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IU Southeast community responds to Ecuadorian quake

June 8, 2016

When 14 IU Southeast students and faculty boarded a recent American Airlines flight to Quito for the annual Summer in Ecuador program, their luggage contained some unusual gifts: water purifiers and chlorine makers.

magdalena herdoiza-estevez

IU Southeast education professor Magdalena Herdoiza-Estevez, right, discusses a point with volunteer and friend Stevon Edwards during a preparatory meeting at WaterStep in Louisville, Ky. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IU SOUTHEAST

The devices are destined for quake-stricken regions of the South American nation, where they will be put to use by local nongovernmental organizations and government relief agencies to bring potable water and purification technology to people struggling to survive in the aftermath of the April 16 disaster.

The delivery is just the latest tangible evidence of IU Southeast’s unfolding commitment to help the shattered nation, and is a testament to the efforts of School of Education faculty member Magdalena Herdoiza-Estevez to galvanize relief efforts within the IU system and the greater Louisville community.

A special relationship

In the evening hours of April 16, 2016, an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale struck the northern coastal region of Ecuador, leaving 660 dead and nearly 28,000 injured. Cities, towns and villages were devastated and over 26,000 people rendered homeless. Entire communities were effectively cut off from the outside world as the region was rattled by countless aftershocks, two of which measured 6.8 in intensity.

Herdoiza-Estevez and her husband Milton learned of the quake while driving home from Indianapolis where they had just delivered a presentation on Ecuador to the Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Association.

A native of Ecuador, Herdoiza-Estevez is the driving force behind the Summer in Ecuador program, which for the past 15 years has brought IU Southeast students and faculty to her homeland, where they experience a teaching and service learning immersion. Out of this program, a special bond has been forged between IU Southeast and the communities served. One former colleague, Amy Freyn, now lives in Quito. And it was she who gave Herdoiza-Estevez a sense of the unfolding tragedy over the phone.

While it was easily and quickly understood that the Ecuadorian government, the International Red Cross, UNICEF and other agencies were mounting comprehensive relief efforts, the women felt called upon to help.

“We both felt that something had to be done, and that IU Southeast should be part of it,” Herdoiza-Estevez said.

In the following days, she and School of Education colleagues Dean Doyin Coker-Kolo and Dr. Gloria Murray, herself a three-time participant in the summer program, began to “knock on doors,” as Herdoiza-Estevez put it.

Wherever they went, they found support driven by an appreciation for the relationship between the campus and the stricken communities.

That appreciation found expression in a letter of support from IU President Michael A. McRobbie to Rene Ramirez, Secretary for Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation in Ecuador. President McRobbie had visited Ecuador just weeks before the earthquake, and drew attention to the bond between the country and IU Southeast, as well as to student-led aid efforts on the Bloomington campus.

water purifier training

Kurtis Daniels, WaterStep director of field operations, demonstrates the use of water purifier to IU Southeast students and faculty who transported the units to Ecuador. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IU SOUTHEAST

It was also expressed in a fundraising appeal from IU Southeast Chancellor Ray Wallace, to members of the campus community.

“I am so proud of our campus community who have answered the call to help with the relief effort in Ecuador,” Wallace said. “Our faculty and staff are truly committed to ensuring our students graduate with a committed global outlook.”

Reaching beyond borders

Over her many years of teaching and service at IU Southeast, Herdoiza-Estevez has built a network of colleagues and collaborators in the region, and this network has been critical in responding to the earthquake.

She is the initiator of ESL/ELL programs in southern Indiana public schools, as well as the architect of the degree programs that train education students to staff them. She is also the founder of the New Neighbors Program, which has not only brought IU Southeast into the consciousness of the region’s Latino population, but has instilled an awareness of that population’s needs in the mind of the campus. Finally, she sits on the board of Sister Cities Louisville, and it so happens that Quito, Ecuador, is a sister city to Louisville, and that Herdoiza-Estevez is a co-chair of that committee.

Within days of the earthquake, Mark Hogg of WaterStep, the Louisville-based nonprofit specializing in providing safe water to disaster-stricken communities, had stepped up as the leading convenor for organizations and individuals seeking to help.

A nucleus was formed involving Sister Cities Louisville, IU Southeast and WaterStep. Sister Cities Louisville and IU Southeast focused on fundraising, while WaterStep activated its own network of donors in foundations and other sources, and supplied its water purification and chlorinators for shipment.

It was decided that students of the Summer in Ecuador program would carry the units with them, to reduce the cost and time involved in shipping.

The units delivered by students to relief workers will be used in refugee camps in Muisne, Chamanga, Portete in the communities of Bunche, and in health centers of the Eloy Alfaro, Limones and Muisne counties, as well as in the Manabi communities of Canoa, Jama, San Vicente and Pedernales, as well as in the health clinics of the area.

Once the units have been delivered by the IU Southeast team, specialists from WaterStep will travel to Ecuador and begin training relief agencies in the installation and use of the equipment.

The project aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success, a vibrant community of scholars and global engagement.

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