In March, Trinity shut down its campus due to COVID-19. Trinity students were forced to return home. For Alyssa Avalos ’21, home is over 2,400 miles away in Quito, Ecuador.
As COVID-19 began to spread, Ecuador was hit particularly hard. Ecuador is a small country divided into 24 provinces in South America. There is a large amount of poverty in Ecuador, and the healthcare system is ill-equipped to handle a pandemic. With an economy largely made up of street vendors, a nationwide shutdown has been difficult for many of Ecuador’s citizens.
Ten percent of international students at Trinity are from Ecuador, making them the third largest international presence on campus. Realizing the intensity of the situation in Ecuador, Katsuo Nishikawa, director of the Center for International Engagement (CIE), sent an email to Trinity’s Ecuadorian students to check in and make sure they were alright back home.
When Alyssa, who attends Trinity on a Dean’s scholarship, and her sister Stephanie ’11 saw this email, they felt truly cared for by Trinity and its faculty. "It was good to feel like the University was keeping tabs on where we were all at and where we all come from," Alyssa shares. The sisters were then inspired to try to organize a project with other Ecuadorian students from Trinity to provide COVID-19 relief for their country.
Soon, the Avalos sisters’ project grew much larger than they originally expected. "During one of our Zoom meetings, somebody asked, 'How can we help if we're not in Ecuador?’” Alyssa recalls. “And that opened the doors for us in thinking who can join and that [they don’t] necessarily have to be in Ecuador." Other Ecuadorian students, such as Isabel Chiriboga ’22, who is attending Trinity on an International Student Scholarship, brought more ideas to the table, and Trinity students outside of Ecuador volunteered to help.
The Ecuador service projects have been refined over the past few months to feature two initiatives led by the Avalos sisters and Isabel, respectively: The Mask Task, which aims to provide base recyclers in Ecuador with personal protective equipment, and Mission Ecuador X Trinity, which aims to provide supplies for the Baca Ortiz Shelter in Quito, Ecuador.
The Mask Task
COVID-19 has been disproportionately affecting low-income groups such as Ecuador’s base recyclers. The Mask Task aims to help these base recyclers, who are independent waste miners who collect recyclable materials at waste sites. Of this group, 70 percent are women and the sole provider for their families. They have no choice but to work throughout the pandemic, and, with little access to PPE, they are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
The Mask Task’s goal is to provide PPE kits for these workers. They are doing so through a one-to-one business model－for each mask that they sell, they donate a PPE kit, which includes quality masks, face shields, and more. Alyssa, a biology major, and Stephanie, an international studies and political science double major, chose this business model in hopes to help base recyclers beyond a one-time donation. "We wanted to find a solution that was sustainable,” Stephanie explains. “We wanted to make sure that whatever we were able to help begin could find its own way to be self-sustaining in time and continue to provide help for these families."
At the time of publication, The Mask Task has launched its crowdfunding page to help cover the initial costs of PPE production and raised more than $1,500. You can donate to The Mask Task and follow them on Instagram @themasktaskecuador to keep updated as their project progresses.
Mission Ecuador X Trinity
In Ecuador, many families with ill children travel from rural areas to major cities such as Quito to seek treatment. Baca Ortiz Children’s Hospital is one of these places, but many of the families being treated there are quite poor. Luckily, there is a home that provides these families with a place to stay. The shelter can house up to 50 people at a time, but it provides meals and supplies to many others who are receiving treatment at Baca Ortiz Children’s Hospital. Mission Ecuador X Trinity hopes to provide PPE and food kits to the shelter so that they can continue to support families who traveled to Quito to receive medical treatment for their children.
Isabel Chiriboga ’22, who is majoring in international studies and international economics and minoring in political science, wanted to help the Baca Ortiz Shelter after volunteering at the shelter during a summer in high school. "It was an eye-opening experience for me. I had never been to a hospital that has such little resources,” Isabel recalls. “It was a horrible situation. And that was 2017. And now, during the pandemic, I can't imagine what it must be like to be there.”
At the time of publication, Mission Ecuador X Trinity has raised more than $4,300 and recently delivered 550 protection kits and 150 food kits to the shelter as well as launched a website for the Baca Ortiz Shelter. You can donate to Mission Ecuador X Trinity and follow them @tu_missionecuador to keep updated with their project.
Working with the Trinity community to make a difference
The initiative these students have shown has inspired Elseke Membreño-Zenteno, a program associate at the CIE who has helped them bring these projects to life. “It warms my heart to see that Trinity students, struggling with their own issues at this uncertain time, have joined Alyssa [and Stephanie] and Isabel to help those in need in another country,” she shares. “It shows that the mission of the CIE to internationalize our campus, to create global citizens, is at work. I am inspired by our Trinity students who create these projects in order to help make a better world for all.”
While Alyssa, Stephanie, and Isabel have organized and led these initiatives, their success in large part due to the aid they received from the Trinity community. Gina Pham, the CIE program coordinator, played an instrumental role in bringing these initiatives to fruition and helping the students achieve their goals. Both initiatives are working together with teams of Trinity volunteers. Volunteers have been divided into marketing, sales, operations, and communications teams. These teams spent the summer working to bring these initiatives to fruition and make a difference in Ecuador’s community while dealing with the effects of the pandemic themselves.
Furthermore, The Mask Task and Mission Trinity X Ecuador have been sharing resources with one another to maximize their potential impact. "We are trying to help the most amount of people here,” Isabel says. “It's not about which project is the best."
Working on this project together has reinforced the strength and extensiveness of the Trinity network. “To see different students from Trinity who aren't necessarily directly linked to Ecuador come to the meetings and offer to help is very gratifying and [made me] realize how important the Trinity network is," Stephanie shares. “I think I've always felt proud of being a Trinity student, but it's nice to realize this isn't a community you leave once you graduate."