All parents want a better life for their children; Alfonso and Maria Daquilema are no exception. The parents of five had humble beginnings. Alfonso dropped out of school in Grade 6 because his family couldn’t afford school fees. He began working on a farm when he was just 12, a job he has held for 26 years, and one that keeps him from his children for weeks at time. Alfonso harvests potatoes five hours north of home. Maria has had no formal education, but works tirelessly cooking and cleaning, caring for livestock and tending to her vegetable garden. Even with no formal education herself, Maria insists that her children stay in school.
It’s a bustling household–with a toddler, a 10-year-old and 3 teenagers–but the Daquilema family is proud to share that all four school-aged children are continuing their education. This is no small feat in San Miguel, where the entire population lives on less than $2 a day and, until recently, there was no schooling for Grades 7 through 9. Most children stopped their studies in Grade 6, unless they could afford bus fees to t ravel to another region. It would have been impossible for the Daquilemas to manage this financially.
Thanks to Free The Children, the Daquilema family and all the children in San Miguel can attend middle school. Without Free The Children, the eldest and only son of Alfonso and Maria would have left school after Grade 6, just like his dad, and started working at age 13 to help support the family. Instead, their son Elias will start Grade 9 this fall.
But life has changed most drastically for daughter their Paula, 15, who joined Free The Children’s Girls’ Club several years ago. As a young indigenous woman, Paula belongs to one of the most vulnerable and neglected groups in Ecuadorian society. In her culture, women are seen and not heard. When resources are scarce, women are the first to go without an education, without health care, and even without food. When she first joined the Girls’ Club, Paula was terrified to speak a few words aloud, even to her peers.
Free The Children’s Girls’ Club helped Paula come out of her shell. She’s now bold enough to voice her opinions, and considers herself a leader in her community. Paula hopes to become a doctor, and make her community a better place to live. One day, San Miguel will be better for her children.