Johana’s village was one of the areas most affected by the devastating earthquake that struck Ecuador in April, taking the lives of more than 650 people and injuring more than 16,600.
Now, shelters are the only place for people to seek refuge.
Volunteers from Plan International – like 18-year-old Johana – are helping to ensure those shelters remain a safe space for everyone.
Johana is the leader of a shelter. She’s determined that the layout of the shelter provides equal space for everyone and that children are prioritized during aid distributions.
“The earthquake destroyed many houses, but many of the families had already been left homeless because of the flooding that happened [a few weeks before the earthquake],” she said. “They have been left with nothing and now more than ever they need a home. This shelter is providing refuge for many boys and girls.
“We built this shelter with a lot of effort, but it does not replace people’s home. We need to feel protected, so men take turns to guard the shelter at night.”
Johana is in charge of every detail. She makes sure children have a safe space to play so they can forget about the chaotic surroundings and she makes sure there are designated bathrooms for men and women.
Johana also works with those in the shelter to make sure children remain a priority.
Yet, more needs to be done.
“Little by little help is running out,” she said. “The first days we had a lot of people supporting but now, nothing.”
Johana has known about – and been inspired by – the work of Plan for many years and is hopeful more people will start volunteering soon. She used to be a sponsored child before becoming a community volunteer. The young leader was supposed to start university this year but due to the earthquake she is not sure when she will be able to go.
For the moment, she is committed to helping those in need with the skills learned from Plan International.
“Plan International has helped me learn how to express myself,” she said. “In these situations, it has taught me to remember how important family is and how to protect ourselves. The organization makes sure children have a space to play during difficult times so they can learn and have fun even during disaster situations.”
More than 30 children in the shelter were ready to start school before the earthquake struck, but now they’ve lost everything. According to the United Nations, over 280 schools have been damaged by the earthquake, leaving up to 120,000 children temporarily without education.
Plan is setting up 60 child-friendly spaces over the coming months across different rural communities in Manabí, benefitting 30,000 boys and girls. These safe spaces will also provide support and education for parents where they can learn about self-esteem, resilience, nutrition, and child protection.
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