Bridging the Gaps in Africa. The Americas. Asia. Europe.
Ecuador has the largest refugee population in Latin America (over 137,000 people), with most originating from Colombia and escaping to the border regions between the two countries. The influx is constant, but unfortunately many of the refugees remain unregistered (with either UNHCR or the government), due to both fear on the part of the refugee for his or her security, and a severe lack of resources to cope with the chronic influx of people seeking asylum and refuge. Finding employment is difficult for both registered and unregistered refugees, and many often end up working for very little money in the informal sector. Many refugees (and locals) cannot access even basic services in hosting communities due to their high cost and limited accessibility in isolated areas. Thus it is vital to the sustainability of the refugees living in host communities that they are able to integrate into their new societies, both economically and socially, which means that they must have the capacity and skills required to do so. Self-reliance in these environments is important, as families must be able to support themselves as well as live off aid.
The RET helps protect refugees in Ecuador through providing them with access to education, psychosocial assistance and vocational training, with special attention paid to non-accompanied youth and young mothers. Refugee girls and women are of particular focus in the RETs programmes in Ecuador. Education and the other services provided by the RET are used as a protection tool, that prevent young refugees (and locals) from being tempted by harmful activities such as prostitution, drug-dealing, or recruitment into armed groups. A year in school or vocational training contributes to the individual and social development of the youth and their families. Refugee and local youth can learn to live and study or work together, sharing their experiences and acquiring knowledge of each others’ cultures and ways of living. Older youth who have had vocational training through the RET improve their skills and increase their chances of finding a legitimate and suitable job once they have finished, thus enabling them to provide for themselves and their families during their displacement. Younger youth who attend the formal secondary schooling the RET provides are motivated and engaged to participate in their community life, and to work hard for the sustainability of their futures. Educating youth to fend for themselves, giving them life skills, numeracy and literacy skills, ensures that they can live their lives with dignity and opportunity.
The RET’s programmes in Ecuador have proven that with the correct training and support, levels of discrimination and stigmatisation in schools can be significantly reduced. A culture of peace and tolerance is founded through activities and courses that include both refugee and local youth, ensuring that both benefit from the training and educational support provided. The RET provides assistance in the form of school fee payments, uniforms, shoes and sports clothes, books and other school materials and equipment. Some youth who are in more vulnerable situations than others also receive additional support in the form of transportation to and from school, as well as school meals. In addition to the above, the RET also provides psychological consultations for refugee families in conjunction with UNHCR, with permanent follow-ups and continuous support from RET technical staff. Food security is supplied for families headed by young women, as well as emergency projects for income generation (with provision of skills and materials to ensure that they are self-sustainable and can provide education and security for their children). Along with this, the RET Education in Emergencies courses are provided to illiterate mothers, providing them with numeracy, literacy and non-formal educational programmes. Some are assisted with the development of their own Business Plans which assist them in their quest for sustainable income generation.