Foundation Team Visits Earthquake Relief Camps in Esmeraldas, Ecuador

Camps are traditionally used as a short term reprise from the immediate overflow of people needing assistance. Following the earthquake, the Ecuadorian government set up camps that housed hundreds of people that had lost everything on that day. Most of these people had scant belongings and lived in humble structures, but it was still their own. Planning and organizing had taken a while, but we were committed to visiting the place that would one day be the site for our sustainable housing project.

Our trip to the coast of Ecuador was about a six hour drive from the capital of Quito, the natural terrain and environment around us was beautiful. Esmeraldas, the region we were driving towards, was known as the Green Province, evidence of which was plentiful as we continued along our journey. The lush and diverse greenery lining the road we were taking was interminable, diverse, and beautiful.

Our route to the coast took us through the heart of Ecuador. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

When we arrived to Atacames, we were greeted by a friend that had generously offered to host us, as he was near the location of our construction site. We settled in and began scheduling our two days in the area. We were hesitant to form expectations — the damage we had seen in the news following the earthquake was horrific, after all.

The following day, as we drove around the city to gather our bearings, we realized the terrible state of the roads due to the aftermath of the earthquake. Locals indicated that some reparations had been made, however, cracks, holes, and rubble were still plentiful. Eventually we reached the first camp, Campamento Muisne, located at the four and a half kilometer mark on the highway.

The Muisne Camp entrance.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a soldier named Alfonso who graciously gave us a tour and explained the system they had set up in the camp. What we saw impressed us. We had arrived during a busy period of the day — lunch time, and the work behind it was notable. Mothers and young children had been placed in charge of cleaning and cooking, while fathers and older youth were assigned roles throughout the camp where they best fit in. The camp had to be organized in order to function, it housed 214 people composed of 56 families with access to only 18 showers, one kitchen, and two dining rooms.

A board outlining the amount of people in the camp broken up by smaller groups such as those that were pregnant, handicapped and by age group. The table on the bottom right outlines the available service buildings such as dining halls, kitchen, washing room and showers.

Our guide informed us that eight camps just like this existed in the province of Esmeraldas, some much bigger and some smaller than Camp Muisne. The need for permanent housing was quite evident. Unfortunately, nine months after the earthquake there were still thousands without homes. After spending a few hours at the camp, we continued our journey onwards. Three kilometers down the road we arrived to Campamento Gran Muisne, the name is the same as the previous camp, but the “Gran” refers to the larger size of the camp.

Within this camp, 689 people called it their home. Here, only 25 showers were available along with one kitchen and two dining rooms. We met countless families as we walked through the camp; kids running around us excitedly while parents had somber looks in their eyes. We sat down and chatted with the Estrada family composed of a mother and six kids under twelve, they had not heard from the father in quite a while. The seven of them lived in a 3x2 meter tent, which they shared and utilized every corner of. Privacy was out of the question. The mother recounted her story, how the walls in her home had cracked and eventually toppled, forcing her family to relocate to the camp about seven months before our trip.

“That night was really traumatic for all of us” she said on the verge of tears. “We had to sleep outside because we were all in shock and had to help our injured neighbors and save what we could from under the rubble”. Interview translated to English.

The matriarch of the Estrada family, Erica, shared with us how the community was in great need, and how they wanted to move on with their lives but were unable to do so without permanent housing. As we continued our walk around the camp, we realized her story was shared by everyone there. It doubled our energy and motivation to reach our goal, which was the hope of presenting a family, devestated by this earthquake, with a permanent and sustainable home within the next few months.

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