Mother’s Day in Qwa Qwa: Pregnant Teens Get Support

Ignite South Africa helps at-risk kids in Qwa Qwa.

By Aimee Hurtubise

IMG_3796Canadian Aimee Hurtubise is helping to change lives through Ignite South Africa. Extreme Response Canada is pleased to be the sending organization for Aimee.

The first time I drove into Qwa Qwa, South Africa, I knew I was home.  I still feel that way 10 years later. Although I have spent half of the last decade living in Canada, the moment I moved back to Qwa Qwa last year I knew I had returned to a place that will always be my home away from home.

Qwa Qwa is a place filled with challenges, endless potential, cold winters and the warmest people. It is where I get to make a difference in the lives of orphaned and at-risk youth while being surrounded by my African family, and I can’t imagine doing life any other way.

I am able to do this work through Ignite South Africa. This organization is dedicated to developing leaders of all ages and empowering them to impact their schools, communities, country and homes.

Ignite teaches life and business skills to at-risk kids.

Many young women in Qwa Qwa struggle with unplanned pregnancies. The girls typically range in age from 13-18, although I’ve seen them as young as 12. Most will keep their babies because adoption is seen in a very negative light in our community, although we will walk with the girls through either parenting or adoption.

Statistically, 25% will be HIV positive and suffer from hunger and poor nutrition. Those who will be staying with us have no where else to live. They are afraid, alone and overwhelmed. If they are orphaned or have been kicked out of their home for being pregnant, they also may be dealing with abandonment issues.

While there are no accurate statistics on teenage pregnancies in our area, we believe they are on the rise. There are flyers advertising “safe” illegal abortions on every pole, board or free space in our community. So many girls choose abortion because there is no support for them should they decide to become a parent or gift their child through adoption. We want to provide an alternative and make parenting a viable option for these girls.

House of Refuge

IMG_0025The Ntlo ya Setshabelo (House of Refuge) is a maternity home for orphaned or at-risk pregnant teens that we are in the process of developing. Our vision is to offer a place of safety, mentoring and encouragement to provide a solid foundation.

The girls who enter our program will be in intermediate or high school, have limited or no support from their families and must agree to fully participate in the home’s practices. This means they want to learn how to be a good mom and are willing to put in the effort.

The girls will be expected to continue their education and attend classes designed to help their development, including budgeting and life/parenting/small business skills needed to help support their families. We try to offer everything they will need to parent on their own. Our goal is to see them graduate as capable and confident mothers who will positively impact their children and their communities.

Our mentoring program will connect each girl with an older female from the community who can guide and support them. Each girl will begin this relationship while living in the home with the hope it will continue throughout her lifetime.

Ignites’ Executive Director June Blanshan shares this background on why we are introducing the the home.

“We decided to move forward with the home when we discovered that the girls were experiencing abuse and manipulation by providing sex in exchange for food, toiletries and other items. Their situations already appeared hopeless, but adding pregnancy into the mix made these girls feel trapped. Often they choose ‘safe, pain-free abortions’, which translates into illegal abortions. We believe the death rate, sterility and other complications from these unregulated clinics to be astronomically high.”

The Story of Mpho

Blanshan also shares this story about a girl who Ignite helped.

Mpho (named changed to protect her privacy) was planning to end her pregnancy as she was already was struggling to support her three-year-old child. It was difficult for her to even to put food on their table and most days they did not have electricity. She was HIV positive and the father refused to be involved. She was alone and scared.

“One of our Ignite leaders knew her and shared about adoption. I was called in to talk with Mpho because I had gifted a child for adoption. Mpho was excited about this opportunity and decided adoption would be a good choice for her.  We promised to walk alongside her and help her connect with services in the community.

“Unfortunately, Mpho’s delivered her baby the next week, prior to contacting social workers. She informed the nurses and a hospital social worker of her intent to place her child for adoption and therefore she did not want to see the baby.  The response was…I’m sure you can guess.

“Mpho was basically ignored, or when spoken to, demeaned. The social worker and nurses were downright cruel. Finally, the social worker informed Mpho she would be in the hospital for six months if she wanted to adopt her baby because that was how long court time would take. Mpho already had a child at home who needed to be cared for, so this was not an option. The social worker sat down with us and shared a ‘secret’. If Mpho said she would keep her baby, they would discharge her. What she did with the child after that was completely up to her.

“Mpho chose that option and we cared for her baby as she thought through what she wanted to do. After a week she decided to keep and raise her baby. We remain involved with the family and help as we can. All three are doing well.”

Based on this experience, we decided to provide the support systems and identify other community support for the young mothers. Currently, my efforts are focused on building a solid foundation for the home. This includes applying for grants and fundraising to allow us to purchase and furnish the actual dwelling. Our goal is to open our doors to our first pregnant teens by the end of 2016.

IMG_3796Interested in helping Aimee? Contact her via email, follow her on Facebook or click here to partner with Ignite South Africa.

Paul Cripps Courage Award: Rich Brown, Inca Link

Malawi2Last September, the world lost a selfless humanitarian, humble servant and courageous leader. Paul Cripps, Extreme Response Canada co-founder with his wife, Linda, had dedicated his life to helping others. While his passing has left a hole in Extreme Response International, his legacy is alive.

Paul’s passion for helping people who live in dire need brought him to Africa, Asia and the Americas. He was tireless in not only visiting the poor in settlements, barrios and squatter Paul & Lindacommunities around the world, but also in sharing their needs with anyone who would listen. He was a frequent speaker throughout Canada and the U.S., encouraging people to get involved in helping to change the lives of the poor.

Paul and Linda led or participated in volunteer teams in Ecuador, the Philippines, South Africa, Brazil and other developing countries. Their compassion has been contagious. Countless people continue to become short-term volunteers and serve others as a result of their example.

IMG_1308Perhaps one of Paul’s strongest qualities was displaying courage while fighting cancer, a reoccurring enemy that finally ended his life on earth. Even while battling cancer for many years, Paul remained focused on meeting the needs of people living in extreme poverty and helping our partners who serve them.

Today, Linda is carrying on their shared passion. She serves as president of ER Canada and continues to raise funds, support partners and assist those who seek to go to foreign countries to serve. Linda shared these thoughts after viewing the award ceremony via Skype:

IMG_1226“After watching the award ceremony, I wiped a tear away and thanked God for a great group of men who wanted to honor Paul’s memory,” she said. “Courage is a wonderful word; it’s both adjective and verb. It can describe a characteristic of a person, but shows the action in someone’s life.

“The courage Paul demonstrated in the last 16 years of his life, especially the last four or five years, exemplifies his true dedication. He was willing to give his life for his passion of helping to change the lives of others through ER and all our partners.

“Many of our partners can echo with me the times Paul would be walking beside in their world them with yet another personal medical issue that needed attention while away from the comforts of his doctor.  He left his fate in the hands of his Heavenly Father.

Because of his humbleness, Paul would say, ‘oh friends, this award is not necessary’. But as his wife, I truly thank each of you for this lasting memorial, a tribute that his brothers in arms will share and a legacy that can be remembered every year going forward. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Rich Brown receives Paul Cripps Courage Award
Rich Brown receives the first-ever Paul Cripps Courage Award

Rich Brown Receives First Paul Cripps Courage Award

Extreme Response sought to recognize Paul in a way that would pay tribute to his strong faith, generosity and leadership. Paul was a cornerstone of ER’s Leadership Community, having coached and encouraged developing leaders worldwide.

Russ Cline, ER Chief Development Officer who heads up our Leadership Community, was inspired to create the Paul Cripps Courage Award.

The very first Paul Cripps Courage Award was presented at the 2016 Leader Mundial Summit to Rich Brown, founder and president of Inca Link. In presenting the award, Russ highlighted Rich’s huge vision, fearlessness and willingness to help at-risk youth throughout from locations in Ecuador and Peru.

Rich is married to Lisa and has four children, Olivia, 22,  Michaela, 20, Josiah, 18, and Alexa, 15. His vision is to help 300 million at-risk youth in Latin America through leadership training, networking and compassion programming. His strategies include using short-term volunteer teams, interns and donated resources to engage youth throughout the Latin world.


Note: Please click here for our latest updates.

Extreme Response exists to help people living in extreme, sometimes LIFE-THREATENING situations.

Today we are shouting the “LIFE-THREATENING” portion of our mission statement because people in Ecuador are DYING and we are compelled to help. We are asking for your immediate, generous support in order to respond.
13015340_1006193326123681_6346500706461780100_nLast night our relief team reported conditions in coastal Ecuador are far worse that we had hoped. Earthquake victims are so desperate for food and water that robbery and chaos are ruling the moment. CNN reports today that 570 have died, 7,015 are injured and 155 are missing. These numbers will rise.
Our team is safe, but out of supplies. Today they will use the last $1,000 of their funds to purchase food and water and deliver them to our partner in Pacoche, which will serve as our distribution hub.
ER staff and friends load a truck with supplies for the relief trip to the coast.
ER staff and friends load a truck with supplies for the relief trip to the coast.

We have a plan

In response to our relief team’s first-hand report and their pleas to do more, we are preparing a second relief team RIGHT NOW. They are purchasing $4,000 of food, water, medical supplies and blankets. Our plan is to take these supplies to our partner Casa de Dios in Pacoche, which has a secure building. The supplies will be stored there and distributed to people who are in dire straights.
We are using the last of our cash on hand in Quito to purchase these supplies. We are asking for your urgent support to help us raise at least $10,000 to allow us to fund these relief teams and future relief work that will take place in the days and months ahead.
How to help
To give in the US, click here. In Canada, click here. Designate your gift “Ecuador Earthquake Relief”.
For our friends living in Quito, you are welcome to bring non-perishable food, bottled water and medical supplies to ER or to Pan de Vida, an ER partner that also is preparing to deliver supplies.
Thank you for caring for these people. With your support, we can bring survival and hope to those in desperate need!

(Below are prior reports)

ER sent a team Wednesday morning to the coast, where CNN is reporting that more than 500 people have died. Our team has supplies and is planning to assess the areas impacted by the earthquake for opportunities where ER and our partners can help. We are looking for areas that require longer term assistance so.

'Note: A new 6.1 quake hit early Wednesday morning off the coast of Ecuador. Click here for breaking details: ER sent a team Wednesday morning to the coast, where CNN is reporting that more than 500 people have died. Our team has supplies and is planning to assess the areas impacted by the earthquake for opportunities where ER and our partners can help. We are looking for areas that require longer term assistance so we can help in the months ahead. We are seeking donations to help the people who have been greatly impacted. To give, go to Canadian donors should visit: Please designate your gift "Ecuador Earthquake Relief". Follow our team's progress at'

ER Team Heads to Coast to Help Earthquake Victims
An ER team from our Quito office has gathered supplies and is heading to the coast to help early Wednesday morning. More 440 people have died and 4,000+ have been injured according to CNN. Some are saying this is Ecuador’s worst disaster in 60 years. Please keep our team in your thoughts! To give, visit

  • ER Team Preps Supplies for Coastal Towns Hit By Earthquake
  • ER Team Preps Supplies for Coastal Towns Hit By Earthquake
Gabriela Luna's photo.
Gabriela Luna's photo.
Gabriela Luna's photo.
Gabriela Luna's photo.
Gabriela Luna's photo.
Photo: Agency France Presse

ER partner Casa de Dios is located in Pachoche, which is within the quake zone. Our contacts Fabian and Graciela are safe, but they are surrounded towns that have crumbled buildings, broken roads, landslides and more.

Extreme Response intends to help Casa de Dios help its neighbors. As we receive details, we are asking for donations to help provide immediate assistance (food, water, shelter) for those facing imminent danger. This will be followed by longer-term help.

Photo: Agency France Presse

ER partner Casa de Dios is located in Pachoche, which is within the quake zone. Our contacts Fabian and Graciela are safe, but they are surrounded towns that have crumbled buildings, broken roads, landslides and more.

If you would like to donate to this disaster response,  visit Please designate your gift “Ecuador Earthquake Relief”.

Photo: Agency France Presse

7 Reasons to Join an Extreme Response Christmas Team

ER’s Lindsey FIsher dances joyfully during an ER Christmas party in South Africa

IMG_0261By Tim Fausch, ER Communications

So you’ve survived winter and are looking for something exciting to do this year. You’ve thought about planning a vacation, but the idea of another beach trip leaves you empty. Fortunately for you, we’ve got the perfect solution: Join an Extreme Response Christmas team and help change lives!

The Quito Christmas teams impacted more than 4,400 people last year!
Last year’s Quito Christmas team impacted 4,350 people!

Join an ER Christmas team? Why would you want to do that?

We’re glad you asked. Here are seven reasons why you would be crazy not to join a team.

1.  Why settle for celebrating Christmas once when you can celebrate it seven-plus times? ER Christmas teams go where few others go in order to connect with people living in extreme conditions. Our Christmas teams typically host at least one party each day for a week, with each party taking place in a unique setting.

2.  You dislike “touristy” trips. We feel your pain. Nothing screams “snoozer” like a visit to some man-made theme park or shopping district. As part of an ER Christmas team, you’ll meet real people living on the edge of society and you’ll play a central role in providing them with hope!

Dawn Carnill reconnects with a family attending the Quito Dump Christmas Celebration.

3.  Your passport needs a stamp from Ecuador, the Philippines or South Africa.  How can you say you’ve seen the world without visiting one or all of these incredible countries?

4.  You want more friends. Christmas teams are a great way to meet people who share your passions. You’ll enjoy meeting people from different places and learning about their lives.

5.  You still have a couple megabytes of space left on your digital camera.  Get ready, because you’ll meet some of the cutest kids on the planet. You’ll be physically unable to resist snapping pics of them _MG_0309having the time of their life. For most kids, it will be their only chance to celebrate Christmas.

6. Your heart needs warming. Exhausting jobs, household chores and busy schedules can suck the life out of us. It’s easy to misplace our compassion. We’ll help you find it! Every day will be filled with opportunities to help “the least of these”.

7.  You’ve always wanted to join “an assembly line of love”. Our teams IMG_0267participate in something we like to call “organized chaos”. This is when we gather as a team to assemble gift bags for the children. It’s actually a bit of slap-happy fun and a great way to bond with your team.

But seriously…

So we’ve shared some fun and funky reasons to join a Christmas team, but the real reason is that you’ll be investing into the lives of people who are often forgotten by society…families who live in squatter communities, people who glean their living picking through the trash for recyclables, children who are sick, abandoned or orphaned, and the 12279062_10153032967721920_7145267726201177551_nvictims of human trafficking. These are the people we reach and we’d love to have you join us.

If you’ve never been on an ER Christmas team, perhaps this is the year. We’re celebrating 20 years of Christmas parties, starting with the very first one (see a video of that party) in the Quito Dump in 1997. In the years since, we’ve become more organized and efficient as  you can see in these more recent video. But one thing hasn’t changed. We continue to share the story – and joy – of Christmas to those who eagerly want to receive it.

ER-logo-20th-Anniversary-Full-Color-Portrait (1)This year we have three Christmas Teams planned in late November and early December: Quito, EcuadorManila, the Philippines and Cape Town, South Africa. You can learn more about our Christmas teams by visiting our Christmas Celebrations page.

If you are unable to join a team in person, we would still highly value your participation as a volunteer or donor.  For general information, email



Gracious, Glamorous Golden Grads

Anne and Johshua Benavidez flank graduate Emelita Sumaya.

By Anne Benavidez, Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program Director

IMG_3568Like caterpillars emerging as beautiful butterflies from their cocoons, eight members of the Golden Hands Livelihood Education Program celebrated being the program’s very first graduates. Each of the women wore dresses they made themselves and enjoyed a time of recognition, glamour and thankfulness.

The graduation ceremony was a very big deal. You see, all of these women came from humble backgrounds. Most live in squatter communities and struggle with extreme poverty, substandard living IMG_3630conditions and a lack of opportunity.

Two years ago, none of them would have envisioned themselves being celebrated. They had little hope that their lives would improve. But today, in a fancy ceremony that involved flowers, photos and the presentation of new sewing machines as graduation gifts, the women were honored for their achievements.

So what caused the transformation to take place?

The short answer is that people cared. Extreme Response Asia staff members saw the needs and became determined to find a way to encourage, inspire and equip these women to strive for better lives. We saw the potential in the women, even though many of the women could not yet see it in themselves.

IMG_3648Our desire to help the women led to the formation of the Golden Hands Sewing group, which evolved into the Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program a year later. We had to change the name because the program was accomplishing far more than teaching sewing skills.

For one, the women were discovering self-respect and confidence. For another, they were growing trusted new relationships. They also were learning life skills, business skills and spiritual depth. They were becoming well-rounded people, filled with hope and grace.

IMG_3650So that’s why celebrating the graduation of eight women from the Golden Hands program was so big. It was so much more than certificates and gifts. We affirmed them in a very powerful way.

To get to this point, the women had to commit to attend weekly classes for eight months and finish all their assignments. They had to learn cutting, pattern making, basic sewing, crocheting and some knitting. Eight of 10 enrollees made it all the way through the program.

IMG_3645As a special incentive, ER provided a sewing machine and starter kit for all eight graduates. Going forward, the women will receive continuous training and coaching. Most of them are planning to start businesses, including six who want to pool their capital, work as a team and share profits.

During the last year, the women have built a lot of self-confidence, created a community among themselves and become closer than ever. They acquired skills that they say will not be taken away from them, that they will bring with them wherever they go. Even if they are forced to leave the places where they now live, they will bring skills that will provide livelihood wherever they relocate. They now have a weapon to fight poverty.

IMG_3590Anne Benavidez is the director of the Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program located in Makati City near Manila. Click here and here to learn more about the Golden Hands program.

Spiderman Rescues ER Team House Facade



IMG_1171If you’ve stayed at the Extreme Response Team House or visited our offices, you know the building is a huge blessing to the work we do throughout Ecuador and the Americas. The four-story building includes ER’s Quito staff offices and can house a few dozen volunteers (the exact number depends on how many bunk beds we fill) who come to Quito on short-term teams.

Scaffolding reached four-stories high.
Scaffolding reached four-stories high.

Doing a patch job and repainting seemed like an acceptable short-term solution. But was there a better, longer-term solution?

Enter ER’s Pete “Spiderman” Emery who accepted the challenge of finding a more permanent solution. The result was to install decorative stone with a top edge to keep the moisture from penetrating the area.

With help from Xavier Hildago and other ER staff, they erected four stories of scaffolding, scraped and cleaned the top portion of the building’s face, carefully installed the stone, and then sealed everything and painted the trim to match.

For those of you engaged in our work in Ecuador, thank you for IMG_1169your support! Resources like buildings, vehicles and office equipment are extremely valuable in achieving our mission of helping people who live in desperate, sometimes life-threatening conditions. These tools allow volunteers to participate, strategy to be developed and supplies to be transported. We couldn’t do it without you.

To learn more about our work in Quito, click here. To learn about joining a short-term team in Ecuador or the Americas, click here. To learn about our partners in the Americas, click here.