2018 June 13 Project

December 22 2019 | by

ISABEL, a 9-year-old girl, with her ragged dolls and fixed confident stare, is a lasting image of his visit to Ecuador for Father Giancarlo Zamengo, General Director of the Messenger of Saint Anthony magazine. In the June 2018 issue he recalled that “In contrast to other children who hide behind their parents, she put herself in front of the rest of the family – her mother, and her three older brothers – and looked me directly in the eyes.” As the only member of her family who is not both deaf and mute, she singlehandedly cares for her parents and brothers, who depend on her completely.


Devastating earthquake


Fr. Giancarlo met Isabel on a trip to Ecuador where he was visiting some of the remote villages devastated by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2016. Some 676 people were killed and 16,600 injured in the earthquake according to official figures, and much of the infrastructure collapsed. Isabel’s rickety house was destroyed in the earthquake too, but she did not give up. Her village has just 15 families, around 100 people in total. Located in the middle of the forest, almost completely shut off from the world, the inhabitants cultivate the land by collecting cacao. They did not give up, and had dreams of new houses, a school, a dispensary and other common facilities, but the resources did not arrive. “Many came and made promises, but nobody did anything,” the village chief told Fr. Giancarlo during his visit. In many of the villages, temporary huts were constructed to house the people while they were waiting to rebuild their homes, but the truth was that they would never have the means to construct their homes themselves.

Fr. Giancarlo was welcomed to a larger town, Jama, by the tireless Father Walter, who had been asked by the bishop to return to Ecuador after the earthquake – not only for his expertise, but also for his big heart. His ability to face problematic and difficult situations with a huge smile and his extraordinary cordiality and total openness to service give him his strength. “He does not think of himself as a hero for dealing with the consequences of the earthquake,” said Fr. Giancarlo in 2018, “but rather he knows he is an instrument in the hands of Providence, of the Lord. And he knows he can count on the great heart of the Anthonian family.” And so it was that the June 13 project of the year 2018 was dedicated to helping impoverished villagers in Ecuador rebuild their homes.


75 new houses


Fr. Walter had thought carefully about where intervention was most needed, and in particular the need to implement a programme to reconstruct collapsed houses, both in the outskirts of towns as well as in more remote rural areas. The most vulnerable areas were far from the centres usually reached by government projects and also those of big international non-profit organisations. A choice was made to give help to the most isolated areas where the inhabitants are dedicated to cultivating the land, fishing, or have small shops.

“With the help of St Anthony’s Charities we have been able to shape a concrete and effective programme of care for families in the rural sector of our Province of Manabí,” says Fr. Walter. “These people had lost their homes or their homes had been badly damaged, making living conditions for families very precarious. Many of these families had no access to loans nor to post-earthquake reconstruction programmes because, in many cases, the rural situation in which they live does not allow them to be considered ‘suitable’ to receive any subsidy from the State. For example, many do not have a land ownership document.”

The total cost for constructing 75 new houses was €315,000, to be provided over a number of phases over the life of the project. The first funds received were used to build 20 two-storey houses – concrete on the ground floor and wood and bamboo for the first floor. The second phase of the project provided similar housing solutions. However, in July 2018 Fr. Walter wrote to St Anthony’s Charities to request a modification to the original project plans.


Additional funds


Some families with disabled members with special needs had been identified, and they really needed a different type of construction. Single-storey buildings in concrete and brick were more appropriate, and the internal area could be distributed better to meet the needs of the disabled, but they would require more land and would cost more to construct. Fr. Walter asked for permission to do this and for additional funds, which were, of course, granted. Construction began in August 2018 and, similarly to those in the previous phases, the buildings were ‘scattered’ across the area of the project. “Some of the beneficiary families were in areas very difficult to access,” says Fr. Walter, “and the building materials needed to be transported by couriers or on the backs of horses.” Work on this phase was completed by the end of November last year.

The fourth and final stage of the project ran from April until the end of May 2019, with a further 15 houses constructed in the same style as those of the third stage. The project formally came to a conclusion in June 2019.


Signs from God


“This has been a challenging journey, but really full of the signs from God,” concludes Father Walter. “Looking at the faces of families, especially the stare of the children when they receive their new home, is just an incredible joy. Many times it has also brought tears, and you understand that God really is charity. There are no words to express our gratitude. It was about a year of work, prayer, hard work and, above all, signs of Providence in carrying out this project. As Father Valentino told us when he came to visit us, perhaps many of these families do not know St Anthony, but he was able to enter mysteriously into their lives through the bond of charity between you, our dear benefactors, and the people who have received this help. Many thanks, dear friends of St Anthony’s Charities and readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, for giving these families an opportunity for dignity. May the Lord accompany you. I now follow you more than ever through prayer.”

Updated on December 22 2019