“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.”