Mission in Ecuador – by Rita Aspirany-Vassallo

I’ve known Marco since the time I used to be in New York, where I lived for ten years before moving to Italy. We worked in the same office and immediately became very good friends and we still are, in spite of time and distance.

Marco is from Ecuador and he’s still very close to his country. He’s a member of Healing Hands of Baltimore, a charity association that operates in the poorest countries around the world, but his manly interest is obviously for his native land.

This past march I decided to participate to one of the trips to Ecuador, along with him and a doctor from Hopkins Hospital of Baltimore. The trip would have lasted seven days, and during that time we would have visited the town of Chunchi, tragically famous for the number of suicide between children, with a pick of sixty cases only in 2012.

The mission has three major phases:

The firs is a meeting with the Mayor of the city, whom in the past year has been very involved in improving the living situation of the population, and a visit to the different facilities to assess the most urgent needs, especially in the medical field.

The second phase is the preparation: meeting the patients, decide which ones are the most crucial cases in order to bring the qualified doctors, and evaluate what kind of improvement and structures are needed by the hospital, which has been partially built with the contribution of Ecuadorian people living abroad.

The third one is the intervention: about thirty doctors will come to Ecuador to perform the surgeries and will stay here to follow the patients during their recovering time.

We spend the first day in Guayaquil. We have to wait for the driver to pick us up. The way to Chunchi is quite challenging:  collapsed bridges and uneven roads that we need to hire an expert driver and with the proper means of transportation. We cross the forest and the mountains and along the way we find small farmers’ villages where the people survive selling their products to the occasional by-passers and to the near-by towns, which could be three or four hours away.

The inhabitants of Chunchi are mostly elderly people and children: everybody else has gone abroad to find a job, often leaving their kids with relatives, in an institute or on their own. This is the main reason of the high suicidal rate among the youngest. Things are changing though. The new infrastructures have create new jobs and the locals can now find work there, and a center specialized in childhood care, with psychologists and social workers available to those in needs, have improved the life quality in this place.

We visit a local school where kids can also perform extracurricular activities. The children are very affectionate, they like to be photographed and they are also very curious, asking the most random questions. A little girl approaches me and among other things, she also wants to know my parents’ names. She knows I come from Italy and she tells me her father also lives there.

“Maybe you know him,” She tells me hoping in an affirmative answer.

My heart breaks when I say no, but I hug her tightly hoping to give her some of the love she desperately needs.




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