|Amparito Espinoza - Quito, Ecuador|
Amparito Espinoza, a 42-year-old of Afro-Ecuadorian descent living in the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador, has been transformed through her suffering and an unexpected encounter. One of the founding staff and a principal educator of both mothers and children in an innovative home-based early childhood program operated by AVSI, Amparito describes how all this began through a phone call at time when her life seemed to be defined by sorrow.
Amparito’s early life brought many reasons to weep: abandoned by her mother at age 16, she was left to look after her younger sisters, working as a maid in local households. She lost two children of her own, her first to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) at 16 months, and her third child, a son, who died of a heart condition at age 4. (Her second-born, Amanda, is healthy and is now 19.) Just before the birth of the third child, his father had run away, leaving Amparito alone and struggling to support her family. It was the death of her son that emptied her of any emotion except anger and a cry: “I don’t want to weep any more, I will go wherever, but I want to go where I can be useful to others.”
Shortly after, Amparito received a phone call and a job offer which lead to her collaboration with Stefania Famlonga, AVSI country representative in Ecuador. In 2004, the two launched the PELCA home-based preschool program, which aims to provide early childhood education for families who cannot access traditional programs, in the Pisulli neighborhood on the outskirts of Quito. Beginning with 4 months of individual home visits to families referred to Amparito and Stefania by local schools, the educational program in Ecuador today has grown to involve 400 families. In addition to many small ‘pre-schools’ run in family homes which host children who live close-by, a formal kindergarten called “Ojos de Cielo” has been established. Further, activities have expanded beyond early childhood to include after-school programs for older children and vocational training and employment opportunities for both students and their parents, many hosted at the “Luigi Giussani” community center completed in 2011.
Back at the time of her greatest suffering, Amparito says she was surprised meeting her soon-to-be colleagues at AVSI because they were “not pitying me, but simply accepting me.” She deepens and communicates this understanding of being welcomed to others in the weekly meetings for the staff of the educational projects, which focus on never losing the meaning behind the work they are doing with the children and families.
The words of Amparito, who by now has accompanied hundreds of people who have suffered as she has, are charged with the hope and certainty born from this way of sharing life:
“There is a lot of violence where I live; drugs and lies. But for the first time in my life I feel safe. I am happy with the life I am living. I have to be grateful for the companionship that I found, which has taught me to accept others as they are, to accept myself as I am, and give the love that is in my heart without asking for anything in return. Today I can say that thanks to the pain, my life has changed.”
June 2011 Ecuador Center Models Risk of Education
February 2009, Heavenly Eyes, article in Traces Magazine