Stretching for thousands of miles along the western edge of South America, the Andes is the longest continental mountain range in the world, extending across seven countries and attracting tourists from all over the globe.
But for the people who have lived in these mountains all of their lives, the Andes is simply the place they call home. And as beautiful as it can be, life there can be just as challenging. In the Cotopaxi province of Ecuador where Plan works, many villages are isolated, with no electricity or plumbing.
Here, girls in Ecuador share the joys and challenges of life in the highlands.
Anahi is a Plan sponsored child who describes herself as “outgoing.” She really likes talking to people, playing with friends and going to school.
Anahi misses her father, who migrated to find work. A growing number of children in Ecuador are being left behind, with rural communities increasingly populated by elderly people and children whose parents left due to a lack of economic opportunities.
Anahi’s mother works in the fields and looks after the family’s livestock. In the Cotopaxi province, most families survive by farming, growing their own food and raising livestock for meat, wool and milk.
Anahi says one of the hardest things about life in the highlands is that everything is so far away.
“To buy food, we have to leave the community,” Anahi says. “If we walk it takes almost an hour.”
Vivian has lived with her grandparents since she was a baby, when her mother left to find work in the city. Always eager to participate in village activities and meetings, Vivian likes living in her community because she feels safe there. But what Vivian enjoys most is going to school.
“Plan International gave me a scholarship to study,” Vivian explains. “With that money I bought my clothes, school supplies and my backpack.”
Each morning, Vivian wakes up early to do her chores before school, which include tending to the sheep and llamas and gathering grass for her guinea pigs. When she returns in the afternoon, she helps her grandfather weed their small potato field, sow seeds and take the animals to graze on the moor. The days are long, but Vivian adores her grandparents and describes her life as “beautiful.”
“She is very intelligent and, above all, cheerful,” her grandfather Juan José says, his face lighting up when he talks about Vivian. “At school she is very smart, talkative and gets good grades.”
Whenever her teacher asks for volunteers, Vivian is the first to raise her hand.
“I like going to school very much,” Vivian says. “It is important to study and learn because it helps me to live better. I want to finish school to become a doctor and help my family and my community.”
Katy lives with her mother and three siblings. Like so many others, her father also migrated to find work. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Plan supported families like Katy’s with food and hygiene kits.
“I like living in my community, especially going to school and playing,” Katy says.
Joselin says one of the hardest things about living in the Andes is how remote her village is — it takes more than half an hour to walk to school. It also gets very cold, especially at night.
The best things? Playing with her friends and going to school.
Evelyn, 7, is a bright and cheerful girl who loves taking care of the newest member of her family, a little donkey named Julio, and playing with her three dogs. She says that the hardest thing about living in the Andes is all of the work they have to do.
“My family gathers at the weekends to plant beans and potatoes,” she says. “Everyone works all day and when we finish, we share the food that my mother and aunts have prepared.”
Evelyn and her parents regularly participate in community meetings organized by Plan, where they receive plants and seeds for their garden that are resilient in the tough climate. Now, her family grows fruit and vegetables to supplement their diet.
Each morning, Evelyn walks down the mountain to go to school. Her favorite subjects are math and languages.
Plan has been supporting Evelyn’s education with a scholarship for the past three years.
“Thanks to this, I have bought a notebook, school supplies, backpack, pencil case, clothes and they have given me some food,” Evelyn says. “Now I have time to go to school, to study, to play. Now I am happy.”
Evelyn smiles when asked about her dream for the future.
“I want to be a lawyer to help the children, especially the poor girls in my community,” she explains.