On the morning of June 20, a small group of volunteers from Salem United Church of Christ in Alhambra and some from neighboring parishes boarded a plane on a mission of love to help the people of Tosagua, Ecuador.
Tosagua is a city of about 15,000 people along the coast of the Pacific Ocean in the Manabi Province, about 2,800 miles from Alhambra.
After nearly eight hours of flying, the tired group arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, late in the evening. They were given a police escort to their hotel and spent the night.
The next morning, they made one stop at the town of Romerillos to visit a day care facility. Then, it was on to Tosagua.
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With only a week to spend in Ecuador they wanted to get as much done as possible.
Volunteers had been warned not to drink the water, or brush their teeth in it, and even to be careful not to swallow it when showering. Meals were provided through Habitat for Humanity Ecuador.
Carol Amiri, the wife of Salem UCC pastor Jerry Amiri, said they had fine meals. They ate chicken and rice, fresh fruits, plantains, breads and cheese quite often. She mentioned the coffee came as a type of very strong espresso, this included a cup of hot water for you to pour in as much coffee as you wish into the hot water until it was as strong as you wanted. Milk and sugar was provided.
Three of the volunteers from Salem had been to Ecuador in 2014. Carol Amiri, Laura Meunch and Katie Quade, so they had some idea of what to expect.
Through the efforts of other churches and Habitat for Humanity, the group would be working on two houses. One home had already been started and was ready for walls to be put up. The other house would be starting from the foundation.
It was decided to let the new group work on the house that was ready to start putting up block walls. The more experienced volunteers would begin the process of starting a new house. This included tying rebar for the foundation.
The future occupants of the houses worked alongside digging and shoveling. The first step was to begin digging the foundation and preparing a rock base layer that would eventually be covered with concrete. This is not as easy as just calling Ready Mix.
Volunteers loaded and carried buckets of rocks, dirt and cement to a mixer, and after adding the rebar reinforcements at different points, the foundation was poured.
When asked how it felt to get out of bed the next morning as none of them were used to doing this type of labor, Carol grinned and said,
“There were a few aches and pains, but you just take a couple Tylenol and go back out there and finish the job,” Carol Amiri said. “It’s worth it.”
The most important part of the beginning of these homes was ‘”Blessings in Blocks,” standard practice with the build teams. Prayers and messages were sent written on index cards by the people of the congregations in Illinois. These cards, after being translated and read to the future inhabitants of the houses, are placed within the interior cavities of the blocks before they are cemented into place. This is a way to make those that help to fund the project and send the teams to help take a part in the building. Because the cards are so protected, they should remain legible for at least 100 years, enveloping the families with prayers and love.
Worship services were held at Advent St. Nicholas, an interdenominational church that was formed for all the English-speaking population in Quito. It came about by combining the Advent Lutheran Church and St. Nicholas Episcopal Church.
Not all of the time was spent working. Buring some time off, everyone went to the beach at San Jacinto one afternoon for about thre hours. Toward the end of their stay, the group visited some of the open-air markets to buy some of the local crafts items.
They also enjoyed meeting with several students at the Chucurauga Kiwanis Club of Quito, te first Kiwanis Club to be founded by women. The mission of the 20-plus-member club is to support the education of the high school and university aspirations of young Ecuadorian women. Many United Church of Christ congregations in southern Illinois partnering with Kiwanis/Quito help provide 20 high school scholarships and 10 university scholarship for talented indigenous women.