Responding to Colombian Refugees in Ecuador

Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting the temporary expansion of relief services provided by the Episcopal Diocese of Central Ecuador, to meet the basic material needs of Colombian refugees in Quito. The diocese is working to cover a gap in services usually provided by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), which has suspended its operations during a period of restructuring. Blankets, sleeping mats and personal care kits will be distributed to an estimated 100 families during the coming month.

“The diocese currently helps coordinate a relief program for refugees,” writes Patricia Morck, Coordinator of Refugee Ministries for the Episcopal Diocese of Central Ecuador, “but in the past it has not helped with personal care items, blankets [or] sleeping mats because UNHCR took care of this help.” Morck went on to explain that families were approaching the diocese on a daily basis for help.

Despite the country being situated on the equator, blankets are a necessity because Quito is nearly two miles above sea level, and temperatures can drop drastically at night. Personal care kits will include essential hygiene items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and shampoo.

There are currently an estimated 40,000 Colombian refugees in Ecuador who have fled the violence of the country’s decades-long civil war. Many refugees arrive in Ecuador with few possessions and scant resources, so local and international agencies step in to provide basic items and services.

“We are grateful for the ongoing work of the Church in Ecuador in assisting Colombian refugees, and glad to help them expand their ministry in this time of need,” said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Vice President for Programs. “We are also committed to our partners in Colombia, who are working to strengthen communities there both socially and economically.”

The Diocese of Colombia, Episcopal Relief & Development’s partner in the country, runs a micro-finance program for women in the southwestern city of Cali, which it is preparing to expand in 2011. Providing micro-loans to women gives them opportunities for income generation, which improves their ability to provide for their families and empowers them as decision-makers in their communities.

“The programs we are supporting through our partner in Colombia make it more possible for people to stay and thrive in their home communities,” said Matthew St. John, Program Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development. “Economic opportunities and social stability are major motivators for migration, so by improving conditions at the grassroots level, our local partners are strengthening their communities and keeping them together.”

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Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of The Episcopal Church and an independent 501(c)(3) organization. The agency takes its mandate from Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Together with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners, Episcopal Relief & Development rebuilds after disasters and empowers people by offering lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.