By Wendy Jane Carrel
One of the challenges of modern society is that the traditional sense of filial duty seems to be disappearing. Adult children are abandoning elderly parents more than they used to. According to reports, it is happening on every continent and it is happening with greater frequency as the population of elders continues to grow. It is also happening because in most families, women must now work, and there is no one left at home to take care of parents. The majority of elders do not have enough financial resources to get by on their own or to hire assistance through their senior years.
Note: There are also older adults displaced by natural disasters or war who are part of this scenario, including elder victims of the April 2016 earthquake in Esmeraldas.
How does the Ecuadorian government currently handle its crisis of frail older adults in need of protection? It accompanies abandoned elders to government housing or to non-profit homes usually run by nuns, or missions of brothers, around the country, in Ambato, Cotacachi, Cuenca, Esmeraldas, Ibarra, Manta, Quito, Zamora, Zaruma, and other locations.
Sister Maria Agata Rosa with a resident in Ambato.
In Ambato, at the Hogar de Ancianos Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, sweet Italian nuns of the Sisters of Dorothy offer a most impressive atmosphere for not feeling abandoned. Sor (Sister) Maria Agata Rosa leads a community of men and women on three floors with love and grace. Each senior has a nickname. Many work with Sor Rosa and other nuns in the organic gardens, the kitchen, and laundry room. The residence has its own water source and back-up generator. As you can see from the photo below, the residents are mostly smiling indigenous people.
Caregiver Marleny with rescued senior Luis Ortiz in Ibarra.
Another photo shows rescued senior Luis Ortiz taken at a clean and efficient government care home in Ibarra, the largest city in the far north, just south of the Colombian border. This precious being told me, unprompted, how grateful he is to have loving care and a roof over his head for his remaining years. It also helps to have an adoring caregiver.
The photos below were taken before the April 2016 earthquake at the Hogar de Ancianos Esposos Bishara, Tachina, outside Esmeraldas city in northwestern Ecuador. The non-profit home is run by a dedicated, in fact extraordinary, order of Italian Catholic brothers from the Cottolengo senior care mission based in Turin, Italy. Most of their charges are Afro-Ecuadorians.
Brother Maurizio wrote that the upstairs residence of the brothers, and, the cement cistern were destroyed by the earthquake. Fortunately, the senior residences, all on one floor (two for the women, one for the men, and one which houses the infirmary) are safe, and new blue plastic cisterns, reinforced for future earthquakes, are in place.
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Brother Maurizio receiving the same lady for the third time in Esmeraldas!
Ms. High Maintenance, an abandoned senior with socio-psychiatric challenges who disappears and returns, is kindly welcomed back after police find her on the streets
Abandoned seniors of Esmeraldas on beautiful campus created for them by the Cottolengo Catholic order of Turin, Italy
In Cuenca, a city of more than 500,000 (including thousands of retired expats), the nuns of Hogar Cristo Rey and Hogar Miguel Leon accept destitute seniors for their care. They are mixed with a population of paying seniors. Hogar Cristo Rey has over 100 men and women as residents. Hogar Miguel Leon, which was only for women, now has a few male residents.
One of the extraordinary caregivers at Hogar Miguel Leon is Sor Patricia Rodriguez, who just celebrated her 87th birthday. Read more about her here.
State-of-the-art home, Fundacion Santa Ana, outside Cuenca
In an unusually grand gesture the Vasquez family of Cuenca, with a little help from MIES government social services, houses up to 88 abandoned seniors in its relatively new state-of-the-art building, Fundacion Santa Ana, in the suburb of Challulabamba. In my research throughout the country, Santa Ana is the only privately built home for abandoned seniors. It is modeled after a senior care property in Murcia, Spain.
What is Ecuador doing to combat this growing future challenge? What are the possible solutions?
The Ecuadorian government MAY require adult children to pay for the care of the parents they abandon.
MIES, the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (government social services), has been working on a proposal to present to parliament. If created and passed, legislation would require the government to charge a fine of $300 U.S. per month to children of older adults found on the streets with neither resources nor care. ($300/month is the average income nationwide, and about what it costs to take care of an elder in a government home).
If you live in Quito and wish to volunteer, there is a day center offering activities, medical assistance, and psycho-social support for abandoned seniors. http://www.volunteergalapagosecuador.org/volunteer-elderly-care-quito-ecuador/
Every country does what it can to alleviate the situation of abandoned and destitute elders. Ecuador seems to offer a higher quality of life in its current rescue missions than many other countries. In many ways it is protecting the dignity of dependent poor elders.
Wendy Jane Carrel, M.A., is a bi-lingual North American. She has spent
over four years traveling province to province in Ecuador, Mexico, and Chile researching senior care options. In her home state of California she served as a Senior Center Director for a city, Head of Information and Outreach for a County Office on Aging, Administrator in Assisted Living (including Alzheimer’s care), and a non-profit communications and grants officer. She offers guidance for Americans and Canadians who wish assistance negotiating health systems, senior care options, end-of-life care, and disposition of remains in Ecuador and Mexico. See www.WellnessShepherd.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wendy has been based in Cuenca while researching health care options in Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico for the last two and a half years. She has lived or worked on four continents in over 40 countries.