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Happiness and hope after the earthquake

The Intelligence Factories are a space to build skills and attitudes to cope with the effects of the earthquake.

When the Intelligence Factory at El Pasaje communal house opens its door, the 6- to 12-year old group of girls and boys rushes in to secure their places.

Fábricas de Inteligencia, en Ecuador
Intelligence Factories working in Ecuador

Excited and eager to play, they cheerfully greet Ninoska Bravo, the mediator with whom they meet every day to start rebuilding their lives and dreams.  They all love her, not only because of her friendly nature, but also because thanks to her and the Intelligence Factory methodology, they can smile again and believe that it is possible to move forward after an earthquake.

However, as Ninoska confesses, this recovery has not been easy, particularly for girls and boys.  They are the ones most in need of assistance in the aftermath of the 16th April event.  On that day, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador, leaving behind a trail of 661 deaths, over 28,600 homeless people, and 250,000 directly affected girls and boys.

Against this sobering background and to ensure that girls and boys would be able to obtain psychosocial support and recover as quickly as possible, in the days following the earthquake Plan International set up its Intelligence Factories: child-friendly spaces.   Currently in Manabí, the most affected province, 23 Factories are operating in 8 cantons (sub-districts)[OM1] , and will continue to operate until the girls and boys lose their fear and recover their happiness.

Ninoska explains that Intelligence Factories are more than recreational activities.  “It is a space to build skills and impart knowledge and attitudes to cope with the effects of the earthquake and enable them to resume their normal lives."  According to this mediator, “two of the areas that we mainly target are strengthening self-esteem and building life projects which girls, boys and adolescents can engage with and focus their efforts to achieve."

Although it has been three months, the interest shown by the children and adolescents participating in the Intelligence Factories has not diminished.

While Ninoska explains what Intelligence Factories are, four-year-old Isaías's mother, Dayana, approaches her and thanks her for what they taught her son on how to react to an earthquake.  “Many aftershocks are still occurring and the last ones have been very strong.  I woke up and my son was the one that helped me stay calm", she said moved.

RETURN TO HAPPINESS

Although it has been three months since the disaster, the interest shown by the children and adolescents, as well as their parents, in participating in the Intelligence Factories has not diminished.  The main reason is that these are spaces where they feel safe and protected while participating in recreational and sports activities, allowing them to build resilience and overcome the trauma brought on by the event.

According to Elizabeth Chacón, Plan International's Office Manager in Manabí, “at the beginning we received girls, boys and adolescents, looking silently at the floor with slumped shoulders.  Visiting the Factories today, it is evident that they are proactive, involved and happy, with life projects."

Ninoska agrees that the change in them has been significant as "they tell us that they are no longer fearful and react calmly to the aftershocks, using their emergency backpacks."  She recalls that when they opened the Factories, very few of them wanted to talk about what had happened as they were still scared.  They were also finding it hard to attend, “but once they took ownership of the space, giving it the name of "Droplets of Love" and felt safe and protected, more and more girls and boys would come to receive support."

A NEW OPPORTUNITY

After the group of girls and boys finishes, the adolescents arrive, those that also need support, seeking not only to leave behind the experience of the disaster but also to continue growing in the future.  As Ninoska explains, the 13- to 18-year-old boys and girls work on issues such as self-esteem, emotional recovery, hygiene, life projects, self-protection, and entrepreneurship.  “Very few are not interested in the activities we carry out as we use methodologies designed to engage people of all ages," she noted.

When asked about the case that impressed her the most, she mentions Jazmín, a 16-year-old adolescent.  “Intelligence Factories change lives and she is an example that it works,” states Ninoska convinced.  When she is called, Jazmín responds immediately and approaches her with a wide smile.  She says that she is the youngest of three siblings and lives with her grandparents because her father died when she was very young and her mother decided to live with another partner and start a new home.

Although she is not attending school now, she says that "studying is my dream".  However, life forced her to drop out due to the economic situation of her grandparents, and also to the opposition of her grandmother.  "My grandmother beliefs that women should not study because they have to perform chores and stay at home," she says sadly.

After hearing her story, Ninoska and other mediators went over to talk with Jazmín's grandmother and were able to achieve what no one else had done: to change her criteria and give her granddaughter the opportunity to study.  To make her dream come true, Plan International will grant her one of the scholarships available so that no child who has been a victim of the earthquake is kept from school because of lack of resources.

“We talked with Jazmín's grandmother and explained her granddaughter's values and rights, after which she acquiesced to allowing her to return to school," indicated Ninoska, who added that “I'm proud of everything we are achieving with the Intelligence Factories, and just with Jazmín returning to school has made all these efforts worthwhile."