On June 16th, AVSI Ecuador received a very special visit from Michael Fitzpatrick, the US ambassador to Ecuador. Ambassador Fitzpatrick visited a multifamily housing unit, where AVSI has intervened with structural adjustments to guarantee a dignified living situation for the seven Venezuelan families who live there.
The activities in multifamily housing units are part of the larger “Integrados” project, funded by the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). “Integrados” seeks to incorporate Venezuelans into Ecuadorian society through dignified shelter, access to social and legal services, and opportunities to generate income.
Ambassador Fitzpatrick spent several minutes speaking with Mrs. Maria Ines Calahorrando, the building’s owner, and her daughter Ms. Jacqueline Ortiz, saying, “Thank you for welcoming everyone and allowing them to live in the community. Thank you for opening physical spaces and opening your heart and showing the Ecuadorian kindness of the Andes.”
After meeting with the landlords, AVSI staff have led ambassador Fitzpatrick on a tour through the different housing units, showing him “before” pictures to see the structural improvements made. Common needs in these spaces include new bathrooms, safer electrical wiring, improved kitchen spaces, and secure locks for front doors.
The ambassador was very interested in hearing from the Venezuelan families about their experience of living in multifamily housing. He spent a while speaking to each family about their house and their journey. For their part, the families were excited to welcome the Ambassador to their homes. They made him empanadas and hallacas – a traditional Venezuelan Christmas dish.
Ambassador Fitzpatrick was sensitive to the situation of the migrant and refugee population and talked to everyone with a lot of patience. He encouraged the families to continue onward, saying, “I know this is not the life you chose, but it’s the life you’re fighting. I applaud you for choosing to fight for your future.”
Multifamily housing is a strong example of the need for social integration, as Ecuadorian families own most housing units. Misconceptions and prejudices about Venezuelan migrants are widespread among Ecuadorians, and some landlords are unwilling to rent to Venezuelans. This is a massive barrier for Venezuelans to access dignified housing, financial services, and income-generating opportunities.
Through “Integrados,” AVSI staff meet individually with Ecuadorian landlords to address their concerns and keep an open line of communication with them throughout the process to make sure there are no problems. AVSI has built up a network of trusted landlords willing to open their apartments and houses to Venezuelan families.
AVSI is grateful for the support we continue to receive from the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). For both our team in Ecuador and for the Venezuelan families, the ambassador’s visit was a reminder of the importance of the mission and a push to keep working hard together.
Photo credits to the US Embassy in Ecuador.