Project Ecuador

Project Ecuador
Giving Hope and a Future

Monday, 16 January 2017

Do you miss medical work?

I stopped doing regular medical clinics a year ago. There were several reasons for this.
First, the government opened 2 new clinics in our area in recent years. Most local people started going to them for medical attention as they are free and you have to go there to be referred to the government hospital. A private doctor cannot refer. Hence, I had many fewer patients.
Second, as my girls grow, the homeschooling becomes more demanding. I had less time available.
Third, the support for the sponsored children, schools work and girls club grew. I decided it was better to dedicate the time I had to these ministries, rather than spreading myself too thin.
So, do I miss the medical work?
At first, it was a relief to stop as I was very tired! December 2015 was a busy month with many Christmas programmes which took up my time. A few months later was the earthquake, which led to us supplying food and receiving volunteers, until the autumn. There was no time to miss medicine! Once all that quietened down, I did miss the regular contact with patients and being able to help people with my medical skills. However, I still give people advice on an informal basis. I also still use my medical knowledge in the health promotion work that I do with the local children.

I mostly do not miss it because I love the things I am still doing. I love spending time with my girls in homeschool. I am inspired that we can now support 170 children in their education through sponsorship. It is great to be able to go into the local schools and help provide supplies they need and support volunteers who teach English. The ministry I love best is the girls’ work. Here in rural Santo Domingo, girls still have very limited prospects. I was concerned that despite sponsorship, many dropped out of high school early for other reasons. The girls’ club gives the opportunity to form friendships with these girls. It gives the chance to discuss important topics with them, build their self-esteem and broaden their horizons. It gives them tools to help them climb out of poverty. Most of all, as I teach them from the Bible, it gives them the opportunity to meet and know the living God who will be their companion and their guide for all their lives. It is a privilege to be able to spend my time in this way. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

FAQ How are things now, 9 months after the earthquake?

Six months after the earthquake the national newspaper El Comercio reported that there were still 7,000 people living in 24 shelters in the worst hit provinces. 3.7 million Cubic metres of debris had been removed. 9357 buildings had been demolished, with more still remaining to be torn down. Unicef reported that they continued to supply aid which allowed thousands of children to attend temporary schools in marquees. They also pointed out the continuing needs of people living in unofficial shelters and rural areas.
Our personal experience in El Carmen highlights the plight of people who have no land of their own and who are in unofficial shelters. Many small charities like ourselves, as well as larger ones and government agencies have rehoused people. However, those who have no land, and are not in official camps are not being helped. They continue to live in tents, share communal toilets and lack access to safe drinking water. We are in the process of building 3 more houses for families living in temporary shacks, who do have land on which to build, but who are not receiving government aid.
Rebuilding is taking place, but there is still a long way to go in towns such as Perdenales, which was almost completely destroyed in the quake.
On the 19th December we were woken in the night by another earthquake, this time only 5.7 in strength, which again hit the coast. This time 3 people died, 62 were injured and many buildings, already weakened by previous quakes, were damaged causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage.
The economy continues to be hit by the ongoing impact of the earthquake. Taxes were increased (VAT and income tax) to pay for repairs. Some lost their businesses and homes. This means people are unable to repay loans and have less money to spend in general. There are other factors in play in the downturn in the economy, but, in general, the cost of living continues to rise, while unemployment rises and sales fall.
In October, the government said it had allocated all the resources generated by the Solidarity Law: $1.5 billion to date.
The psychological effects continue too. We continue to feel small tremors from time to time. Everyone is jittery about them. Those who were at the epi-centre of the first one are reduced to tears. Posts immediately appear on social media, “Did you feel that one?” My 6 year old is only just beginning to stop being worried by the windows rattling in the wind. I can only imagine how children who had buildings collapse on them are still feeling.

Despite the huge challenges still to be overcome, a lot of progress has been made. People are resilient. Life continues. Grief remains. Day follows day. Parents continue to fight to feed and house their families. 

Thursday, 15 December 2016

How do your girls cope seeing others who have much less than they do?

I was surprised how many people asked me this question on our recent trip to the UK. “How do your children cope visiting other children who have no toys to play with? What do they make of the fact they live in a good house, while their friends live in poor houses?”
I was surprised because it has never been an issue really. When she was only 5 years old, my eldest went through a phase of trying to work out how rich or poor people were by asking me questions such as “Do bus drivers shop in the market or the supermarket?” They have always been aware some people have, and others do not. It is how life is. They are very accepting of the fact. They regularly play with children from poor families and they play with them just as they do children from a richer family. They are just as happy sliding down a pile of sand in the backyard and making mud pies, as they are playing with a fancy doll. It is just what they have always done. They do have many toys, but they are also used to having to gather up those they no longer play with so that we can donate them to the local school or poor families.
They are, like any children, anxious to have the latest toy that was advertised on the television, (not that they get them!) but are also aware that they are blessed. I think growing up with children who are materially poorer than them is teaching them to be grateful and not to take things for granted. They see how much hard work it takes to feed a family, when they see men sweating it out in the fields around us in the midday sun. They have accompanied me, since they were babies, on visits to patients and families living in very poor circumstances. They accompany their father to see the houses he builds for poor families and join in the celebratory meals of chicken and rice which the families often offer once a house is complete. Many of their own second cousins live in much poorer circumstances than ourselves. We do not shield them from these realities of life. They help me give out school supplies to sponsored children and Christmas gifts in schools. They see what we try to do to help others less fortunate than ourselves.
I do teach them that they are blessed; blessed to have a family that loves them, to have a home and food and clothing, to have an education and to live in peace and freedom. I hope growing up knowing and loving people who live in poverty will make them grateful and generous. I hope it will help them be hard-working and ready to make a contribution to society. I hope they are growing up knowing God loves the poor and we should too.  
Western societies seem to be struggling with a younger generation who believe they are entitled to many things – said to be the result of well-meaning parents giving their children everything they want. Toys, books, clothes and food are so cheap and readily available in the UK, it is hard to do otherwise! But I think this is a problem when then people think they are entitled to prosperity, health and long-life. When calamity strikes they think God has let them down, when He never promised those things in the first place.

And more than that, they are missing out on the wonderful things God has promised us. What are toys and clothes in comparison to sacrificial love, perfect peace and eternal joy? These are the things I want my girls to value, and they are available to rich and poor alike. I shall continue to expose my girls to the realities of life, because I think when we serve the suffering, then we meet Jesus. And that, my friends, is amazing.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Why did you give up the wealth and security you could have had as a doctor working in the UK?

During our recent visit to the UK I was asked several questions repeatedly - so my next few blogs will be answers to these FAQs!

First up is, "Why did you give up the wealth and security you could have had as a doctor working in the UK, to work for a charity in Ecuador, with an unpredictable and far inferior income?"

To be honest this not something that often crosses my mind. Many of the things wealth could buy me are simply not attractive in comparison to the amazing life I am privileged to enjoy. I do not hanker after an expensive car, a big house or foreign travel. I find it grounds me to live beside people who struggle to feed their families each day. I do not compare myself with those who have more than me, but rather give thanks for the abundance I already have.

I have learnt to appreciate the benefits of a simpler lifestyle. I love the fact my daughters spend their time playing outside, not glued to screens. Our lives are full of reading wonderful books, creating beautiful crafts, and time spent as a family.

I consider my intelligence, education and opportunities to be God-given gifts. He did not give them to me to hoard up things for myself. He gave them to me to share with others. Living in rural Ecuador is my way of sharing the gifts God gave me with others less fortunate than myself. I find helping the sponsored children to gain an education they would not otherwise have, inspiring. I find great joy in running the girls´ club, and sharing the faith that gives me such love and peace with them.

I do sometimes question if I am limiting my daughters´ opportunities in life. It is easier to "give up" things for myself, than for them. Wouldn´t they be better off attending a private school in the UK as I did, rather than being homeschooled by their mother? All choices in life have their pluses and their minuses. However, I think the life my girls are living is enabling them to be happy, healthy and equipped to contribute to the world. I cherish the opportunity to be the one who is shaping their hearts and their minds.

I find that being out of my comfort zone, out of my culture and made to rely on God in a way I never would have done had I stayed and worked as a GP in the UK, has totally changed my perspective. It has enabled me to experience God´s loving care and provision in a tangible way. Living in a place where I often feel insecure and uncertain fixes my gaze on the One who is constant and unchanging. Living life filled with the love of God is a wonderful thing. I hope you too know His loving care wherever you are and whatever you do.


Saturday, 1 October 2016


Encouragement and inspiration always build one up, so it was wonderful to receive both these gifts from Jenny the other day. 
I first met Jenny when she was twelve years old. She had learnt to make jewellery at school, and brought me some to ask if I would be able to sell any of her creations for her through our project in the UK. She wanted to be able to go to secondary school, but her father did not believe it was worth educating girls, as she would likely end up a wife and mother, looking after her home as her mother did. 
Jenny wanted to  have a career, a means of supporting herself, a way out of poverty. I was impressed by her initiative and determination. I agreed to try selling her jewellery, sending packages of it to my mother in the UK for the Project Ecuador stalls. 
It sold well, and Jenny faithfully brought me batches of new designs every fortnight the whole six years she attended secondary school. Her beautiful earrings, bracelets and necklaces generated enough income for her to pay for her uniform, shoes, stationary, books and bus fares, and helped her self-confidence to grow. 
Now, aged twenty, Jenny has a full time job as a book-keeper, and is studying accountancy at university in the evenings and at weekends. 
Jenny asked me if she could come and teach jewellery-making to the girls in the club I run. She wanted to share the skills that had so helped her when she was their age. It was a real encouragement for me to have her help and speak to the girls. 

Jenny encouraged the other girls not to give up on their studies. She told them about her faith in Jesus, which has helped her to keep her eyes focused on her goals in life, when other glittering temptations have sought to derail her. 
Jenny is a warm, humble, confident, quietly-spoken young woman now. She desires to have a degree, a respectable job and one day a Christian family of her own. May the God she so faithfully serves grant her her heart´s desires.   

Friday, 23 September 2016

When Home is a Foreign Country

A guest blog post on today... 

When I left Britain eleven years ago for the bustling equatorial city of Santo Domingo, Ecuador, I never expected to call it home. I was going as a missionary doctor, to serve for an undefined period. Everything I encountered was different, other and strange. I constantly felt plastered in sweat and dust. The barbecued tripe, cow’s udder and maggots that people offered me to eat did not appeal. Whilst I admired the beauty of the tropical flowers and humming birds, they did not conjure up the feeling of home that wind-swept heather and the humble robin did.
Each morning, I ventured forth to a world where I had to make myself understood in Spanish, fight off the mosquitoes and ride the over-filled bus with chickens pecking my feet. Each evening, I returned to my rented home where English DVDs, toast and tea could be enjoyed.
Three years later, I was married to an Ecuadorean with a beautiful baby girl. Now, Ecuadorean culture invaded my home. My husband expected rice three times a day. Spanish was the predominant language spoken. My in-laws were free with their help and advice.
“Don’t sit the baby up, she will end up with saggy cheeks! Cover your shoulders when you nurse her, or your milk will be cold. Keep a hat on her at all times or evil spirits will enter her through the soft spot on her head.”
My own toddler woke me one morning waving a leg of guinea pig in my face. It was left over from the previous night’s meal. “Want meat Mummy,” she cried. For her, eating guinea pig was completely normal. I wondered what on earth I was doing bringing up my daughter in this strange place. I felt a sudden yearning to go home to “normality”. Tea and toast seemed a distant dream.
There followed a steep learning curve of not only knowing the local customs, beliefs and ideas, but also understanding their values and priorities. At first, it drove me mad when people told me that they would be at an appointment at a certain time, and then were late or did not show at all. It was frustrating when my husband set out to do a, b and c in a day and only did a, leaving the rest for tomorrow. Gradually, I came to realise Ecuadoreans value people and relationships above work and money. If they meet someone who wants to chat, they will, disregarding prior plans. You will always be welcomed into an Ecuadoreans’ home when you turn up unannounced. A family shares the food they have cooked among the number of people who happen to be there at a mealtime. If a friend has a crisis, everything else can be set aside in order to help them.
I found I had to embrace living as part of an extended family. In a society where there is no social security or insurance, families rely on each other. When my car breaks down, I phone my father-in-law, not the breakdown services. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins live close by and are a daily part of each other’s lives. Individualism is frowned upon. Adult children take their parents into their homes when they are elderly and nurse them.
It was only as I came to appreciate the culture of my adopted country that I began to feel at home. Life became more familiar and predicable. It stopped shocking and jarring me at every turn. Life in Britain remains more intuitive, but there are now aspects of British culture that I find hard.
Living in Ecuador has taught me to appreciate the positives in a different society. Our God is a God of variety and creativity and each family has their own way of expressing themselves and making a home. The experience is stripping away my illusion that my way of doing things is the best way, and is making me more of a world citizen. It is making me look forward to the day when our home will be with God and with His people from every tribe and nation, living in perfect harmony and love.

Andrea Gardiner is a medical missionary in Ecuador. She tells her adventures in Guinea Pig For Breakfast. She works for Project Ecuador

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Back to School

It is the time of year when many children are going back to school. New shoes are shining, larger uniforms are freshly ironed and sparkling school bags are filled with colourful pens and pencils. Schools are waiting with libraries to be explored, laboratories ready to be experimented in and sports fields ready for action.
The rural schools here are filled with bright smiles and mischievous looks, but the children´s shoes are old and tight. Some children have nothing to write with and no books to write in. Others simply stay at home as their parents cannot afford the back to school expense. This year there are children newly arrived in the area as their rented homes were destroyed by the earthquake. Their parents are now caretakers on local farms, working in exchange for a roof over their heads. These people lost the little they had and have no skills with which to better themselves.
Each year we are pleased to be able to buy individual children school supplies and uniform through the support of their sponsors. The teachers in the local schools never cease to thank me for the help these children receive and are always asking if there are more sponsors available for more needy children.

We are also delighted to be able to support the schools with books and resources. These schools do not have a library. The only books the children have are the set textbooks. They also lack computers. Where can the children hear stories, have their imaginations fired and investigate the topics that interest them?

We have been able to give each of the 6 village schools in our area a selection of books this year for the children to enjoy. These have included non-fiction, story books and Christian books.
The nursery teacher in the nearest school was delighted to have new stories to read to her little ones. The older classes take it in turns to sit outside in a circle to read a book of their choice. Some of the older children read to the younger ones. It is wonderful to see the children enjoying the books.

We were also able to help the Carchense nursery class with some toys for imaginative play. The teacher had a room full of 3 to 5 year olds to teach for 4 hours a day, and hardly any resources to do it with. These children come from very poor homes. They may have one or 2 toys at home, but no more. They lack stimulation and need to develop their motor skills and imaginations.
Their smiles say more than my words could to show their appreciation.

The children in one school also hugely benefitted from a Scottish volunteer teaching English for a couple of months. She also gave music lessons to children in a neighbouring village. These opportunities are never usually in the reach of these children. They will never forget the experience and the self-confidence that was built.

A big thank you to all the sponsors, volunteers and donors who make this possible.