We can be heroes, adopt a dream! (EN)
21.00h: PUB QUIZ.
“Welcome in Finn Mc Cools,” I say with a wry smile to Thomas. We´re in the Mariscal, the entertainment district north of the historical centre where most people hang around to lay a hand on your presumed riches, especially when you´re a foreigner. There´s two common ways to do that: to flirt with you or to rob you. And I´m not sure which one I find more annoying. Nice!
There´s an Irish pub with North Americans and Europeans that go there to speak their “home” language, to drink their “home” beer (for “home” prices) and to meet people from “home”. The other half consists of Ecuadorians who want to improve their English. Or, wel… “Do you have a boyfriend / girlfriend” is certainly the most frequently practiced sentence, so you could easily suspect that the real reason to be there is not as study-related as it may seem. I´ve tried to explain several times what “I´m not interested” means, but despite the apparent eagerness to learn, somehow it doesn´t seem to be an easy thing to remember.
It´s the place where Ecuadorians go looking for a rich foreigner to make them their “pareja”, and the fact that nobody seems to wonder if volunteers are likely to have a lot of money, seems to be a good indicater of the average level of thinking and communicating, due to excessive alcohol consumption or not.. So in this case it´s actually not too bad that the music´s too loud to have a normal conversation, if it weren´t true that the dj alternates records from the Bruno Mars box with records from the reggaeton box. Not quite the ideal place to have a night out in my opinion indeed, but every week CENIT organizes a pub quiz here to collect money for our programs, and tonight we´re here to get some shots with the camera that may be useful for the promotion video… Everything for the good cause!
But fair enough: it´s not too bad at all. People are quiet enough so that you can actually hear the questions and practically everyone who´s seen me coming in with Thomas apparently supposed that we don´t need anyone else to practice our English with. Well, almost everybody: in the end he does get accosted by an Ecuadorian at the bar. Together with our quiz master Dominick I amuse myself watching her strategies from a distance, until it´s time for him to go to the microphone and get started. When he passes by, he says in my ear: “Tell your friend to be careful, she´s crazy!”
Gheghe, and he´d know: Finn Mc Cools is his second home, and last week he had a blue eye without remembering where he got it. Oh well, she looks pretty harmless and the ultimate pub quiz experience is not complete without some uncomfortable moments with a crazy gringo-hunter on your side anyway. I´m just glad that I don´t have to translate anything now. In the end, she wants to practice her English of course. Cheers. To today. What a day…!
“I, Thomas Zachmeier, commit to be the padrino of Maribel for fourty dollars a month.” He signs with a graceful sway of his arm and then it´s all set: our social worker Ruth can start the process with the family and make sure that the money´s spend on what it´s meant for. The financial support of someone who adopts a dream of one of the children goes to everything that´s needed to go to school (books, a bag, a uniform), food, clothes and transport. (Look for mor e info at the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsbWPzD2miY and / or the CENIT website: https://cenitecuador.org/donations/adopt-a-dream/how-it-works/.)
Ruth has shown us the folder with receites and bills that are kept for every family, and she has guaranteed us that she personally makes sure that the process will be as efficient and useful as possible, both money wise as guidance-wise. And if there´s anyone who I trust with that…
After the administrative part of the agreement, Thomas has one question left: “Por qué? Why do you do what you do and why in CENIT?” Ruth seems to organize her thoughts for a moment before she starts talking. She radiates enthusiasm when she tells how much the contact with the families is worth, that she wants to change things, break excisting structures and fight for the freedom of those who need it, that she really believes that education makes us better people and that she has seen people who have come out of poverty with the help of CENIT, people who are sometimes doing better now that she does, economically. “Y me encanta!” (“And I love it!”)
I´m listening to her with so much fascination that I almost forget that I´ll have to translate everything she has said with so much fire and belief when she´s done. Wow. And with an almost shy smile she finishes with: “Yes, I think that that is what keeps me in CENIT.” I can´t imagine a better reason than that, Ruth, that motivation after twenty three (!) years. And I wouldn´t know either who would be better at defending and protecting the Dreams of CENIT´s children. Can´t I adopt you? (Watch video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWKj46ijdWI )
In the taxi home I accidentally mention the Pub Quiz of tonight in my answer to the question where CENIT gets the money from, and then I can only agree on going there later and stay at least until half time :). Ok ok, … at least that´s a part of the CENIT-experience too :P.
“Even after everything that I´ve seen here and all the stories that I´ve heard, I don’t think I´ll ever really get used to the situation of the families,” says Monica. She´s our street educator working directly with the people of the market of Camal. “Half of the families that CENIT works with are single moms with about seven to nine children, and the mayority of these women work as “cargadora” (carrier) or peeling beans at the market.“ On a good day, they earn about three dollars. On a bad day not more that seventy cents. “Because the families are so big, most kids have to work already from the age at which they can walk, when they´re four or five years old. Or sometimes they have to stay around to take care of their brothers and sisters.” We´ve been talking for an hour already and every time new questions arise, because there´s so many things that we can still hardly truly understand.
The discrimination that the indigenous people still face everyday, for example: not only due to people in the street, but also to people at service desks and governmental institutions. And then there´s also the huge inequality between men and women here. Monica looks (verongelijkt) when she says: “Marriage here often still means as much as: the man “possesses” the woman, and so he practically has the freedom to do whatever he wants.” By the way, it´s generally accepted that men take that freedom to treat women as they want anyway, not only in the context of marriage. And as a consequence, statistics tell us that seven (!) out of ten women have been either (or both) fisically, mentally or sexually abused. “And that often starts when they´re still really young: they grow up with the idea that it´s normal, and that is also a big part of the problem.” That´s also the reason why Monica and Jesus organize workshops with the women and parents of the markets about women rights, children rights, abuse and sexuality. “Step by step we hope to improve their future on the long run,” says Monica, “but we try to change our whole culture here, and that will take a lot of time and energy. It´s not easy,” she sighs, “but step by step…” (Read also my blog: “The foundation of freedom, justice and peace. Right.” tinkywong.webnode.nl/news/the-foundation-of-freedom-justice-and-peace-right-/ )
Thomas stares at the scheme of Maribel´s family that he drew on a scratch paper to have a better view on where the seven children work or study and how old they are. It looks just as messy on paper as it does in realy life. The oldest daughter works just like her mom as a “cargadora” (carrier) and she already has a daughter of four. I realize that that´s exactly what Monica´s been talking about: we need to change an entire culture, and break the circle to prevent that history will repeat itself again. And again.
And that´s what Thomas (“as a representative of the Conscious Action Netwok”) is going to contribute to by adopting the dream of Maribel and her family. “Thanks for your time today and the work that you´ve been doing, Monica!” A hug. Let´s see if Ruth´s in her office so we can sign the contract.
14.00h: MARIBEL´S HOUSE.
Where do the families live then, if they´re so numerous and if they make so little money? Most of them live in a house with three to five rooms… with three to five families indeed. One room per family that is, usually twelve to fifteen meters square. That´s just enough for two beds. Who combines that with the average number of family members and does the maths, comes to the only practical solution: three to four people fit in one bed lengthwise, and one or two in the broadwise. Because there´s usually no real kitchen, very family room has a table or kitchen cabinet with two gas burners. There´s no sink, so the dishes are done in the bathroom that´s shared with all the other families in the house. Sometimes there´s a window. The rent is usually about fourty dollars a month. They must hide their money as well as they can, because people can easily break in. And they do, even if there´s not much worth taking with you. Most of those houses are situated in the poorer neighbourhoods of Quito, so there are seldom solid doors or windows and the last family we visited was robbed because an exploded gas tank left an opening close to their door. Luckily they weren´t at home at the time that happened.
But the families we´ve been visiting have always received us warmly and openly. Some times they offer us coffee or something to eat, and the present family members are gathered to introduce themselves. The kids usually show their home and their place in the bed with pride. Bit it´s always a little double to go inside: in situations like this I often get the uncomfortable feeling that the differences between our lives may be just as big as the humanity that connect us. I mean: how can I actually ever really understand what life is like for them? A delicate balance it is, but luckily the market people help us with that by the way they receive us: they couldn´t care less about our background or social economical status. It´s their house and we´re welcome.
We thank them for their time and their hospitality and we take a cab back to CENIT. “I´m glad I had the chance to meet the family and visit their home,” says Thomas. Me too. He films he mountain fiews from the back seat and continues: “There´s still a few things I want to ask Monica about the families of the market, let´s do an interview when we´re back.“ Ok, Monica´s always more than willing to explain more about the work we do.
“Oh oh, is it half past one already?” says Gladys when we meet at the courtyard, “Aaiaiaia, I still have to change!” She walks around in her physical education outfit: a pink joggers and a CENIT cap, but “I don´t want to be in the video like this!” Five minutes in the ladies room later she´s the volunteer coordinator in her women´s suit again. Thomas, amused by her transformation, tries to make her feel comfortable, (“Aaaai, these nerves! Nelly, aren´t you going to sit next to me? Aaaai!”) and then he starts with his questions about the adopt-a-dream project. Gladys tells how it all started with ex-volunteers who wanted to continue helping the kids in some way after they had gone home. She explains where the money of the pradrino´s goes and how the process is to adopt a dream. She´s so nervous that she states that one can adopt a dream for twenty, thirty or fourty dollars (instead of thirty, fourty or fifty), which makes the whole interview useless for the video. “If we translate that to “thirty, fourty or fifty”, everyone will think that we´ve changed it ourselves,” says Thomas. Right.
But luckily she has an important contribution after all: she says together with Thomas “juntos podemos” (together we can) in the camera. And that´s what it´s all about in the end, right? Juntos podemos. Wether that costs twenty, thirty of fourty dollars.
“Are we ready?” Gladys asks hopeful. Yes, we are. Thomas packs his stuff and soon we´ve found Monica who´s going to keep us company this afternoon: we need to hurry up to be at the market in time to meet Maribel´s family and visit their house.
“When did you start your video project?” I ask after we helped serving lunch. “Oh it wasn´t really a plan,” he answers, “but I studied journalism and I realized that there´s so much negative news and so little positivity in the media that I wanted to make videos about people who make a difference, for people who want to make a difference.“ A little uneasy he grabs a handful of popcorn and adds it to his soup. “Those videos are a good way to connect people: I want to inspire, I want to show what we can achieve together and contribute to it too.” It turns out that he has been to South-Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, India, Nepal and Israel to make short movies, and now he´s here in Ecuador to tell CENIT´s story and to adopt a dream. I´m impressed by both the project and the humble way he talks about it: a remarkable lack of “look-what-I´ve-done-already”-attitude. (Introduction video The Conscious Action Network: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvXUeHOaQic )
I surely want to know more about the other places and projects he´s been to, but now it´s time four our next meeting. “Ok, ten minutes left before we´ll talk to Gladys! Ready?” He quickly eats the last bit of rice on his plate and then he nods. There we go.
10.00u: MARKT CAMAL
Monica takes us to the market of Camal to give Thomas an idea of the context that we work in. On our way, she explains what the situation of the families is like. We walk through the sectores with potatoes, food and second hand clothes where we come evey week with our blood pressure measuring machine for the street clinic. We continue walking though the sections with vegetables and people peeling beans, the meet and fish part where we meet Maribels mother, and the platform where Thomas has to be careful with his camera because it´s close to where the stolen goods and drugs are sold.
When we´ve seen the whole market, Monica takes us to the Rescate class room, where our program for three to five year olds runs. Maribel isn´t there this morning, but her little brother zigzags with a pluche stuffed monster across the room. Every now and then he stops to hug it, to sit on it or to brabble to it before he continues dragging it along. I see Thomas´ smile as big as mine. “Nelly, can we ask him what his dream is?” he asks me. I think about it for a moment , but then I shake my head. “No, I mean, he´s two years old, he won´t be able to tell you much. And besides… look at him! That will tell you more about his dreams than he´ll ever be able to express in words!” The toddler continues waddling with the monster dragged along the floor behind him. What a beautiful dream that is, I think, maybe I´ll adopt it myself
I leave Thomas behind for an hour with his camera, the kids and the volunteers to quickly make our weekly round for the street clinic. “Have fun, see you at lunch!” I´ll ask him then about his project, because he doesn´t really talk much about it and I´m curious to find out what it´s all about.
9.00h: HERMANA OFELIA
“Ooooh, bad timing, Nelly… I think I´ve got a bit of a flue. Doesn´t that matter for the video?” says sister Ofelia, and she hides demonstratively a little more in her collar. I laugh at her: “Ow, if he didn´t mind doing the interview with me on Monday..” (see my other story: “Re validation for volunteers: making a movie, rehydrating and going home”). Apparently she remembers the state I was in then too, because she laughs and invites us in her office without any more protests.
“What do the volunteers here in CENIT mean to you?” asks Thomas when the camera´s installed. “Oooh, I can tell you a lot about that, but I don´t think I can express with words how I experience their presence and contribution here. It´s great to see how they offer their time, energy and experience to the people here who need it the most. For us, this work is a calling, but I see that the volunteers and employees here are driven by something that comes from inside of them too. I believe that that´s God, but they often call it love, humanity or karma… For me that´s all the same. I´m very thankful for their help and presence, as I´m thankful to you too for the time and energy that you put in this video to help CENIT!” Thomas fold his hands for a moment to thank Ofelia, and then he shakes his head. “Oh well, for me it´s easy. I come her for one or two days, I make a video and I leave… but you dedicate your whole lives to this and I respect that a lot!” Now it´s her turn to fold her hands and she smiles. Juntos podemos. (Want to volunteer? Check the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srFd5vbJpv4 , the blog “Re-validation for volunteers: making a video, rehydrating and going home”, and/or visit the CENIT website https://cenitecuador.org/ )
I nod. Yes, I agree that the people who work here every day with as much dedication as Ruth, Gladys, Monica, Jesus and Hermana Ofelia do, are the Big Heroes of this world. And luckily they can use a hand from a few Little Heroes now and then: people who make videos to tell their stories, volunteers who can help them to realize their projects and the people who adopt the Dream of one of the kids from the market with a monthly contribution. In front of Ruth´s office there´s a saying: “If we love eachother and help eachother, we can work wonders.” You don´t have to be a Big Hero for that. “We can be heroes, just for one day,” and that´s enough: the world needs Little Heroes too that get together to fight for something that they believe in.
“Thanks for making a difference together, because together we can,” says Thomas as he always does in the end of every shooting. Then he looksright into the camera and claps his hands. “Cut!”
Do you also want to adopt a dream? For more info, watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsbWPzD2miY and/or read the info at the CENIT website: https://cenitecuador.org/donations/adopt-a-dream/how-it-works/. If you can´t afford the full thirty dollars (or more) a month: you can also contribute with a one time donation! How? Join the dream-adopters-club, a group of people who will adopt the (school-)dream of a group of kids. Take a look at https://adopt-a-dream.betterplace.org . :). Any doubts or questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks a lot!! And a big thank you to Thomas Zachmeier for all the work and effort that he´s put voluntarily in setting this all up!