Despite ongoing debates, the education system in Ecuador has shown improvement. Education of children who live in rural regions and promoting a bilingual education system are some of the greatest concerns moving forward. Currently, the predominant language in the schools is Spanish; however, there is an interest from governments to teach different languages and popularize them.

Education in Ecuador started to become a focus of the government in the 1980s when the literacy rate and accessibility in rural areas was very low.  Since then, there has been a decrease in the illiteracy rates for both rural and urban areas. In addition there has also been an increase in the number of children enrolling for secondary and higher education. For children ages six to 14, Ecuador has made school more attainable by offering free and compulsory education, making it easier on the parents as well.

Another improvement has been the standard at which teachers are being recruited. The increased enrollment in secondary and higher education shows that now people are interested in furthering their education. With an increase in higher education, teaching candidates are coming out of teaching programs from universities, giving schools a wide variety of skills to choose from.

Although the enrollment rates in higher education has increased,  according to the ministry of Education in Ecuador, only 10 percent of children attend schools in rural areas.

There have been big changes made for Ecuador in the past 30 years or so, but there are still areas of opportunity to improve upon. The recent improvements have assisted the country in training future professionals to make them educated employees and to contribute to the overall improvement of the country.

– Brooke Smith

Sources:, Maps of World
Photo: Compassion

project creo

Creo. Language: Spanish. English translation: I believe or I create. Metaphorically speaking, it has incredibly optimistic implications. How fitting that an initiative focused on the belief that children can utilize the creative process of the arts to escape the evils of poverty would take the name this inspirational term.

Project Creo is an organization based in Quito, Ecuador that aims to empower children experiencing poverty through visual art, music, dance, theatre and film. With the help of project facilitators, the children’s creations emphasize their self-worth and the undeniable existence of love in the world. Facilitators include volunteers from the United States and Ecuador, prominent artists and the world’s leading fine arts teachers.

U.S. native Michael Sample founded the organization in 2001 when he visited Quito and felt a strong desire to live in the city and help its citizens. After returning to the U.S., Sample became a professional actor and choir director. He also earned a position with the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Despite all of his success in New York, he still felt his true vocation was with the people of Quito.

In 2011, Sample began the first art project with children in Quito. This was the humble beginning of Project Creo. Its partnership with the Metropolitan Opera Guild added a base in the U.S. and brought more attention to its positive effects on poverty in Ecuador.

Other U.S. contacts were enlisted through a partnership with ASTEP, Artists Striving to End Poverty. ASTEP is an organization originally established by Broadway Musical Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell and students from Julliard. It does research and then takes action to make a child more successful, socially and academically, with the arts. Many of the Project Creo volunteers come from ASTEP, making them more than adequately qualified.

Much of the time, volunteers work directly with children on their projects. Together, they create murals, musical compositions or other artistic projects to be displayed in their community. The projects showcase Project Creo’s message of total love or ways to improve life in the community. For example, one project focuses on ways that recycling and eco-friendly lifestyles lead to progress in society by forming art from reusable materials.

Other projects in Ecuador have included an art exposition promoting healthy living and informative approaches to starting small businesses with art. By working with the Secretary of Education in Quito, Project Creo also works to integrate art into curricula in Ecuador. The in-school programs allow Project Creo to reach a large number of children and introduce artistic methods for the learning process to teachers.

Artists and teachers help the cause by teaching children in person, if possible, or providing free online art lessons. They work through the online component of Project Creo, called iCreo. iCreo invokes technology to make art lessons accessible to impoverished children and share the initiative’s mission with people all around the world.

Since its beginning, Project Creo has expanded beyond Quito. First, the project organized programs in other Ecuadorian communities. Once large enough, centers were established in Africa and India. Now, through information available on iCreo, lessons and project ideas are available to anyone with internet access.

As stated on Project Creo’s website, “if you have a body, you have a child in there somewhere.” The initiative’s efforts embrace anyone seeking liberation through creativity, regardless of age. Music, visual art and other projects initiated by Project Creo provide hope for Ecuadorian “children” on both individual and societal levels.

 — Emily Walthouse

Sources: ASTEP 1, Project Creo, Youtube
Photo: Project Creo

El Río Habla

Fleeing the conflict and violence that has raged in Colombia for over 50 years, nearly 1,000 Colombian refugees cross into Northern Ecuador every year. Ecuador now hosts an estimated 160,000 refugees; 98 percent are Colombian. The government recognizes 54,000.

In 2009, 66 percent of asylum seekers who applied for protection in Ecuador were granted refugee status. It was one of the highest acceptance rates in the world. But three years have wrought significant change in policy. Though there were over 100,000 applications for asylum standing in 2012, recent restrictions have granted true refugee status to a select few.

About 60 percent of Colombians who come to Ecuador settle in poor cities. There they live with a refugee’s lot – discrimination and difficulty finding employment, lack of access to healthcare and lack of government support. The remaining 40 percent are less lucky.

After crossing the Río San Miguel and the Río Putumayo, they settle in small communities on the 353-mile-long border. Isolated and characterized by an utter lack of infrastructure, these villages have little means of communicating with other communities or with their government.

Poverty spurs violence. In one UNHCR study of the Lagros Aros region, 660 of 700 women surveyed reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime. There is no employment, healthcare or protection. And only the residents know it.

So they fight ignorance with awareness.

Since 2009, the UNHCR and Radio Sucumbíos have reserved a 15-minute slot for a program called El Río Habla, the river speaks. Well before each broadcast, refugees meet to discuss their experiences. They identify issues requiring public attention and design the radio program accordingly.

The show is not only a cry for help. Colombian and occasionally Ecuadorian guests have a chance to tell their stories. They speak about their lives as refugees and their lives before. They talk about themselves and their families. For thousands of Radio Sucumbíos listeners, they are humanized.

The UNHCR reports no quantitative analysis of the program’s effects. Still, workers and volunteers report a heightened public awareness. As public interests turn toward the disadvantaged in border communities, authorities are forced to provide services to people there.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Asylum Access, UNHCR, Cultural Diplomacy
Photo: UNHCR