Lately I've been getting a lot of questions about how Quito Barrio Outreach funds are used in the barrios that I serve.
The daycare center, Miguelito, began 20 years ago because, in a poor home in the barrio Rancho Alto, the family pig ate a baby while the single mother was in the city working, leaving her six-year old daughter in charge of the family. A Jesuit missionary heard of this tragedy and began the daycare center for young children of single parents who have to work. When I arrived in Quito I inherited this center, which now cares for 85 children every day. I have never seen as much love as I now see every day in Quito, love which the teachers-caregivers in our daycare center give to these children, love which they desperately need. I would hate to lose the Miguelito.
All my life I have been involved in education. Because education has always been so important in my life, when I came to Ecuador I was startled to learn about how many younger people here simply do not value education. As a result, the unemployment rate is about 50%. It would be difficult for students and parents in suburbia Chicago to imagine a culture where neither students nor parents care about what grades the students receive, but it is a common situation here. One of my greatest goals has been to educate people about the value of education. But because education is so important for one's personal development and for employment, many people here who did not complete high school have realized in their adulthood that they should have, and now would appreciate a high school education. So about eight years ago we started "Fe y Alegriá" (Faith and Joy), a Jesuit-inspired education program for these adults. It is a six-year program, with classes on Sunday from 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM. We have graduated about 40 so far, and though self awareness over the last several years we now have 116 students in the program. In keeping with our goal of "helping Ecuadorians become self sufficient," the government is beginning to help with funding (given that they recently set regulations requiring a diploma for certain jobs.) I am very proud of this program, and would be crushed if we had to stop it for lack of funds.
My first building project when I moved here 11 years ago was the soup kitchen. Why did we build it? For years, the missionary with whom I lived, Father Patrick McIntyre, had dreamed of providing a meal for the children in the neighborhood, many of whom came to school without having had a breakfast. A Notre Dame study said that malnutrition was the leading cause of the high mortality rate among Ecuadorian children. And 55% of them have a tapeworm in their stomachs. Fr. Paddy did not have the necessary means, so I made the soup kitchen my first priority in my appeals in the U.S. It was our way of fulfilling Our Lord's words when He describes how He will judge us: whether we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. The soup kitchen is now in its tenth year. To safeguard people's dignity, we do charge something, but the cost is much less than the value of the food prepared. We have family rates and monthly rates. No one is ever turned away because he or she cannot pay. I estimate that we have provided close to 200,000 meals to the very young and to the very old, when otherwise they would not have eaten. I hope we can continue this very concrete way to show poor people that we love them.
Lastly, let me discuss the medical clinic.
In closing, my plans are to head back to Quito on March 3rd. My health has greatly improved since I arrived in the U.S. back in November. I feel great. I have been staying at St Thomas the Apostle rectory, and will be there until I depart. Also, I'd like to share with you a dream and a concern. To understand the dream, it is necessary to know that when a visiting missionary sets up projects in a foreign country and then leaves, the native clergy take over. After a short time these projects disappear. My dream is that this will not happen with the above projects. The usual reason why the projects disappear rather quickly is that the native people cannot afford to maintain them. To ensure that these projects continue, along with others like potable drinking water for the higher barrio Mirador, we have established foundations both in the U.S. and in Quito. The purpose of the foundations is to guide the projects, and to provide the support necessary to continue the projects until self sufficiency is realized. In the past, you have given support largely through 35 weekend parish appeals in the diocese. Now my goal is to support these projects through an annual fundraiser. My hope is that our fundraiser this year on March 1 will succeed as well as last year's. I am concerned that it might not. Your help is vitally needed, so please consider supporting the www.QuitoBarrioOutreach.org March 1st fundraiser.
Thanks for your help.
Love, Fr. Don