Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries in South America, but it is also a nation with many problems related to poverty. Almost 40 percent of Ecuador's population of 15.2 million people live below the poverty line, and in some parts of the country, social and economic inequality are common. Families struggle to provide sufficient food for their children, and malnutrition is one of the greatest threats to children's development in Ecuador. Since 1984, ChildFund has worked to promote social equality, protect children's rights and empower families to help their children live happy and healthy lives.
Ecuador's most urgent and widespread problem is malnutrition. In some parts of the country, malnutrition rates exceed 53 percent, and 1.6 million Ecuadoreans live in extreme poverty. Chronic malnutrition does not just affect children's physical development, it can also harm their cognitive development. Language and social skills are often severely affected by malnutrition, and these difficulties impede further social and personal growth, the effects of which can be felt well into adulthood.
Although malnutrition rates stand at around 26 percent nationally, some rural areas with large indigenous populations have malnutrition rates of more than 90 percent, according to the World Food Programme. As a result, anemia is a common problem, especially among children under 5 years old. The causes of Ecuador's food scarcity are complex, but volatility in the country's economy often results in higher food prices, which makes staple crops harder to afford for many families. This scarcity is exacerbated by the fact that Ecuador is particularly prone to natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes that hamper transportation and damage infrastructure. Over the past 10 years, Ecuador has suffered financial losses of more than $5 billion solely due to the effects of natural disasters.
Since beginning work in Ecuador almost 30 years ago, ChildFund has worked to provide families living in poverty-stricken rural areas with the support, resources and training they need to ensure that children have the healthiest start possible. Our interventions and initiatives with local partner organizations have been highly successful, and last year alone, 94 percent of young children who participated in our early childhood development programs met developmental benchmarks for their age group.
Another significant piece of our work in Ecuador is to help the next generation be able to provide for itself. One way is by improving financial literacy. In 2012, more than 5,000 children participated in educational training programs that adhered to the Aflatoun curriculum, which teaches children about saving money and other resources and also the rights they deserve. Children became more engaged with their communities by planting communal gardens, launching recycling initiatives and even establishing "mini-banks" to pool collective resources in association with local schools.
Last year, we helped train 126 teens to become "community communicators." These youths spread the word about local projects to other members of the community with informational literature, which affirms a sense of positive engagement and allows teens to take some ownership of their communities.
Although donations to our monthly giving programs is a great way to help ChildFund continue our work in Ecuador, the most effective way to make a difference in the life of a child is by becoming a child sponsor. For just $28 per month, you can help us ensure an Ecuadorean child has access to the food, health care and education they need to start life right and realize their potential.