Silverware is clanking as children chatter under the watch of a brightly painted tree. To the naked eye, these smiling children are just a few of thousands in the city enjoying a full lunch with friends. However, each of these precious children at La Fundacion El Arenal live lives full of incredible hardship and sacrifice.
Lunch is a big deal at La Fundacion El Arenal. It is the center piece of their day and its activities. Each day between Monday and Friday nearly 100 children come to El Arenal to enjoy a free, healthy meal. For the children that come to these lunches it usually represents the only complete nutritional meal they will have that day.
Most of these children come from indigenous families or rural campesinos who have come to Cuenca in search of better opportunities. However, for their illiterate and under-educated parents who have migrated from rural communities, there is not much opportunity to be had.
Looking to support their families any way that they can, these desperate mothers and fathers flock to the nearby Feria Libre market place to sell anything they can; vegetables grown in their back yard, items they find in recycling bags, and their services to help carry the purchases of more successful market shoppers. These parents work informally, without stalls or permission, in the largest market place in Cuenca. They live in the city’s poorest sectors too.
And what does this mean for their children? Many of these parents can’t afford to buy school uniforms, shoes, and materials required for their kids to attend public schools. They can’t risk losing the precious income each child provides if they work alongside them. These kids are denied an education and an opportunity to dream and grow. To escape their debilitating world they turn to drugs, gangs and petty theft.
Food is also scarce for these families. They don’t have the means to provide complete meals. Often these parents choose to sell the food they’ve grown or bought on loan in hopes of having a little money. These families suffer poverty, physical stunting – the most common representation of malnourishment in Ecuador – illiteracy and a lack of resources and opportunity to change their grim realities.
That’s where the Fundacion El Arenal steps in. The Fundacion is a remarkable institution that works to change the lives of defenseless children whose parents work at the Feria Libre market place. The Fundacion El Arenal is one of the oldest charity organizations in Cuenca. For over 20 years it has dedicated itself to empowering these vulnerable children. It has worked to positively change their realities and break their cycle of poverty.
This amazing organization provides roughly 100 children a year, aged 5 to 17, with educational supplies, psychological support, academic tutoring. They also run powerful educational workshops to teach kids, their parents, and the greater community, important lessons on domestic violence, nutritional diversity, food & nutritional hygiene, self-esteem, children’s rights, and a variety of other essential topics.
But the mainstay of the Fundacion El Arenal is their incredible nutritional lunch program which serves daily a free balanced healthy meal to each enrolled child. Thanks to these lunches, children gain a sense of food security and they finally stop focusing on their growling stomachs and turn their minds to school. They also gain a sharp cognitive awareness that cannot be underestimated when they consistently return to Fundacion El Arenal every day for warm meals and ensuing educational help.
Fundacion El Arenal is a remarkable pillar of strength and opportunity for children looking to forge a better future for themselves. Every mother and father whose child is enrolled at the Fundacion is moved to tears for the incredible support and attention their kids receive.
A worthy institution running off passions and dreams to create a brighter future for struggling deserving children, the Fundacion El Arenal is a diamond in the rough and a wonderful thing to behold.
But don’t take it from us. View an intimate perspective of El Arenal’s families & get an insiders look about the work that goes on to help the amazing children at the El Arenal.
On Wednesday, April 13th, we will be launching a global campaign to raise $15,000 for Fundacion El Arenal to ensure their 84 hungry, vulnerable children will receive nutritious after-school lunches and light meals for the rest of 2016!
Please support these children today by sharing this story with your friends and family, and by making a donation.