Our initial project, initiated in the fall of 2009, emerged as a result of a community-wide survey that uncovered a health crisis. For example, 56% of families experienced a severe illness in the past year including dengue fever and malaria. In turn, our efforts focused on helping community members create a local healthcare system that is responsive, flexible, and meets the needs of the families of Las Mercedes.
In collaboration with the local government and the Ministry of Health, community members were trained as local health promoters to design and deliver a disease prevention program. After carrying out a community-based health survey in the summer of 2011, the health promoters devised a disease prevention plan that includes door-to-door malaria testing.
Over time, it became quite clear to everyone involved that a local health center was necessary in order to achieve the goal that was set forth – the elimination of infectious diseases. An international effort was initiated to build a local health center in Las Mercedes. In 2010, Dr. Rasch along with his family and friends formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit – The Las Mercedes Project – in order to help the community raise funds for the health center in the U.S.. In 2011, the Las Mercedes Project raised over $30,000 dollars. The community is also doing their part by contributing the labor and raising money locally. In 2011, the Mayor of Huaquillas, Manuel Aguirre Piedra, donated a bull to the community that was raffled off in the community raising over $1,200. In 2013, the health center will be inaugurated, staffed, and equipped.
Currently, we are assisting the community in addressing a number of other important needs. A dire need identified by the community members is the installation of a drainage system. The lack of a drainage system has resulted in the accumulation of water during the rainy season and is undoubtedly connected to the prominence of malaria and dengue fever, which are infectious diseases transmitted only by mosquitoes. In order to address this problem, our nonprofit spearheaded the effort to solicit assistance from Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a large U.S.-based NGO that works in civil engineer projects in countries outside of the U.S. Accordingly, the community proposal was accepted by EWB in 2012 and the team will arrive in Las Mercedes in the summer of 2013 to begin preparations for the installation of a local drainage and sewage system in Las Mercedes.
Our nonprofit is also assisting community members to build a cooperative in order to create jobs and a stable economy in Las Mercedes while at the same time addressing community needs. The primary goal behind the cooperative is not wealth creation but to focus on the needs of the families of Las Mercedes. The general idea is that the market should serve the community not vice versa. Currently, the community is developing plans for creating a locally run garden where fresh fruits and vegetables will be sold regularly at a market located in the center of the community.
As a nonprofit, the mission of the Las Mercedes Project is to assist communities such as Las Mercedes in building institutions that are flexible, responsive, and community-led along with reflecting the needs, interests, and diverse perspectives of community members. In this process, we believe our role is not to provide charity but to collaborate with community members to facilitate sustainable community development. In the coming years, our nonprofit will continue to support the efforts of Las Mercedes community members by providing training, education, and resources but in the manner that they deem necessary and appropriate. In other words, the efforts and direction of our NGO are determined by community members allowing us to be a pivotal element in helping them to implement their vision of development.
Tara Barrett, World Teach, Ecuador
Jung Min Choi, Ph.D., San Diego State University, CA
Edward Duarte, Engineer, Machala, Ecuador
Sarah Edwards, Outreach 360, Nicaragua & Dominican Republic
Diana Molina-Ospina, Los Angeles, CA
Nancy Piedra, President, Las Mercedes, Ecuador
Dr. Enrique Pilco, Guayaquil Ecuador
Dana Rasch, Ph.D., Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
Marcia Robley-Patton, Florida
Geovanny Ramos, Lawyer, Huaquillas, Ecuador
Oswaldo Romero Robles, MIES, Machala, Ecuador
Edith Torres, Health Promoter, Las Mercedes, Ecuador
Dr. Olga Tripul, Guayaquil, Ecuador
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