Ecuador: Struggling Refugee Family Finds Welcome Breathing Space

Ecuador hosts the largest number of refugees in the western hemisphere. They are mostly Colombians, like Carmen and her family, who are struggling to make even enough money to survive. WFP works with other UN agencies and local governments to assist them.

QUITO -- Carmen, her husband and their three children fled their home in Colombia nine months ago to escape the violence instigated by various armed groups in their country.

The family lives in a poor neighbourhood of a frontier town in Northern Ecuador, where they rent a room and a small kitchen area in a house. In her hometown in Colombia, Carmen had a small sewing shop and her husband owned a bus. But they left all that behind and now the family’s income depends on their ability to sell coconut juice on the streets of their new city. 

Each day, Carmen’s husband buys coconuts and prepares the juice with the help of his eldest son. The boy shows proudly the manual shredder they use for reducing coconut meat to pulp. They usually prepare two buckets of coconut juice a day. One cup of juice sells for US$0.25. 

Food vouchers

With such limited income, life is hard. And some days are even harder. Carmen says that when it rains they often struggle to sell any coconut juice at all. Today her youngest daughter has a fever. Her husband, meanwhile, has an injured arm that needs to be attended to every day.

Carmen and her family “The rations that we get every month from WFP mean that we can breathe a bit,” Carmen says, explaining how the food voucher she gets from WFP enables her to buy fruit, vegetables and fresh meat at the local store. “With this little card, my family can have a fairly healthy diet.”

Today she is preparing a large pot of rice and a rich bean soup which the children look at with interest. When she has a spare moment, she goes out onto the small patio to check on a small bird that she brought home a few days earlier. The bird flew into the side of a bus and fell to the ground near where Carmen was selling juice with her husband. Nursing it back to life is now a family project.

Large refugee community

Carmen and her family are part of a large refugee community in Ecuador, which hosts the largest number of refugees in the western hemisphere. Approximately a thousand asylum seekers cross the border each month, fleeing violence in Colombia. 

UN Women and the UN refugee agency work alongside WFP to assist the refugees. With the support of local governments, WFP provides food assistance both to the refugees and to vulnerable Ecuadorian families in the host communities. Food vouchers have proven to be the most effective way of ensuring the refugees and their hosts get better access to the food and nutrition they need.

As well as keeping hunger at bay, the programme reduces tensions and fosters better integration. It is funded by public and private donors including USAID, Canada, the European Union, Brazil and KFC-Yum.