June 5, 2020


As part of AVSI’s series, “Behind the Mask”, meet an AVSI Ecuador staff member working on the UNHCR-funded Activados project: “My main motivation to come to work is knowing that many do not have food, have lost their jobs.” 

Equipped with a mask, protective clothing, and a great desire to help, Ernesto Luque, 48 years old, hugs his loved ones early in the morning and heads to work. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ecuador, Ernesto has been delivering food rations and basic protection and personal hygiene kits to Venezuelan refugee families. Streets are quiet and almost empty, but anxiety and uncertainty fill the air and leave a strong impression on anyone passing through the towns.

"Continuing to work during this pandemic is not easy, especially because everything is new. My motivation comes from a desire to help the others instilled in me by my parents. We are all taking the necessary measures to be safe, so when I come back home, I have the satisfaction of a job well done."

Ernesto works for AVSI Ecuador and, since August 2019, has been part of the team implementing UNHCR-funded Activados project . The project’s goal is to foster local integration, peaceful coexistence, and protect Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Manta and Portoviejo.  AVSI Ecuador will also use market research to improve access to formal work for Venezuelan refugees and the local Ecuadorian community.

If before the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees and Ecuadorians living in these neighborhoods were struggling to survive, now the situation is worse. If lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are challenging to follow for the average person, it is worse for Venezuelan refugees, since they earn a living working informally on the streets: performing, selling newspapers and baked goods or other food items.

"My main motivation to come to work is knowing that many of them do not have food, have lost their jobs, not only the Venezuelans but also the local community and people coming from other countries," explains Ernesto. "Human beings are a fundamental part of the world, that's why I'm here and why I will keep working as long as I possibly can, following all measures and different protocols in place during this emergency."

During the pandemic, people in Ecuador are not allowed to be on the street, but some continue to do so in their neighborhoods, where they trade goods with other Venezuelans, which is one of the ways they are able to bring daily meals to their homes. Still, many people do not have food and other essential items. Public and private organizations, foundations, and other entities have been working together to deliver food, masks, and personal hygiene kits to those who need it most. In particular, AVSI Ecuador is supporting Activados beneficiaries, while public institutions will help local Ecuadorians.

"We are thankful to AVSI for their help in distributing these items. God multiply you."

So far, AVSI Ecuador has already delivered 120 food kits, 368 health protection kits, and 250 hygiene kits.

"Sometimes, I feel powerless because I want to help more families, but I enjoy my work, and I am looking forward to delivering new meals," says Ernesto.

While distributing kits, AVSI Ecuador, in coordination with the Networks for the Protection of Rights in Manta and Portoviejo, is also working to identify the people and families who are most in need of health, psychological, educational, and/or legal advice. AVSI is trying to help refugees who are at risk of being evicted because, with no money, they cannot pay their rent anymore. With UNHCR funding, AVSI Ecuador is also buying and delivering 960 food kits to the most vulnerable in the community.