Written 1996

associacion vivir

Visiting A Barrio with Associacion Vivir:

A Trip to Atocucho

Sam Laybourne

associacion vivirAfter gaining a better sense of Esquel and Associacion Vivir's objectives in offering classes to impoverished Ecuadorians, Ethan and I accompanied Doctor Galarza's assistant and sister, Magdalena Galarza, to her weekly seminar in the extremely poor barrio, Atocucho.
     Like many of the makeshift communities that have formed in the surrounding forests of the Pichincha mountain range, Atocucho was initially established by "Invasores," or invaders. These colonizers began building their simple concrete homes eight years ago with the authorization of a now defunct governmental system. Since then, the modern government has declared further inhabitancy of such forests illegal, and although Atocucho is presently recognized, it lacks a modern infrastructure. Residents of Atocucho are still without drinkable water, maintained streets, and general city planning. As a result, the neighborhood has become more susceptible to devastating mud-slides.

Despite the hurdles of development that Atocucho faces on a daily basis, many members of the community have chosen to address the problems of the barrio through the aid of organizations like Associacion Vivir and Esquel. The twelve week class that Nurse Galarza associacion vivir has been teaching in the local youth center, Espacio Alternativa, was in its eighth week when Ethan and I made our visit. Shortly after arriving, the brightly painted building slowly filled up with neighborhood parents and children. When the students finally grouped around the miniature arts and crafts table, Nurse Galarza began this week's lesson on identifying circulatory and respiratory problems and treating them with natural medicine. After diagramming the basic function of the lungs and heart, she explained to the parents exactly what to look for in diagnosing their own children. She also demonstrated various cures including smearing pineapple on a child's chest for pneumonia, and gargling with shredded potatoes for sore throats.

Every class concludes with the preparation of a nutritional meal, and this week Ethan and I were fortunate enough to get a little taste of Ensalada De Broccoli Con Choclo (see recipes). As Nurse Galaria explained while mixing the steaming vegetables, this inexpensive meal is not only easy to prepare, but it also has several medicinal values. It provides essential vitamins, starches, and proteins while soothing the nerves at the same time.

    After sampling the finished dish and washing it down with some strawberry soy milk, Ethan and I asked the kids if they would teach us some of their games. We were miserable at both Trompos (a traditional game played with a spinning top) and Hula-Hoop (you probably know what this is), but the kids had patience with us. In the midst of a hard life, these children were remarkably vivacious and optimistic, and their eagerness to both learn and share with Ethan and I gave us a greater sense of their ability to grow and succeed despite the few opportunities life has granted them. We also left the seminar with a clearer concept of Esquel's objectives in funding such community service projectsóthey are not only giving money, but they are investing in the endless potential of their own people.

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Written 1996