They may be in paradise at the moment, enjoying their stay in Barbados. But for a group of Ecuadorean students, their thoughts are back home where a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck last Saturday, leaving a trail of destruction. Immediately overcome with worry and anxiety, the 50 student teachers from the Andean country who are studying English at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus (UWI), decided to unite and do what little they could to help those affected back home.
The teachers, who have about two months to go before they finish their studies, are tapping into the generosity of Barbadians. They are hoping to raise money to support the earthquake relief effort and also collect clothing, food and other vital items to send home to the Spanish-speaking South American nation.
The 7.8 magnitude quake struck Ecuador’s Pacific coast, causing widespread devastation to bridges and roadways, houses, hotels and other buildings. Over 400 people have been confirmed dead so far and more than 2,500 injured as rescue officials continue their search and rescue mission.
Henry Guatemal said the Ecuadorean students have decided to embark on a collection drive starting on Wednesday afternoon at the university. It will be followed by a prayer session.
Besides opening a bank account for cash contributions, the students plan to take their collective drive for non-perishable food items, clothing and water to major supermarkets at select locations including Bridgetown, Carlton, Black Rock, Sky Mall and Warrens.
“It is very difficult for us to stay here and receive bad news and feel powerless for not being able to help physically. But it is not the moment to start complaining about what is happening, we have to act,” Guatemal said.
“The point that we are not in the country doesn’t mean we cannot help. We are 50 people like ambassadors who are in this beautiful country.
“At the same time, we are trying to prepare a concert to support that situation. So we need the participation from the society of Barbados and the artistes of Barbados . . .,” Guatemal went on.
“We have to be united. We are friends. It doesn’t matter about the borders or ideology or the language. We are here and we need your help.”
Eduardo Zamora is from Portoviejo, one of the hardest-hit cities and the capital of the Province of Manabí. “There is no hospital available there for people. People don’t have some supplies or food. They don’t have medicine,” he said.
“There are many people still underground trying to survive,” added Zamora, stressing that a lot of people were still missing. “It is a difficult situation for me being so far away from home and trying to be strong to support my family just by heart because I can’t do anything being so far from them.”
Since the tragedy, many students have been able to communicate with families and friends through social media.
Diego Mauricio, from Quito, Ecuador’s capital, said there was a lot of desperation at the moment and that rescue teams were still trying to reach some areas.
Pointing out that most of the students in the group were from Manabí, the most affected province, Mauricio said they were trying to stay strong and do what little they could to help.
Co-coordinator of the English as a Second Language (ESL) programme, Sonia Johnson, said the devastation had taken place at a time when the students were in “the most intense part of their course”.
Pointing out that they were emotional, Johnson said the UWI was doing what it could to help them to cope by offering counselling. She pointed out that a few students had not been able to make contact with their families as yet.
Classes were cancelled yesterday and the students who arrived here about five months ago, came together and planned the outreach programme. They are due to wrap up their studies around mid-June and return home.