A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the coast of Ecuador with devastating effects on April 16, 2016. The impact was felt around the country, but those on the pacific coast endured the worst of it. The provinces of Manabi and Esmeraldas are in crisis, and hundreds of thousands are living without clean water, food, or electricity. Homes, schools, and businesses have all been destroyed. The death toll, currently estimated around 570, continues to rise everyday as bodies are discovered in destructed buildings.
I was on the 6th floor of a building sitting on a couch as it began to shake uncontrollably in downtown Cuenca, Ecuador. I felt the building waving back and forth, saw mirrors shaking on the wall, plants blowing in the wind indoors. I can’t imagine the force that those closer and closer endured. Even in Cuenca the earthquake sustained for a full minute, and the city is about 200 miles from the epicenter in Pedernales. Born and raised in Frederick, Maryland, I moved to Cuenca at the age of 25.
This is a tragic time for people throughout the country. To see their fellow Ecuadorians suffering, to see the pictures and videos only from afar, and to want to help in any way possible. To witness this solidarity is captivating and inspiring.
The city of Cuenca is mobilized in relief efforts. Every street you walk down there is a site for donations on every corner hosted by the government ministries or community agencies. The Red Cross, government ministries, food banks, non-profits, restaurants, social groups – everyone is involved. Although we are 5 hours from the closest devastated area, Cuencanos dedicate their time to contribute to immediate emergency relief efforts. Projects have been delayed, events postponed, such as the annual 15K race that attracts 10,000 runners to the city. Even in Cuenca the supermarket shelves are empty of water, as locals purchased the entire stock to be delivered with donations.
I have been volunteering for a nonprofit in Cuenca, the Hearts of Gold Foundation, which is certified Ecuadorian foundation owned by expats. They are a community giving organization that supports Ecuadorian-run projects and nonprofits, most usually with an emphasis on children, families, women, education and nutrition. In this time of crisis Hearts of Gold has become a reliable hub for foreigners living both in Cuenca or abroad to donate to the relief efforts. They have partnered with Mikhuna Food Bank to create packages for individual families, which contain essential food, beverage, hygiene, and emergency products, such as candles, matches, and flash lights. In a short three days the partners assembled 3,000 emergency packages. They have also put donations towards hundreds of pairs of boots, gloves, sheets, bed mosquito nets (Zika virus is a concern in these provinces). The partnering organizations are delivering throughout the week via trucks and planes.
Ecuador has welcomed me and has become my home. It is emotional to think that places that greeted us as tourists with pure joy, care and love are now in ruins. I went to the town of Canoa for Carnaval and spent days dancing and enjoying ceviche and fresh coconut water. I hope that the friends we made there are OK. I hope that, in time, the livelihoods of these places can recover. I hope that the kind gentleman with the coconut hut is safe and will continue to share his smile with those passing by.
I have confidence that Ecuador will recover, rebuild, and thrive after this disaster. From my experience and perspective, Ecuadorians live life with bountiful hearts. They are givers and lovers, and together they will persevere through this earthquake that has shocked and devastated the country.
If you are interested in making a donation from the states you can contribute to the efforts of the Hearts of Gold Foundation with this link. Every little bit helps. The dollar goes very far here – $5 could by a dozen gallons of water for a family in need.