(Photo courtesy of IEME)

Digna Macias and her daughter, Nidia Palma, stand in front of their new earthquake and flood-proof home, which was built by Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Ecuatoriana (IEME), an MCC partner, after the April 2016 earthquake struck the Pacific coast of northern Ecuador. (Photo courtesy of Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Ecuatoriana) 

WINNIPEG, Man. – Digna Macias remembers clinging to a door frame in her home in Manta, Manabi Province, Ecuador while the walls fell around her last April when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Pacific coast of Northern Ecuador where she lives.

Luckily neither Macias, nor her daughter, Nidia Palma, who lives with her were injured badly, but 668 died, over 4,800 were injured and 80,000 people were displaced in Ecuador.

“We got hit by bricks that fell on top of us, but thanks to God, it wasn’t too serious. The house was completely demolished. I felt bad because I didn’t have anywhere to live, but thankfully my daughter and I have been able to stay at my son’s house temporarily,” Macias said.

MCC partnered with Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Ecuatoriana (IEME) churches in Manabi province to construct 15 earthquake-resistant homes for their most socio-economically vulnerable church members. Macias is one of the recipients of this assistance.

MCC sent Dave Shenk, a former Mennonite Mission Network worker in Ecuador, as a disaster response coordinator, to work alongside IEME to identify the greatest needs and plan MCC’s response. Shenk said he was shocked when he arrived in Manabi province a week after the earthquake hit.

Digna Macias, left, surveys the damage to her home, which was among the many destroyed when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Pacific coast of northern Ecuador. She is joined by Jose Tumbaco, right, the pastor of Iglesia La Paz in Manta, Manabi Province. Her home was rebuilt by Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Ecuatoriana (IEME), an MCC partner.MCC Photo by David Shenk“It was like walking through a war zone in those really affected areas. Buildings were collapsed on top of each other. Police officers and soldiers were patrolling the streets, and other than that it was deserted. The earthquake itself was a horrific experience and very traumatic for people. There were also over 2,000 aftershocks registered. Some were over 6 on the Richter scale,” Shenk said.

Together with Shenk, the IEME partners decided the most socio-economically vulnerable would have the most difficult time recovering from the earthquake and would benefit the most from MCC’s assistance.

“People who don’t have support networks, a savings account, and aren’t able to stabilize themselves because they maybe don’t have a job to fall back on continue to be in really precarious situations. A lot of people did lose their jobs,” Shenk said.

“We tried to implement better building techniques so that homes are stronger and families would feel safer there. We especially tried to help families who were in lower income situations to begin with. Families who wouldn’t have the means to rebuild their houses on their own,” he added.

Macias and her daughter fit the criteria.

The year before the earthquake, Macias’ home was damaged in two floods, Shenk said. Bearing this in mind, a local civil engineer who attends an IEME congregation planned to build her house up to prevent future damage. 

“Thanks to God, I have a new house. I feel very happy and thankful to all of you,” Macias said.

To date, IEME has fully completed five homes and is finishing work on three others of the 15 it has committed to rebuilding. They plan to begin work on the remaining homes in November.  Some only require repairs, but many were demolished and need to be fully rebuilt. 

In addition, MCC facilitated two psychosocial support workers to visit the zone right after the earthquake to provide support to those traumatized by the event.

MCC has responded to nearly 30 other disasters of varying degrees in the 2015–2016 fiscal year. In each case, MCC has existing programming and was able to respond quickly with emergency assistance.

To donate and help MCC’s long-term recovery projects and initiatives which help communities prepare for future disasters, click here.

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