History of the Peace Corps in Ecuador
From Peace Corps Wiki
The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Ecuador on August 7, 1962. Since that time, more than 5,300 Volunteers have served in Ecuador in almost every imaginable capacity, from working on rural electrification and organic family gardens to teaching in preschool centers and universities. There are not many communities in the country where Peace Corps Volunteers have not left their mark over the past 40 years. One town even has a main street named for a Volunteer who served there many years ago.
As conditions in Ecuador have changed, the Peace Corps has refined and adapted its programs to target those areas most in need of the support the Peace Corps can provide. Peace Corps/Ecuador defines its mission as follows:
Peace Corps/Ecuador promotes sustainable development that will improve the quality of life of the populations with whom we collaborate. Through activities focused on income generation, nonformal education, strengthening local organizations, and protecting the environment, our four programs—habitat conservation, rural public health, sustainable agriculture, and youth and families-are our tools to achieve our goals.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Ecuador
The habitat conservation project focuses on improving the ability of Ecuadorians to manage their natural resources so they will be available for future generations. Because of its location on the equator and its tremendous variation in topography, Ecuador is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. More species of birds, for example, can be found in one hectare in the Ecuadorian rain forest than on the entire North American continent. The same is true for plants.
Unfortunately, Ecuador is losing its primary forests at a rate of 200,000 hectares per year, resulting in climatic changes, soil degradation, and loss of biodiversity. In land being logged near protected areas, for example, some new species are discovered as they become extinct. The habitat conservation project is working in conjunction with several governmental and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to restore and conserve the country’s natural resources. Collaboratively, we are implementing activities such as agroforestry, conservation of protected areas, and urban forestry. Environmental education is an important tool that we use in all our efforts to reinforce the importance of natural resources to the Ecuadorian population, as well as to promote the implementation of sustainable land use activities.
The rural public health project has two main components: micronutrients and HIV/AIDS education. One goal is to reduce death in children under five by reducing malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. In Ecuador, 14 percent of children under age 5 and 18 percent of children between 5 and 12 suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Seventy percent of children under age 5 and 60 percent of pregnant mothers in Ecuador have iron deficiencies. These deficiencies are higher in rural areas, in marginal urban areas, and among families with lower education and income levels.
Volunteers also work to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by training educators, youth workers, health workers, and parents in HIV/AIDS education. Since the first documented case in 1984, there have been 3,700 reported cases of HIV infection and AIDS-related illnesses in Ecuador, according to April 2003 Ministry of Health data. Unofficial estimates put the number of HIV/AIDS cases at between 40,000 and 45,000. Initially, fewer than 38 percent of cases were among women; today the percentage of women infected is 52. The number of pediatric cases has also increased tremendously and continues to do so.
The purpose of the sustainable agriculture project is to increase the income of small farmers by enabling them to make more effective and environmentally friendly use of their land and to get the best possible prices for their products by applying improved business skills and value-added processes. What was previously the small enterprise development project has been incorporated into this project to address business expertise and revenue generation in all sectors. The changing economy in Ecuador is providing new markets for organic produce, and higher input costs mean farmers are more interested in exploring alternatives. Through simultaneous improvements in production, marketing, and post-harvest handling, the project aims to have a much greater impact on small producers than just improving production alone. Production improvements in isolation tend to benefit middlemen as much as or more than small-scale farmers.
The purpose of the youth and families project is to provide youth and families in marginal neighborhoods with more opportunities to improve their quality of life. School dropout, illiteracy, and unemployment among the growing population of low-income, urban youth in Ecuador are of increasing concern. Also associated with urban poverty are the formation of youth gangs, delinquency, drug abuse, and child prostitution. The number of children and youth who live in the streets is increasing in Quito and other major cities. Organizations that attempt to address these problems often lack the resources, experience, or appropriate skills to implement their programs effectively.