When ER co-founder Jerry Carnill made his first connection at the Quito Dump in 1997, he did not have a grand plan to fight poverty. He simply felt compassion for the people living and working in the trash and wanted to help them. He reached out to a young boy, Victor, who agreed to gather a bunch of his friends for a Saturday morning kids club.
That first kids club was a big success and led to what Extreme Response (ER) has become today. Nineteen years later, we can tell countless stories of improved health, housing, childcare, education and hope among the dump community.
The story of Victor and his family, however, provides a dose of reality. The brutal truth is that breaking the grip of poverty can be arduous and painful.
Victor’s journey is most easily told through the lives of his two daughters, Thresa* and Mayta*. By the time the sisters were born, Victor and his wife had fallen into a pit of drugs and alcohol.
We met the sisters when their grandmother brought them to ER’s newly opened daycare (now called the Child Development Center or CDC). They were some of the first children accepted into the CDC. The girls were living in the dump with Victor’s mother, who was caring for the girls as a result of their parents’ substance abuse.
Before long, ER’s Jose and Teresa Jimenez, who ran the CDC, learned that their mother and grandmother had no intentions of sending the sisters to school. The girls would be taught to pick through the trash for recyclables, just like the generations before them.
“We had to work very hard with the family to convince them that the girls needed to be in the daycare and eventually in school,” Jose said.
“While they were in the CDC, the grandmother realized they were learning and they should go to school. When the children left the daycare they went directly into school. The grandmother poured her life into the girls.
“Unfortunately, the grandmother stepped on nail and developed an infection that later turned into cancer in her leg. She died about three years later when the girls were about six and seven years old,” Jose said.
Grandmother’s Death Derails Hope
When the grandmother died, the girls went to live with Victor and his wife, despite the fact that they were struggling with addictions. Before long, the parents began using the girls to deal drugs. Neighbors reported what the parents were doing with the girls to authorities and the sisters were taken from their parents and put in a home.
During the judgment it was determined the sisters’ parents were drug addicts. Authorities then called the maternal grandmother, who also worked at the Quito Dump, to see if she would take custody of the children. She was given permission to care for the children. She put the girls in a nearby school in Zambiza and ER temporarily lost contact with the girls.
“The maternal grandmother went to work in the morning and came home about 5 p.m. But when the girls came home from school, their parents would be across the street waiting for them and would send them out to distribute drugs or alcohol,” Jose shared.
“The grandmother did not know what to do. She spoke with the director at the school and was told about an organization that works with kids. The grandmother realized it was Extreme Response. She initially had looked for us (Jose and Teresa) at the Dump but gave up when someone had told her (erroneously) that we were no longer there. She was very happy to find us,” Teresa said.
“The kids were malnourished, not cared for and had received no affection. The grandmother and the girls were all living in the garbage at the time. She was busy going through the trash, so the girls were unsupervised.
“We were able to get the girls into our after-school program at the Quito Family Resource Center. Initially, the girls needed psychological help, which we were able to provide.”
“Two months ago the psychologist said they no longer needed to see her. The girls’ self-esteem and overall psychological health had improved very much thanks to the help they received at the Family Center,” Teresa said.
Today the sisters are 11 and 12. They are progressing well in school. Their future is much brighter. The goal is that the girls will finish high school, but more importantly that they remain healthy, break the vices of their parents and not get caught in a downward cycle.
ER’s after-school program provides a lifeline to children and families who are struggling with deep poverty, addictions and a lack of education. By providing tutoring, a nutritious meal and encouragement, ER is giving girls like Thresa and Mayta a chance to stay in school, gain sustainable skills and break free from the grips of poverty.
*Editor’s Note: The sisters names have been changed for their protection and privacy.
Want to help girls like Thresa and Mayta? We’ve developed a program to help these children called $10 Quito Kids. They need supporters! $10 a month provides meals for two weeks; $20 provides meals for a month. Learn more.
Tim Fausch manages communications for Extreme Response.