On April 16, 2016, a massive 7.8 earthquake devastated the northern coast of Ecuador. The provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas were hit hard and the destruction of the earthquake brought attention to the area. This shed light on the previous deplorable living situations of many people in the area and helped the people of Ecuador and other countries in the world see what has been happening for many generations.
Of the ten counties most affected by the earthquake, 4 out of 10 people were living well below the poverty line before the disaster and 7 out of 10 people did not have access to basic services such as clean water, sewage systems and sometimes electricity. Their vulnerable situation was heightened incredibly as a result of the earthquake and, in the Canoa area alone, 85% of the people lost what little they had to begin with. They moved from the rubble of their homes to unsanitary, plastic shanties on the side of the road where they waited for the help that was slow in coming.
Ten days after the earthquake, key players in creating what would become Proyecto Samán mobilized, strategized, and organized their efforts. Proyecto Samán’s mission is to help families transition from a highly vulnerable situation into a sustainable and dignified way of life by providing opportunities that otherwise had not been available for many of them.
Currently, Proyecto Samán’s team is comprised of 8 full-time professional volunteers and has the support of 9 partner organizations, and temporary volunteers. What makes Proyecto Samán so special is that it is focused not only on helping families find their way out of the hardships caused by the earthquake, but also on finding sustainable, long-term solutions in an effort to help them have an even better life than before.
Phase 1 of the Mission
Phase one of this mission was to build a sustainable relief camp, called “Camp Samán,” that provides shelter and basic services to survivors of the earthquake. From day one, Proyecto Samán has focused on community building so while tangible infrastructure was being built to provide a safe place for families to seek refuge, social help was also provided. Emotional care specialists helped families through the grieving process and all members of Camp Samán were included in group decisions and in creating the camp rules. To further strengthen the transitional community, additional services such as a learning center, a community store, and communal areas have been built to create spaces where members of the camp and people in the surrounding area can participate in group activities as well as livelihood training and continued education courses. All members of Camp Samán partake in the maintenance of the camp to help them take ownership of their temporary home and to ensure that they live in a healthy and safe environment. In total, Camp Samán has provided temporary refuge to 36 families (over 120 people). Currently, there are 11 families who still require this service.
Phase 2 of the Mission
Phase two has been to help families affected by the earthquake transition into a sustainable, dignified and permanent way of life. The first step for this is a safe and permanent living situation. Not all families at Camp Samán have been eligible for government assistance due to bureaucracy. In response to this obstacle, Samán negotiated a collective land buy with a local rancher, Paúl Aveiga. Aveiga is inspired by the opportunities that Proyecto Samán has to offer his community, so he sold his land at half price and has agreed to a five-year, direct finance, interest free loan in order to make the possibility more attainable for the people. Each family had to pay a minimum of $100 down payment and must then make a monthly payment of $62.45 for the next 5 years, which is considerably less than rent in the area. This opportunity, along with other services provided by Samán, was made available to families living at Camp Samán and those in the surrounding area. Eight families chose this option, four of which have been living at Camp Samán for the last year. The other four have been living in the area, some without the continued support they have needed to remain fed and cared for properly. Each family is a part of Proyecto Samán’s “Sponsor A Home” campaign and will receive a sustainable and seismic safe home built by Samán. In order to receive the home, each family must agree to help build their home as well as their neighbor’s. They must also complete environmental stewardship courses, implement a sustainable land management plan on their land, and participate in the creation of a manual that promotes a healthy and sustainable community.
Hope for the Future
Even before the earthquake, many of the families in the area had spent their lives struggling in poverty without a stable job or living situation. The security and opportunities that Proyecto Samán provides helps change their lives and bring them hope for the future. Proyecto Samán started off as a temporary relief camp but has quickly developed into a community full of possibilities, education, empowerment, and new beginnings. The members of Proyecto Samán are excited to be a part of this active community and look forward to a successful, sustainable and prosperous future.