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New hope in the highlands of Ecuador

A road through the Andes ranges in Ecuador rounds mountainous curves that stretch higher and higher, with each new view more spectacular than the last. The countryside is a tapestry of green hues with fallen rocks dotting the land. Herders take their livestock to pasture as grazing llamas watch vehicles pass on their way toward a village in the Cotopaxi highlands.

ChildFund Ecuador has been working in this village for only three years. To date, about 350 children are enrolled in our programs and 157 are sponsored.

The community is isolated, and parents are mostly subsistence farmers who produce just enough potatoes, beans, eggs, chicken and pork to feed their families. There is no fresh water system here, and latrines are scarce.

Most homes are made from packed earth, straw thatch, scraps of wood and rudimentary cement blocks. Electricity is patchy, and there are no phone lines, cell coverage or cables for Internet and TV.

Here, many young children are malnourished, and the community`s school does not offer all grades. Teenagers face the double challenge of early pregnancy and lack of employment opportunities. The nearest health post is about three hours away on foot. The only alternative is a bus stop that is an hour`s walk away.

At a parenting class on nutrition, the room is packed. Women are dressed in brightly coloured woven skirts and ponchos, a few have infants or toddlers strapped to their backs. Some men are in attendance as well.

The workshop facilitator helps break the ice, often a difficult task in some indigenous communities. But within minutes, small group discussions begin and laughter quickly breaks out.

Topics range from what kinds of food can be found in this region to what people like to eat, what children should eat at different stages of development, and which foods have curative properties when children fall ill. Finally, the parents learn why nutrition is important not only to children`s physical health but also their mental and academic development.

The parents are deeply engaged in the conversation and volunteer their thoughts and experiences. Then they all go home and return to the workshop with pots, pans and some food supplies. The next part of the session is a cooking demonstration to make a local version of granola, a fruit salad and a meat dish.

Whilst there are many challenges in this community, there is also hope. This is a rich and proud culture, with parents who want a better future for their children.

Community leaders made the long journey to the ChildFund Ecuador office in Quito to ask for our support, which was happily given. And there are sponsors who saw one photo and read one biography of one child and said, “Yes! I will help change the life of this child and this community!”

The combined efforts of parents, community leaders, ChildFund and sponsors are how children (and their communities) can get a fresh start.

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