OAKLAND, California — Thousands have been displaced from their homes after the 7.8 magnitude Ecuador earthquake shook in April 2016. Ecuadorians now struggle with life in encampments, adjusting to a lack of electrical power and reliable light at night. A group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers based out of Oakland answers the question: “how does one deliver a donation of solar emergency lights to Ecuadorian earthquake survivors from the San Francisco Bay Area?”
About 73,000 Ecuadorians are now living in post-disaster relief camps with host families or in makeshift shelters. In the coastal towns of Pedernales and Jama, near the earthquake’s epicentre, only 50 to 65 percent of electrical power has been restored.
Candle lights are the normal option for a nighttime light source in Ecuador. The solar lights would offer a cleaner, safer, renewable source of lighting that could save the Ecuadorian earthquake survivors money in the long run.
A member of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer group was connected to a supplier of solar emergency lights, a Bay Area company called THRIVE Solar Energy. THRIVE was willing to donate a pack of solar lights to the survivors of the Ecuador earthquake, but the challenge was transporting them to the Ecuadorian survivors 3,700 miles away.
The Peace Corps group faced hurdles with airline cargoes that presented barriers through TSA and customs. Sending the donation through a postal or courier service offered no guarantees of prompt and reliable arrival. Three post-disaster non-profits were also contacted but responded by saying that they could only make direct monetary donations.
After days of roadblocks, the Peace Corps group decided to deliver the solar lights themselves.
$1,250 was raised in just two days through an Indiegogo crowdfunding website, primarily through the generosity of one group member’s network. The amount was more than enough to fly James Madden, a representative of the group, over to Ecuador from the San Francisco International Airport.
Madden is a resident of Oakland and was a former Peace Corps Volunteer in the same coastal communities where the epicentre hit. His current employer at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco allowed an emergency leave for Madden, providing time for him to travel to Ecuador and help with the emergency relief efforts in addition to delivering the THRIVE solar lights.
Upon arrival in Quito, Madden immediately joined forces with the Ceiba Foundation, the same grassroots NGO he worked with after his Peace Corps service in Ecuador. Now, Madden is a current board member for Ceiba.
The remainder of the money raised was used to rent a vehicle for Madden to help the Ceiba Foundation increase the capacity of their emergency relief supply runs. Madden not only delivered the almost 300 THRIVE solar lights to the families of hard-to-reach communities but also helped deliver food, clothes and toys along with organizing a community meeting to strategize recovery efforts.
It is estimated that upwards of 283 families will benefit from the solar emergency lights for the next two to three years, regardless of when full electricity is restored.
The former professor from Los Medanos Community College spoke of how a normally six-hour drive between the capital of Quito and the coastal communities has turned into a 13-hour drive through mudslides and torn-up roads. Despite the challenges, many Ecuadorian earthquake survivors maintain a positive attitude and are determined to overcome the situation, according to Madden.
A month after the April Ecuador earthquake, tractors pushed debris aside and dust blew all over the once-bustling coastal towns. Over 80 percent of the structures in Pedernales have been destroyed. Four hundred to 600 people are still served meals daily in the post-disaster relief camps scattered along the coast. Electrical power remains intermittent.
After Madden’s return to the San Francisco Bay Area, the Peace Corps Volunteer group began considering another question: “is there more to be done?” The uncle of one group member is head of post-disaster logistics in coastal Ecuador. He reports that there are still many needs for Ecuadorian earthquake survivors’ path to recovery.
– Maria Caluag