Posted on Mar 22, 2019

Paul and Cynthia Dusseault are beginning their journey home from a six-week stay in Ecuador. The trip was very much a volunteer vacation. The club’s International Committee provided $5000 CAD for them to use in a partner project with the Tomebamba Rotary Club in the city of Cuenca. The project involved equipping Casa Maria Amor, a shelter for abused women and their children, with a variety of much-needed items—clothing, running shoes, kitchen supplies & equipment, etc. The women and children flee their homes with only the clothing on their backs, and the shelter is their refuge sometimes for many months. Government support for Casa Maria Amor was recently cut back, so the shelter is struggling to meet the needs of the women and children.

While helping the Tomebamba Rotary Club seek out (shop for and order) the many items that were needed by Casa Maria Amor, Paul and Cynthia embarked on a side volunteer project of their own. This project turned out to be much bigger than they had imagined. They spent almost every morning—for four weeks—at Hogar Miguel León, a home for low or no-income seniors (many with no families) as well as for orphans.

A week was spent turning up the soil in a huge overgrown-with-weeds garden plot, preparing the soil for a vegetable garden. Paul and Cynthia arrived early every morning to first help the staff with the seniors—to get them ready for the day and to help them with breakfast. (Many of the seniors are in wheelchairs, so they need help with showering and dressing. Many have great difficulty feeding themselves or simply cannot feed themselves.) Once breakfast was over, then Paul and Cynthia headed into the garden for three to four hours, adzes and shovels in hand. The seniors watched curiously and offered the occasional bit of advice.

The next two/three weeks were spent fixing the seniors’ wheelchairs, which were in very bad shape—flats tires, loose brakes, missing footrests and armrests, missing bolts on hand rims, etc. Paul and Cynthia got to know where to buy tubes, tires, tools, etc.—Ecuador is not a place with one-stop-shops. They were also entrusted with a key to a secret room that contained about two dozen old wheelchairs, from which they were able to salvage parts. It was an exercise is creativity. Some of the seniors cried when they were given their refurbished wheelchairs. Thanks to the generous donation of money from the Operation Esperanza ward nurses whom Paul and Cynthia had come to know through volunteering on that medical/dental mission for 6 years, and who had entrusted them with some money to do something charitable with, there was money to buy supplies, tools, and parts to fix as many wheelchairs as possible plus to buy three brand new wheelchairs.

Towards the end of the wheelchair project, the nuns who run the hogar asked Paul and Cynthia if they could help with a fairly big donation—of an oxygen concentrator needed by a sweet 103-year-old man who has to be on oxygen 24/7. Compiling the remaining money from the nurses, plus a donation by a Canadian friend (Thanks, Dennis!) who had come to visit, plus some personal money that Paul and Cynthia contributed, plus a top-up by the Riverview Rotary club, Paul and Cynthia had the funds to go oxygen concentrator shopping. There was much happiness at the hogar the day they purchased it, squeezed it into a taxi, and delivered it.

The day Paul and Cynthia went to the hogar to say good-bye to the nuns, staff, and seniors, a two-hour-long surprise party was held to thank them—complete with speeches, cake (a real treat for the seniors), hand-made gifts and cards, and a few tears.

Back to Casa Maria Amor, just before leaving Cuenca, Paul and Cynthia and a delegation of Tomebamba Rotarians went to deliver all the items that had been purchased for the shelter. More speeches. Another little party. But the gratitude goes both ways. As Paul and Cynthia point out, giving back makes you a better person, so everyone benefits.