(Today's guest blog comes from Eliah, who purposefully switched with Dana so he could make us all feel like crap about attending the annual bull fights. Thanks, E.)
"To lead off today´s blog entry, I´d like to talk about about Ecuador´s culture of animal cruelty. It starts with the dogs. Come to most any town in Ecuador and you´ll invariably cross paths with dozens of street dogs, some strays, some permitted to roam by their owners. You´ll also notice that they´re annoying. They carry disease, they bark, they make you watch where you step on the sidewalk. And they´re mean—Dunc was bitten twice in one week and I won´t walk home from English at night without a handful of rocks. It´s enough to make dog catchers sympathetic figures. But it´s not their fault. The way this society approaches its canine companions is practically designed to produce unfortunate conditions.
A partly understandable component of this approach is that Ecuadorians don´t own dogs as pets but to guard their homes. And while this may come at the expense of a few pounds of gringo flesh, at least the bureaucracy here is cumbersome enough to dissuade us from suing. Because they have utility, however, doesn´t mean dogs are well treated. Quite the opposite, many cower at almost any motion in their direction while the best way to halt a menacing Ecuadorian dog is bend to the ground. They´re so used to this action being followed by a hail of lithic pain that most instantly turn and run. In a not uncommon instance, I recently saw one of the neighborhood kids throw a wrench as hard as he could at the head of a dog on the other side of the street. The dog, which was not causing any kind of trouble, could have easily been killed and the act seemed to be more out of boredom than malice. Meanwhile, the government does almost nothing to help the situation. Without any system of animal shelters, dogs are left to roam and reproduce, with, I´m told, the exception in Quito of the annual random distribution of poisoned meat, a practice that in the US is most commonly used by creepy antisocial neighbors but has yet to be adopted by the Humane Society.
Of course this disregard for the well being of the country´s non-human inhabitants is not exclusive to dogs; as is often the case, what sparked today´s focus on animal cruelty was my fellow PDs. The past couple weeks almost all other members of Manna have attended the popular bull fights here, which I view as paying for and taking pleasure from watching the torture and execution of a bewildered animal, and which they tell me is justified because it´s "artistic." Unable to keeping them from attending the event, I can only hope, as any good environmentalist does, that I at least take some of the joy out of it. That and use this space to rant about it. Which is why no one likes to live with an environmentalist.
But on to my day. Today´s daily life actually began yesterday, in a conversation with Marilyn, the mother of Ximena, one of the Apoyo Escolar students. Like all our programs, Apoyo is an outlet for us to help the people in the communities where we work, but which at times, reminds us of the complexity of the problems they face and our own limited ability to impact them. Marilyn came to pay the monthly $2.50 fee we use as an incentive for parents to make their kids come, but also to ask about Ximena´s behavior. Ximena is one of the more troubled kids at Apoyo—she routinely refuses to talk to us or do her homework and once told us her parents would beat her if she had unfinished work at the end of Apoyo—and Marilyn said she is aware that she should probably see some kind of expert. Like most Ecuadorian children in need of special help, however, Ximena has never been evaluated by any kind of professional, and Marilyn told me she doesn´t have time to take her. Since we live near a branch of the National Institute of Childhood and the Family (INNFA), an organization that employs such experts, I suggested we could take Ximena for her, and she agreed.
So today, I headed over to the INNFA building and sat down with Dr. Ibarra, a child psychologist, to discuss Ximena. Dr. Ibarra was skeptical of talking to a child without her parents present due to the frequency with which behavioral issues in Ecuador stem from parental abuse. Under the circumstances, however, she agreed to schedule an appointment for the next week, though the price of $4 per session worried me that Ximena´s parents wouldn´t want to pay for her to go more than once. That might not matter, however, Dr. Ibarra told me, as she only had time for three visits—in January, the government is taking INNFA over and along with most of the other workers there, she will be fired.
INNFA, she went on to explain, is the largest NGO in Ecuador, with over 1400 employees across the country doing work with street children, battered women, troubled children, health issues, and agricultural education, and making access to high level specialists affordable in under-served communities. However, part of its funding comes from the federal government, something which recently resulted in an executive order, allowed for by the new Ecuadorian constitution, nationalizing it along with all other NGOs receiving public funding. Most of INNFA´s employees will be fired and it will be run, she told me, like an Ecuadorian public hospital. In other words, poorly.
Which brings us back to Ximena. When you consider her problems through the prism of INNFA and what we know about her from Apoyo, things look bleak. Her schools are inadequate for a special needs student, her parents are likely abusive, her culture doesn´t expect her parents to take her to a specialist, her economy likely precludes them from doing so anyway, and her government is removing what little civil society exists to help her. Perhaps worst of all, her own circumstances are not exceptional enough to draw attention or outside help.
Meanwhile, in the Manna house, we live in a Third World country, we speak Spanish, and we are confined to the same two types of tasteless cheese as everyone else here, but thanks to our advanced schooling, caring parents, protective culture, First World economy, and benevolent government, we are immune from the long term side effects of normally accompany living in this place. So in very many ways, it´s like we never left the US at all. And that´s the way it should be, for us, Ximena, and everyone.