Ecuador and then home
So this is Ecuador... what a beautiful country. It is a country that seems to be coming into it's own and women are playing a major role. Although still country full of tradition and history, the young women we encountered are becoming more empowered to want and demand a life free from violence. Domestic violence is a huge issue in Ecuador and it has been a struggle for the women there to find a common voice to speak out against this type of treatment. UN Women (one of the organizations we spent time with) is filling that gap and has become a leading voice in the women's empowerment movement. In fact many of the United Nations organizations are now working extremely hard to fight for and protect the rights of women. In just our short stay we, with the help of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, visited a local but very progressive Women's Rehabilitation Center (which is a fancy title for Prison). The women we interviewed were mostly being held on drug charges. Many were "mules" or people used by the drug dealers to smuggle small quantities of drugs into various countries. Ecuador seems to be a staging ground for this type of activity due to their relaxed immigration policies. Their housing resembled college dormitories and the facility was complete with classrooms, small stores, an employment center and recording studio. The UNODC monitors these Centers to make sure that the women are being treated fairly and to encourage the development of programs that will help these women get the necessary training/counseling to become productive members of society once they are released. Our next stop, with the help of UN Women, took us to the village of Cotacachi. A small town about 3 hours outside of Quito. With help from Maria and Saraswati (both with UN Women) we were introduced to an organization called The Union of Peasant and Indigenous Organizations of Cotacachi (UNORCAC). There we met local women playing a large role in assisting their communities and really lobbying for the rights of the Indigenous people. We spent the afternoon with a young woman who now oversees the working conditions at the local flower farms, a volunteer "healer" who helps council women who are victims of violence, and an activist who heads the Department of Development for Women and Families. They are basically a legal center that assists women and families that have experienced violence in their homes or communities. Our final stop once back in Quito was a meeting with our own American Consulate in Quito. It was interesting to talk to them about the issues we had been hearing about all week and to get a US perspective. Clearly a large portion of our US mission in Ecuador is to assist and push the Ecuadorian government to stop all types of trafficking (drug, human and sex trafficking). It is clearly in our best interest to encourage the Ecuadorian Government to all it can to combat trafficking since the United States is the destination for a lot of the trafficking that starts or passes through Ecuador. So the week was packed full of meetings, interviews and visits. I'm happy to say that Susan recovered quickly from the horrible food poisoning in Haiti (she only had one relapse). At weeks end, we were all ready to go home. The trip was unforgettable and definitely life changing. I'll never again take for granted the opportunities and services we get by simply being American. I will also never look at people the same way. The warmth, kindness, hospitality and openness we were shown by people in every country we visited was very heartwarming. The courage, tenacity, selflessness, dedication and determination shown by many was inspirational. The human spirit is alive, thriving and truly amazing. So with that said, we close this chapter of the journey and move forward to make this play a reality and try to give back to those who have helped us in so many ways.