By Jessica Sanders, Quito Dream Center
Do you remember the moment when a struggling child did something truly unexpected and inspiring? Maybe it was passing a big test. Or turning in homework 100% complete. Or suddenly treating classmates with respect.
You treasured that moment because you knew the child would be OK. They had turned a corner. They would make in life.
We recently experienced that kind of shift in James*, a fourth grader and one of our Quito Dream Center after-school program kids. For years, we suspected James had a learning disability. He struggled to do his homework and needed one of our teachers constantly checking on him and keeping him on task
James has experienced few advantages in life. At times, it feels like the odds are stacked against him.
But James does have one advantage. He is enrolled in the Quito Dream Center where he receives tutoring, nutrition and a torrent of loving encouragement from ER staff.
And guess what? James is now focusing on his own, motivated and finishing his assignments. He is doing well. This breakthrough gives us great hope for his future!
This kind of impact happens because compassionate donors contribute to our after-school program. Unfortunately, because of funding needs, our 40+ kids, including James, require scholarships to stay enrolled in the Quito Dream Center.
Would you provide a scholarship for a kid like James? By investing just $35/month, you will make a difference in the life of a Quito Dream Center child.
*Name changed to protect privacy
A Rebel with a Future
By Robyn Wallace, Quito Dump Program
(April 30, 2019)
Emily* made some big decisions recently. One of our Quito Kids was under duress.
Emily first attended the Quito School After-School Support Program as an eight-year-old in 2013. We’ve watched her grow and mature. Today she is a 14-year-old participating in our newly renovated adolescent program. She has access to leadership training, mentoring, micro-business skills, a community of other teenagers and tutoring for her homework.
Like many youth, Emily discovered she had her own opinions and desire to live by her own rules. Her choices led to a two-week suspension.
As much as we love Emily and foresee a bright future, we know the next steps in life need to be chosen by her. After two weeks away, Emily was given the option to stay or to leave. The decision was totally up to her.
Emily chose to stay. She chose to re-engage. She chose to accept the opportunities before her. She chose a future and she is thriving!
Emily shared that she LOVED the first few days that she was on her own. She had no pressure, went where she wanted, did as she pleased. Rather quickly, she began to miss her community, her tutor’s support, and the opportunities our program provides her. She had some hard choices to make.
Emily chose to stay. She chose to re-engage. She chose to accept the opportunities before her. She chose a future and she is thriving!
Pray with us as we support the next generation through middle and high school in Quito. These youth are forging a new path in their families as most are the first to make it this far in school. ER is reaching out a hand to help, and we passionately want these kids to latch on. We’ll do this together!
*Name changed for privacy. Scroll below to read more about how the Quito Dump Program is helping kids like Emily.
Quito Kids: Sara Overcomes Adversity
By Robyn Wallace, Quito After-School Program
(March 21, 2019)
Now we can add “OVERCOMER” to describe nine-year-old *Sara at ER’s school support program in Quito, Ecuador. This past week, we passionately applauded Sara in recognition of her high performance at her school. Sara received a certificate for her achievement.
Sara comes from a family that has eked out a meager living for generations by recycling materials from the local garbage station. Her grandmother and mother have attended our women’s program since its conception in 2013. Sara joined our school support program in 2016.
Tragedy struck Sara’s family this year when her grandmother passed away from cancer, leaving her single mom to support herself and her two young daughters. Sadly, her mother’s fight with an extremely rare disease came to head last fall, preventing her from recycling and earning money. In fact, her illness is costing exorbitant amounts of money.
Sara is wading through some huge emotions this year as she grieves for her grandmother, worries for her mother and stares at an empty refrigerator more often than not. Her most recent report card in March tells the tale of a girl who is successfully overcoming immense challenges with excellent grades and even better behavior. With determination, day after day, Sara chooses to walk through the door of our school support program, embrace her community, and tackle her homework. Her community is embracing her back.
Sara’s classmates have completed several food drives taking food from their own limited supply so she and her family can eat. Sara’s family is part of the Quito Dump Recycling Community that ER has been serving for many years. Despite community members having so very little, they share money, time, food and many prayers on behalf of Sara’s family.
Creating a community is part of what we do at ER. Together, we celebrate overcomers like Sara.
Why it matters:
- *Recognizing effort, positive attitude and resiliency reinforces work ethic
- *Supporting children during hardship demonstrates compassion
- *Sara represents the generation breaking the cycle of poverty
*Name changed for privacy. Scroll below to read more about Quito kids.
Quito Kids: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty
(June 28, 2018)
Extreme Response has been serving the recycling community in the Quito Dump (AKA Zambiza Garbage Transfer Station) since 1997. We’re excited by the impact we’re witnessing, especially in the next generation.
We’re seeing a huge change in self-esteem, educational achievement and entrepreneurialism. Positivity pulses through a community that was once hopeless, boosted mightily through the teamwork of donors, volunteers and dedicated staff.
Nothing is more painful than seeing malnourished, under-educated and hopeless children. While that was once the case, today our programs are populated by happy, hopeful and bright-eyed kids.
Yesterday: Kids who grew up in the Dump suffered from poor health and self-image and typically dropped out of school very early.
Today: ER’s Children’s Programs have created an entirely new dynamic. Through nutrition, the kids’ weight, height and health has improved. Through ER’s After-School Program, they are earning praise from their teachers. Through mentoring, they are confident and eager regarding their futures.
Tomorrow: We see a day when every child in our programs has the opportunity to graduate, seek advanced education and qualifies for employment opportunities beyond recycling.
These children represent our biggest hope – the generation that breaks the cycle of poverty.
The realty of achieving this is within reach – but only if we complete the mission to which we’ve been called. To accomplish this, we need the help of new volunteers, short-term teams, staff and donors to join us.
Quito Kids: A Second Chance for Tayra
By Robbie Murdoch
Tayra has a very hard home life. Her parents are no longer together. Her father is a drug addict. Her mother is hardly home. She often misses school and she has a hard time keeping up in her studies.
We noticed Tayra had been coming to the program without her school uniform for a few days. This was strange, because she tends to come straight to the program after school. When we saw that she also didn’t have homework two days in a row, we asked why. As it turned out, Tayra was no longer in school. Discouraged by her poor grades and the cost of keeping her in school, her mother decided to pull her out.
We immediately worked with Tayra and her mother to find a solution and to get Tayra back in school as quickly as possible. The problem was that now the school didn’t seem willing to take her back.
Our teacher, Adolfo, finally went in person to the school and asked them to allow Tayra back into classes. After missing two weeks, Tayra was allowed to return and finish the school year. We are hopeful that she will continue her studies as we continue to work alongside the whole family.
Quito Kids: Erika Finds Forgiveness
By Robbie Murdoch
Erika comes from one of the most difficult families we work with. Her parents have an on-again-off-again relationship. Her siblings come and go from the house. Her father is known for getting into fights and spends much of his free time out of the house drinking. Her mother either laughs at her or beats her silly. All of this turmoil contributes to a lack of security and stability in her life. She has mentioned that she is not even sure if her parents love her.
As a result, Erika’s behavior has been one of highs and lows. When she is doing well, she wants to spend her time hugging the teachers, talking about life, and playing with whoever is free. But most days, she gets to a point where she hits a wall and shuts down entirely. She stops participating in all activities and deliberately does the opposite of whatever she is asked. She stops talking and refuses to acknowledge other people’s presence. She doesn’t respond to punishment, which makes it really hard to correct her behavior.
One of our beliefs in the after-school program is that we need to be a place where the kids can be safe – a place where the schedule doesn’t change and the consequences for our actions are consistent and fair. After many failed attempts to help Erika cool down after a meltdown, we were beginning to lose hope. Until recently.
One day Erika didn’t want to do her homework and went into full shutdown mode. Robbie Murdoch, the coordinator of the after-school program, spent some time talking with her and gave her some space to cool down. After speaking with the other teachers, it became clear that a suspension would be the likely outcome of this particular incident. When Robbie returned to the office to speak with her, Erika stood up, walked over to him, put her arms on his shoulders and said, “Teacher Robbie, can you forgive me?”
The result was immediate forgiveness and tears. This is why Extreme Response works with these kids. We long to see life change that will drastically redirect the future of everyone we work with.
Quito Kids: Leftovers Help Michael’s Family
Michael is one of those kids you love to work with. The 11-year-old seventh grader is joyful, mature, and responsible. He likes to spend his time hugging the teachers and you will always find him with a smile on his face.
He lives with his mother, who is a recycler, and three siblings about 15 minutes away from the Quito Family Resource Center by bus. His father had another family, but tended to stop by Michael’s house in the evenings to visit his kids. He also helped with the rent and brought food for the whole family.
But when Michael’s father didn’t show up for a few days, the family started to worry. When a phone call was finally answered, it wasn’t answered by Michael’s father, but by a mortician. Michael’s father had fallen off the roof of his house and, unfortunately, had passed away.
While Michael is going through a difficult time, his spirit isn’t broken. He has been coming to the after-school program since 2013 and wants to study robotics and be an engineer. In the midst of struggle, Michael has hope.
Now we (ER staff, volunteers, donors) have another opportunity to help this family. Every day we have food left over from our after-school program, and every day we get to send that food home with Michael so that his family has something to eat. This is one way that Extreme Response is helping change the life – not just of one kid – but the lives of an entire family.
Quito Kid: Teenager Turnaround
By Robyn Wallace
Sorting trash for recycling has long been a meager source of income for residents at the Quito Dump. ER’s Quito After School Program is trying to break that cycle by improving kids’ chances to complete their education and, ultimately, earn a better living.
Michelle is one teenager who has benefitted from the program. Her mother approached Jose and Teresa Jimenez, the program’s directors, in early 2014 when she realized she could no longer adequately feed Michelle and her three other children. She was considering taking Michelle out of school so she could help recycle trash and help feed the family.
Michelle is 17 and her siblings are 14, 10 and 7. Michelle first connected with ER as a young child when she attended a kids’ club at the Zambiza Garbage Transfer Station (previously the Quito Dump). Her grandmother continues to sort trash there. She and her 10-year-old brother were admitted to the After School program and now receive a hot, nutritious meal five days a week, as well as tutoring and homework support. Her 14- and 7-year-old siblings are still home with their mom.
Michelle is on track to graduate from high school next summer and hopes to receive a scholarship to the government university. There are several government universities here in Quito. The government will review Michelle’s grades in March and decide is they will allow her to attend a university on scholarship. If granted, Michelle would start college in the fall of 2016.
To top it off, Michelle hopes to be our very first person in the Quito Dump Program to return with her degree to help with the children at the Family Resource Center. The changes in her life all began because ER said “yes” to helping hungry children.
Education Is a Priority
ER began to focus on supporting children through education in September 2013 and we now serve 34 kids in the After School Program. Our goal is to break in cyclical pattern of not finishing elementary school and joining the family sifting through trash to earn their living. We want children to have options.
To get into the program, families approach our directors, Jose and Teresa Jimenez. They do a general interview with the family and follow up with a house visit and a socio-economic survey to evaluate each situation.
Finally, the Jose and Teresa conduct an interview with the child to determine if we should bring a child into our program. Currently, there is a waiting list.
Most of the children go to school half days in Ecuador. After school, children arrive for a hot meal around 1 p.m., which is often their only meal of the day. It consists of either a hearty soup or a rice/meat dish. Then they start on homework and receive tutoring as needed. Kids work in teams to encourage each other to finish in a timely manner and do quality work. When finished, they do chores and then enjoy free play time.
We also provide hour-long workshops at the end of the day, including English, Music, Art, and ecological type classes. The day ends at 5 p.m. This school year we have begun to support five children in the mornings and send them off to school at noon.
Robyn Wallace and her husband Brian have been serving in Quito, Ecuador, since 2014. They work at the Zambiza Garbage Transfer Station, also known as the Quito Dump, where they help care for the nearly 300 families who work as recyclers. Robyn has been instrumental in identifying curriculum and testing. Brian serves as the ER America’s Director.
The Nine-Year-Old Who Didn’t Know the Alphabet
Joel Loja’s parents spend much of their lives in the garbage digging out recyclables in order to eke out a living. It’s a tough life that requires families to focus on surviving each day.
Joel was one of the first babies to enter the Quito Dump Daycare, now called the Child Development Center (CDC), where he received nutritious meals, snacks and love. But when it came time for him to leave the CDC and go to school, it became clear Joel was very behind educationally. So when we opened the after-school program to help kids, Joel’s parents asked for help.
Joel’s challenges are typical for the children of Dump families. He had psychological problems in addition to being behind in school. When he got home from school, there was no one there to help him with his homework or encourage him.
“Joel’s grades were very low when we took him into the after-school program,” said Jose Jimenez, who along with his wife Teresa oversee ER’s Quito programming. “At that time Joel couldn’t write and it was very difficult for him to learn. He was about nine years old and did not even know his alphabet. So we started working with him.”
After-School Program Comes to the Rescue
Joel was one of the first kids to receive help at the Quito Family Resource Center (QFRC), which opened to serve Dump Community families. The Center focuses on education and nutrition.
“His mother shared what was going on with Joel,” Teresa Jimenez said. “She told us she just wanted help to get him through grade school because the family would not be able to help him attend school after that. Her goal was for Joel to work with her in the garbage after he got through grade school. She did not think there was any value to study further.”
There were 10 students enrolled when the QFRC first opened. Jose worked with nine of them. Teresa worked just with Joel because he was so far behind. She started by helping him to just write his letters. After about two months, they were able to integrate him in with the other kids. He learned how to write by copying verses from the Bible.
“We worked with him to read, write and learn the alphabet,” Teresa said. “Now he is one of the best students. His handwriting is very good. He is reading very well. And his self-esteem is very high. His desire is to finish grade school and go into high school. His dream is to be someone important in life.
“When he came into Family Center, he would go into a corner to read,” Teresa said “After a while he would say, ‘I can read’. One day he said his teacher told him, ‘You are improving so much’. He was very proud of that.
“Joel realizes that his parents have endured a very hard life by working in the dump, Teresa added. “His father has osteoporosis and can no longer work. His mother has to work in the garbage to get food and meet the needs of the family.”
Joel’s family is suffering a lot and his desire is to learn and be able to work in a healthy environment so his parents will not have to work in the garbage.
“The desire of his heart is to help his parents,” Jose said. “Our work at the QFRC is to help him to realize his goals. Every day we have been motivating him to keep going.”
Today Joel is 12 and is doing well physically and emotionally. Joel has several years to go before he will graduate high school, so his continued involvement in the after-school program is crucial if he is to accomplish his goals.
Caro: Growing Up in the Dump Community
By Dawn Carnill
(Sept. 14, 2016)
Caro was born just days after our daycare center opened in the Quito garbage dump. Her mother had been working there since she was a child herself– gleaning things she could use and mining for recyclables to sell. Caro’s two older sisters spent their toddler and preschool years with their mother in the trash.
Less than a year before Caro’s birth, the Ecuadorian government restructured the dump, assigning an environmental foundation to oversee the workers, and to prohibit any children from being on the site with their parents. It was a good regulation. It was a much-needed regulation. But it was a very difficult one for these families. They were earning only dollars a day. How could they pay someone to watch their children?
Extreme Response had been hoping to start a daycare center for the dump community for quite awhile. When we approached those that were in charge of the facility, we were told it wasn’t necessary.
But then, just like that, it was.
The new foundation came to us, at the request of their workers, to ask if we would open a daycare center for their children. That center (now known as the Quito Child Development Center or CDC) officially started on April 17, 2006. That very first day, only one mom was brave enough to leave her child with us. Her name was Veronica and she was about 18 months old. Just a month or so later, baby Caro and her two older sisters (ages 4 & 3) started coming after their mother realized how this new daycare could benefit her kids.
Caro and all 5 of her sisters attended our daycare center and preschool until they aged out. They also attended the annual Christmas party in the dump. Although the girls aren’t yet enrolled in our after school program at the Quito Family Resource Center, the younger ones are on a waiting list to attend. Teresa Jimenez, co-director of the QFRC has built a relationship with their mother over the years.
Sisters Fight to Overcome Poverty’s Grip
(Feb. 24, 2016)
When ER co-founder Jerry Carnill made his first connection at the Quito Dump in 1997, he did not have a grand plan to fight poverty. He simply felt compassion for the people living and working in the trash and wanted to help them. He reached out to a young boy, Victor, who agreed to gather a bunch of his friends for a Saturday morning kids club.
That first kids club was a big success and led to what Extreme Response (ER) has become today. Nineteen years later, we can tell countless stories of improved health, housing, childcare, education and hope among the dump community.
The story of Victor and his family, however, provides a dose of reality. The brutal truth is that breaking the grip of poverty can be arduous and painful.
Victor’s journey is most easily told through the lives of his two daughters, Thresa* and Mayta*. By the time the sisters were born, Victor and his wife had fallen into a pit of drugs and alcohol.
We met the sisters when their grandmother brought them to ER’s newly opened daycare (now called the Child Development Center or CDC). They were some of the first children accepted into the CDC. The girls were living in the dump with Victor’s mother, who was caring for the girls as a result of their parents’ substance abuse.
Before long, ER’s Jose and Teresa Jimenez, who ran the CDC, learned that their mother and grandmother had no intentions of sending the sisters to school. The girls would be taught to pick through the trash for recyclables, just like the generations before them.
“We had to work very hard with the family to convince them that the girls needed to be in the daycare and eventually in school,” Jose said.
“While they were in the CDC, the grandmother realized they were learning and they should go to school. When the children left the daycare they went directly into school. The grandmother poured her life into the girls.
“Unfortunately, the grandmother stepped on nail and developed an infection that later turned into cancer in her leg. She died about three years later when the girls were about six and seven years old,” Jose said.
Grandmother’s Death Derails Hope
When the grandmother died, the girls went to live with Victor and his wife, despite the fact that they were struggling with addictions. Before long, the parents began using the girls to deal drugs. Neighbors reported what the parents were doing with the girls to authorities and the sisters were taken from their parents and put in a home.
During the judgment it was determined the sisters’ parents were drug addicts. Authorities then called the maternal grandmother, who also worked at the Quito Dump, to see if she would take custody of the children. She was given permission to care for the children. She put the girls in a nearby school in Zambiza and ER temporarily lost contact with the girls.
“The maternal grandmother went to work in the morning and came home about 5 p.m. But when the girls came home from school, their parents would be across the street waiting for them and would send them out to distribute drugs or alcohol,” Jose shared.
“The grandmother did not know what to do. She spoke with the director at the school and was told about an organization that works with kids. The grandmother realized it was Extreme Response. She initially had looked for us (Jose and Teresa) at the Dump but gave up when someone had told her (erroneously) that we were no longer there. She was very happy to find us,” Teresa said.
“The kids were malnourished, not cared for and had received no affection. The grandmother and the girls were all living in the garbage at the time. She was busy going through the trash, so the girls were unsupervised.
“We were able to get the girls into our after-school program at the Quito Family Resource Center. Initially, the girls needed psychological help, which we were able to provide.”
Hope Restored for these Quito Kids
“Two months ago the psychologist said they no longer needed to see her. The girls’ self-esteem and overall psychological health had improved very much thanks to the help they received at the Family Center,” Teresa said.
Today the sisters are 11 and 12. They are progressing well in school. Their future is much brighter. The goal is that the girls will finish high school, but more importantly that they remain healthy, break the vices of their parents and not get caught in a downward cycle.
ER’s after-school program provides a lifeline to children and families who are struggling with deep poverty, addictions and a lack of education. By providing tutoring, a nutritious meal and encouragement, ER is giving girls like Thresa and Mayta a chance to stay in school, gain sustainable skills and break free from the grips of poverty.
*Editor’s Note: The sisters names have been changed for their protection and privacy.