This Friday night, the cold, wintry climes of Wisconsin will be connected to the warm rainforests of Ecuador through the power of music and a shared commitment to helping out people in need. Four bands -- The Eugene Smiles Project, Baghdad Scuba Review, Elf Lettuce and Good Time Camper -- will take the stage as part of a fundraising effort for La Hesperia, a conservation and education program in the Western Lowlands of Ecuador.
Cate Adams, the event's coordinator, first volunteered at the La Hesperia biological reserve in fall 2005, initially staying for six months and returning twice. She describes the place as "2,400 acres of pure beauty," a cloud forest located in the lowlands of the Andes. The volunteers and staff of the reserve started the La Hesperia Education Program in March 2006 as a way to help the residents of the nearby town of La Esperie. They identified a series of issues that needed to be addressed: early childhood education, child care and adult education.
With the government of Ecuador's ability to fund state projects hampered by crippling international debt, rural communities like La Esperie have been left to fend for themselves. Recognizing this, the program has set out to raise funds independently through benefit concerts like the one tomorrow night at the High Noon.
All of the proceeds will go directly to the projects organized by La Hesperia: building a local preschool nursery so that adults have time to attend classes, which will be held in the adult education center that is also part of the project; making improvements to the elementary school; and providing scholarships for those children wishing to continue their education through high school and university.
While Ecuador enjoys a relatively high rate of elementary school enrollment and completion compared to other Latin American countries, the rate of rural illiteracy, especially among adult women, is still alarmingly high (10.8% for women, 6.6% for men). Rural families also tend to have on average of one child more than their counterparts in the city, and older children are often pulled out of school to care for their siblings while the parents work. By providing child care in addition to the adult education center, the hope is to free up the time and resources necessary to give parents the chance to learn and improve their skills.
According to local survey information from La Esperie in 2006:
- 50% of women can only read and write at a basic level.
- 95% of children complete primary school education.
- 40% of local children go to high school (of those, the split between girls and boys is about even); 25% complete high school.
- 100% of children under 12 in the local area work after school and on weekends with their families, doing unpaid jobs.
- 20% of under-12s work part-time for a third party outside of the family.
"The combination of low incomes (approximately USD150/month is common) and large families creates pressure for children to become economically active, or to take on child-care roles within the home in order to enable parents to work."
Already some of the group's efforts have met with success. Through various fundraising programs, they've raised over $9,000 toward the purchase of the site and the buildings. Donated clothing sales have allowed them to repair and repaint the children's playground. An additional teacher has been added and the toilet facilities refurbished at the elementary school. They've also created a Tree Nursery and a biweekly class on conservation at the government-run school, crucial tools and knowledge for people living in such a delicate and important ecosystem.
A great deal of work remains to be done, though, and Adams and her fellow volunteers are working hard to involve people from the community and around the world in the effort to raise money and awareness. More information about volunteering is available here.
In addition to four great bands, the benefit concert at the High Noon Saloon will include drawings for door prizes to be held throughout the evening, with one door prize entry included with admission. The show starts at 9 p.m., and the cover is $7 at the door, all of which will go to La Hesperia.