over the Pululahua crater. Its name is quite fitting as it means “cloud of fog” in Quichua, an indigenous language in Ecuador and surrounding areas.
The crater formed from a collapsed volcano dating back more than 2,500 years ago. The immense strength of this eruption covered the coast of Ecuador with ash, wreaking havoc on many indigenous community groups. It is now a geobotanical reserve with only about 65 residents, and filled with beautiful flora, birds, and scenery. And not much else. Leaving me very uneasy about what I’m supposed to do for 3 days. I’ve already ridden a horse and hiked a mountain.
I guess there are more hikes to be had, and runs to do. But I am also trying to come to peace with just being – using this time to read, write, and think. On some level, I’m grateful to be just a Facetime call away from my boyfriend and a photo upload away from Instagram, but I also do miss my experiences traveling before smartphones. Email was limited, social media barely existed, and phone calls were never made. So I’ll do my best to accept that it is okay to sit in bed, looking out at beautiful view, while I read – and not need to constantly be moving.
I just wrapped a week-long trip traveling through Ecuador with the CARE Women’s Network to take a closer look at the projects they’re supporting to end violence against women in this country.
The impetus for me working in the field of international development spawned from a 2003 volunteer trip in rural Costa Rica, where I lived with a family and helped to build a community center. From there, I volunteered in Ghana, had a summer job organizing a conference in Rwanda, volunteered in India, and ultimately joined the Keep a Child Alive team in 2012, raising funds to support those impacted by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India. In January 2017, I joined with CARE – the creators of the original “care package,” which were sent to WWII survivors starting in 1946. Today, CARE works in over 90 countries fighting poverty with a focus on women and girls empowerment.
In NY, I work with various community groups engaged in CARE’s mission, including the CARE Women’s Network (CWN). They go through two-year cycles supporting various projects, as well as hosting educational and fundraising events, and ultimately visiting the work they’re making possible. 14 years after being introduced to this sector, I finally had the chance to travel as part of my full-time job to visit a project up-close, and what a privilege it was to do so with the CWN ladies of NY and Chicago.
During our week of travel together, we went from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, to the coast, visiting Muisne, an enchanted island near the heart of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador in April 2016. We then made our way back inland visiting the Ancestral Territory, Ibarra, and Otavalo. In each place, we met with women who had been victims of abuse for years – once powerless and vulnerable – who have now found their voices and are standing up for the rights of themselves and other women. Through an online workshop and community meetings, they educate others on how violence is not acceptable, nor is emotional and economic abuse. One woman said that she knew violence outside of the home was wrong, but when it happens inside of the home, that is considered okay and normal. Some of these women have left their husbands and are using each other as their support system, others have been able to rehabilitate their relationships.
The same stories were heard across the regions, no matter whether the woman was educated or not, or whether she was Mestizo, Afroecuadorian, indigenous, or a refugee. More hopeful, was that the government is finally recognizing the rights of women with plans to sign legislation protecting women against gender based violence on November 25th, also known as International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The path is not totally clear though. Andres, a lawyer working with CARE, shared that earlier that morning he was defending a woman who was abused by her husband. While the violence was undeniable, the judge asked, what did she do to deserve it? Andres did end up winning the case, but there is still much to be done to educate the judicial system, police, and other officials to recognize the rights of women and to play a positive role in shifting these social norms.
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