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Meal time: The Most Sacred Hour for Lucilla and her Seven Children

“They denied me refuge. I work wherever I can as a housemaid. On Saturdays, from four in the morning, I go to the small shop around the corner and help to shell lima beans, peas and kidney beans – whatever there is – until I finish, which is sometimes at around six in the evening. On those days, I earn just €12.” Lucilla came from Colombia with her seven children, and has lived in a city on the northern border of Ecuador for about a year.

“A woman told me that things were better here, so I came to protect my children from the violence of the armed groups, so that they could grow up in a healthy environment without danger. Back in Colombia, I worked as a housemaid so my kids could go to school. But they saw a lot of violence, and I didn’t want my kids to grow up with such a sad life. Armed people, who don’t respect anything, wanted to take my eldest child. I felt I would do anything for my kids.”
Her two oldest children have searched for work: the eldest is loading bunches of plátanos in the market and the other is helping a mechanic. “It’s already lunch time and he hasn’t returned. I hope they give him a break!”

Sometimes, Lucilla goes out with her children to pick up cardboard and empty bottles and then sells them by weight. This can earn them the equivalent of €7 per day. All her children want to help. “One day, when I woke up, my ten-year old son was gone. I got a little scared, but it turned out that he had left at six in the morning, in the rain, to load merchandise at the fair, along with his brother. Later, he came back with a sack of yuca and a carton of green plantain for the family.”

Each month, Lucilla uses an electronic voucher from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to buy €60 worth of nutritious, diverse food, and €32 worth of fruits and vegetables. WFP’s assistance for her family is possible thanks to contributions from the European Commission’s Department of Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).

In WFP’s nutrition trainings, which those who are selected to receive monthly credit on their electronic vouchers attend, Lucilla has learned about good nutrition for children and how to provide her family with a diverse diet. “You learn to eat vegetables, because vegetables are very important, and that you have to wash the vegetables well. I learned to incorporate chard leaves into diets, which I now give to my children. My kids joke that it is like rabbit food, but they still eat it.”

Because the eldest son works in the market at lunchtime, his ten-year old brother brings him a plate of rice and chicken, his share of the lunch their mother has cooked for the family after shopping with WFP’s electronic voucher. Lucilla prepared it with half a chicken, two tomatoes, two red onions, yuca, potatoes, and a little bit of colour with some achiote powder from their native Colombia. As the landlady has not paid the bill for tap water, Lucilla is forced to use rainwater to cook, which she gathers in a tank in the shared courtyard.

What do meals mean for this family? “In Colombia, we say: Los tres golpes (‘the three blows’): breakfast, lunch, and dinner – which no one forgets. The most sacred hour is mealtime. Even if we are seated on the floor, at seven at night we are together, united here, eating what I cooked that day. First, we always say a prayer to God to thank Him for our food. We also give thanks for the fact that we are all still together, including my eldest son.”
“With the food we receive each month from WFP, we can defend ourselves. It is sacred aid, because you know that with so many children, it is hard to have enough to feed them all, but God put me on the path of this help. The truth is that we have not had to suffer from hunger, thanks to the help of WFP.”
Lucilla has a job interview this afternoon. There is hope, even though there are problems. There is a lot of red tape Lucilla has to navigate with the authorities in order to obtain a ‘dependent’ visa. Additionally, this morning, a message was left with her eldest daughter: the landlady says that Lucilla and her family cannot stay any longer, that they are being evicted from their two room dwelling, for which they have paid over €46 a month. Even though there are many things this family needs, their primary focus at the moment is finding a stable place to live. “I would appreciate having even a wooden hut to stay in. It is really sad to have to keep moving with them, here and there.”


  • © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • Through trainings, participants in WFP’s programmes receive information on a variety of topics from healthy cooking to child nutrition and healthcare.
    Through trainings, participants in WFP’s programmes receive information on a variety of topics from healthy cooking to child nutrition and healthcare.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • To make the trainings interesting, a theatre group of Colombian refugees perform a play focusing on the needs of newborns. The group not only gets the whole class laughing but also help make sure the message sticks about the importance of good nutrition for infants.
    To make the trainings interesting, a theatre group of Colombian refugees perform a play focusing on the needs of newborns. The group not only gets the whole class laughing but also help make sure the message sticks about the importance of good nutrition for infants.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • After the training, Lucilla’s electronic voucher is activated by WFP staff. The training sessions take place in a warehouse where WFP used to stock in-kind food assistance. Now this programme only uses electronic vouchers.
    After the training, Lucilla’s electronic voucher is activated by WFP staff. The training sessions take place in a warehouse where WFP used to stock in-kind food assistance. Now this programme only uses electronic vouchers.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • Lucilla shops for her seven kids. With the voucher that is charged each month, she can buy €60 worth of groceries and €32 for just fruits and vegetables. Because the money from the vouchers is spent in local stores, the local Ecuadorian economy also gets a boost from the programme, helping to reduce any tension between the refugees and host community.
    Lucilla shops for her seven kids. With the voucher that is charged each month, she can buy €60 worth of groceries and €32 for just fruits and vegetables. Because the money from the vouchers is spent in local stores, the local Ecuadorian economy also gets a boost from the programme, helping to reduce any tension between the refugees and host community.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • Through the training sessions, Lucilla has learned how to diversify the diet of her children: “I learned to add chard leaves to our meals. My kids joke that it is like rabbit food, but they still eat it.”
    Through the training sessions, Lucilla has learned how to diversify the diet of her children: “I learned to add chard leaves to our meals. My kids joke that it is like rabbit food, but they still eat it.”
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • Every now and then, Lucilla can earn a bit of extra cash, which is desperately needed to provide for her seven children. Peeling beans earns her only about €12 a day, but she is happy with the little extra for her kids.
    Every now and then, Lucilla can earn a bit of extra cash, which is desperately needed to provide for her seven children. Peeling beans earns her only about €12 a day, but she is happy with the little extra for her kids.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • In the small kitchen-cum-bedroom-cum-living room of her two-room house, Lucilla prepares a meal for her children. She is forced to use rainwater, as the tap was shut off earlier this week.
    In the small kitchen-cum-bedroom-cum-living room of her two-room house, Lucilla prepares a meal for her children. She is forced to use rainwater, as the tap was shut off earlier this week.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • Her daughter is happy to help in the preparation; with seven kids there is always a lot to do around the house.
    Her daughter is happy to help in the preparation; with seven kids there is always a lot to do around the house.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • While their mum is preparing a meal, the little ones run around and play. With a tear in her eye, Lucilla says she is glad to have a safe haven for her kids - in Ecuador.
    While their mum is preparing a meal, the little ones run around and play. With a tear in her eye, Lucilla says she is glad to have a safe haven for her kids - in Ecuador.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • Juan Antonio waits for his mother to finish cooking lunch. When his older brothers are at work, it is his job to bring them their lunch.
    Juan Antonio waits for his mother to finish cooking lunch. When his older brothers are at work, it is his job to bring them their lunch.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • With a little colour (Achiote powder) from back home, Lucilla serves a delicious meal of rice with chicken and yuca. “You know that with so many children, it is hard to have enough to feed them all, but God put me on the path of this help from WFP.”
    With a little colour (Achiote powder) from back home, Lucilla serves a delicious meal of rice with chicken and yuca. “You know that with so many children, it is hard to have enough to feed them all, but God put me on the path of this help from WFP.”
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • Lina Rosa eats her chicken right down to the last bite. Sitting on the ground together with her brother, they are very silent while they eat.
    Lina Rosa eats her chicken right down to the last bite. Sitting on the ground together with her brother, they are very silent while they eat.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • Although they enjoy their healthy meal, the kids are also eager to get back outside and play.
    Although they enjoy their healthy meal, the kids are also eager to get back outside and play.
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
  • Lucilla explains : “The most sacred hour is mealtime. First, we always say a prayer to God to thank Him for our food. We also give thanks for the fact that we are all together, including my eldest son.”
    Lucilla explains : “The most sacred hour is mealtime. First, we always say a prayer to God to thank Him for our food. We also give thanks for the fact that we are all together, including my eldest son.”
    © World Food Programme / Chris Terry, supported by the EU
Our cooperation in Ecuador

Although Ecuador is among the smallest countries in Latin America, it hosts the largest refugee population in the region. Every month, approximately 1,000 Colombian refugees cross the border into safety, escaping the prolonged armed conflict in their home country.

Most Colombian refugees enter the country in the northern border provinces of Carchi (in the Andes mountains) and Sucumbíos (in the Amazon Basin). WFP Ecuador receives funding from the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) to support the newly-arrived refugees. In their first months they receive an electronic voucher, which they can use in the local shops to buy food for their families. In circumstances such as Lucilla’s, the food assistance can be extended from six months to one year.

The shops where the electronic vouchers are used, are, in some cases, stocked by smallholder farmer associations. By buying food from these associations, WFP purchases locally and helps to increase the financial security of smallholder farmers. In these associations, and throughout WFP programming in Ecuador, women’s participation is encouraged.

As well as supporting newly-arrived refugees from Colombia, WFP also assists vulnerable Ecuadorians, such as nursing mothers. They receive training and nutritional support so their children grow to their full potential during their first 1,000 days. Other WFP programmes in Ecuador include school feeding and projects focused on building resilience to climate change.