Noshy Rodriguez and Rigoberto Chauvin are the founders of a wonderful NGO in Ecuador (South America) supporting vulnerable children and youth since 1977.
This is their story.
Where did you both grow up? How did you meet?
We both grew up in Ecuador. In my teenage years I was an active member of a group in Guayaquil (Ecuador) committed to helping the less fortunate. At the same time Rigo was part of a similar group in Loja (Ecuador). Rigo and I got to know each other through these activities. I was 17, Rigo was 25. We had so much in common that after two weeks of getting to know each other we became inseparable. We got married two years later. We have two adult sons, both with socially-focused professions. And we have two wonderful grandchildren who fill us with energy.
When and why did you decide to commit your lives to helping vulnerable children?
It all started with a group of university students and teachers in Loja, who started to work together to do research on the local socio political situation in Loja in the early 1970s. After publishing two reports, a group of us felt that we needed to go beyond the mere studies and take action. We decided to form an action group, which we called CISOL (which then stood for Centre of Social Investigations Loja, and now stands for Centre of Latin American Social Initiatives). We were a group of students with different academic backgrounds, including engineering, medicine, education, economics and arts; but we all had one common interest: the solidarity with those who had less. We met in the evenings and prepared ourselves studying Sociology, Anthropology and Statistics. When it came to deciding the focus of our work, one of our group members, who was a former “lustrador” (shoe shine boy; a child shining shoes in the street to earn money), suggested we should concentrate on the phenomenon of child labor. At that time there was no literature about the phenomenon in South America, therefore, we decided to focus first on getting to know the situation of the children firsthand. We surveyed around 500 lustradores in the streets of Loja. Our living room became CISOL’s office for around a decade. The situation we uncovered was so critical that we felt we had to intervene in the world of child labor in Loja and try to transform it.
Since 1977, child labor and solidarity have been the motors of the projects of CISOL. Gradually, group members started to leave the organization and turned their attention to their studies, families and careers. Rigo and I decided to continue the work, and so did others who stayed with CISOL for a longer period before taking a different path. And here we are, four decades later, in charge of programs and projects of formal and non-formal education ranging from a school for vulnerable children and youth, support for studies and study material, and even projects involving robotics and informatics in urban and rural areas, bringing technology closer to people that would otherwise grow up without these fundamental tools for the future.
What gives you the strength to keep going?
During all these years we have seen and supported the construction of stories of human change. There are many: the girl who worked repairing footwear and today is a university teacher in Brazil; the boy who shone shoes on a bridge in Loja and today he is a well-known artist who makes a living from his art; the orphan girl who travelled to New York to represent the working youth and today cares for her home and children; the boy who directed a newspaper by and for children and now works as a court judge; the teen activist who now is a doctor doing further studies in cardiology; the boy who sold sweets in the streets and today is a lawyer and an army officer; the girl who was selling food in the market and today is a school director. There are also sad stories, lives that escaped our support efforts as if they were water slipping through our fingers… But we will never stop repeating it: a single life saved is already enough to make this effort worthwhile. And each day we are confronted with examples of strength, courage, positivity and determination, which encourage us to continue. CISOL has been our life project. We feel fortunate because it has been a project that has allowed us to learn as well as to touch and be touched by thousands of lives that we have seen flourish.
What are your plans and dreams for the future?
Over the years we have seen our various initiatives evolve. When we were young, these changes were a source of stress, but with time, we realized that without them we would not have been able to develop new projects. In Ecuador we live uncertain times, that may challenge the specific ways in which we offer support to the people in need. Nevertheless, we are confident that we will continue to help. The way we do things may change, but we know that as long as we live, we will continue reaching out to those in need – at the right time and perhaps in new ways.
Is there anything special you would like to tell our readers?
Almost 50 years later, a phrase that was born in France one spring, remains valid. We would like to invite everyone who can, to embrace this phrase and share the dream for the future: ‘Let us be realistic, let us demand the impossible!’
A big thank you to Noshy and Rigoberto for sharing their inspiring life stories with us!
© 2016 Noshy Rodriguez – translated into English by inspiringlifestories.com.