WINNIPEG, Man. – Digna Macias remembers clinging to a door frame in her home in Manta, Manabi Province, Ecuador while the walls fell around her last April. That’s when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Pacific coast of northern Ecuador where she lives.
Neither Macias nor her daughter, Nidia Palma, who lives with her, were injured badly. However, 668 people died, over 4,800 were injured and 80,000 were displaced in Ecuador.
“We got hit by bricks that fell on top of us, but thanks to God, it wasn’t too serious. The house was completely demolished. I felt bad because I didn’t have anywhere to live, but thankfully my daughter and I have been able to stay at my son’s house temporarily,” Macias said.
MCC partnered with Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Ecuatoriana (IEME) churches in Manabi Province to construct 15 earthquake-resistant homes for their most socio-economically vulnerable church members, including Macias. IEME is a member denomination of the Conservative Mennonite Conference.
With encouragement from Rosedale Mennonite Missions, the mission agency of the conference, MCC sent David Shenk, a former Mennonite Mission Network worker in Ecuador, as a disaster response coordinator to work alongside IEME to identify the greatest needs and plan MCC’s response. Shenk said he was shocked when he arrived in Manabi Province a week after the earthquake hit.
“It was like walking through a war zone in those really affected areas. Buildings were collapsed on top of each other. Police officers and soldiers were patrolling the streets, and other than that it was deserted. The earthquake itself was a horrific experience and very traumatic for people. There were also over 2,000 aftershocks registered. Some were over 6 on the Richter scale,” Shenk said.
Together with Shenk, IEME decided the most socio-economically vulnerable would have the most difficult time recovering from the earthquake and would benefit the most from MCC’s assistance.
“People who don’t have support networks, a savings account, and aren’t able to stabilize themselves because they maybe don’t have a job to fall back on continue to be in really precarious situations. A lot of people did lose their jobs,” Shenk said.
“We tried to implement better building techniques so that homes are stronger and families would feel safer there. We especially tried to help families who were in lower income situations to begin with. Families who wouldn’t have the means to rebuild their houses on their own,” he added.
Macias and her daughter fit the criteria.
The year before the earthquake, Macias’ home was damaged in two floods, Shenk said. With earthquakes and flooding in mind, Galo Basurto, a local civil engineer who attends an IEME congregation, drew up plans for her new house to be stronger and somewhat elevated to try to prevent future damage.
“Thanks to God, I have a new house. I feel very happy and thankful to all of you,” Macias said.
To date, IEME has fully completed five homes and is finishing work on three others of the 15 it has committed to rebuilding. IEME plans to begin work on the remaining homes in November. Some only require repairs, but others were demolished and need to be fully rebuilt.
In addition, MCC facilitated two psychosocial support workers to visit the zone right after the earthquake to provide support to those traumatized by the event.
MCC has responded to nearly 30 other disasters of varying degrees in the last seven months. In each case, MCC was already working in the area and was able to respond quickly with emergency assistance.
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