In the fall of 2007, Manna Project launched its second site on the outskirts of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. After more than a year of preparation, a group of nine moved to Ecuador to implement MPI’s working model in a new community, in a new country.
Ecuador, located in the northwest corner of South America, is home to some of the greatest wealth disparity in the region. Despite its abundant natural and human resources, unpredictable economic and political factors have limited the country from realizing its potential for growth.
Quito lies in a valley in the Andes Mountains, a range running the length of South America. Those mountains divide Ecuador into three distinct areas, with the Pacific coastal plains to the west flanking the central highlands which abuts the Amazonian jungle spreading to the east towards Brazil. The capital city is a long, sprawling mix of urban and rural, of rich and poor. At its heart is Old Quito, a Spanish-styled town center overlooked by a statue of the Virgin Mary, which stands atop a hill bordering the historic district. In the last half-century, Quito has expanded far beyond its original footprint, spreading farther throughout the valley to the north and south. From end to end the city measures over fifteen miles. The most impoverished communities lie at the limits of this range, and due to uneven development, are often disenfranchised from the more developed and affluent portions of the city.
The team in Ecuador has adopted an asset-based development model. This model focuses on the skills and interests local residents have rather than on what they lack. It looks past the temptation to meet short-term needs or offer temporary assistance and instead seeks to be a matchmaker between residents and local organizations, to foster job opportunities, and to increase community pride and involvement.
MPI currently serves several communities in the Chillos Valley, to the southeast of Quito. The residents, numbering slightly over 150,000, are a mixture of middle-class professionals who have migrated from the city and rural farmers whose livelihood is threatened by the growing borders of the capital city. As development advances in other parts of the city, many neighborhoods with long ties to the valley are being overlooked and often they are the last to receive basic education, sanitation, and utility coverage. Within this valley, Manna was invited to work with residents in the communities of Tena, Rumiloma, and San Francisco – all primarily agrarian societies.
Our work, inspired by the asset-based community development model, stems from the belief that communities, including those in the Chillos Valley outside of Quito where MPI-Ecuador operates, are comprised of individuals with a diverse range of skills and institutions already striving to create change. Each program strives to strengthen local institutions, build networks between individuals and resources on different levels, and to empower individuals to thrive both economically and as leaders in their community.