Laura is currently on her annual visit to our producer groups in Ecuador and Peru. On 16th April a devastating earthquake hit Ecuador as she was travelling between groups. Below is her story:
Saturday 16th April
After a productive two days working with the artisans in Sosote, in the province of Manabi, Vilma (our colleague and co-coordinator in Ecuador) and I finished the workshop with a discussion about Fashion Revolution. We explained about the Rana Plaza disaster and the terrible conditions that the people were forced to work in. Ronald, Darwin and Fernando all agreed to have their photo taken with the ‘I made your jewellery’ sign, keen to spread the word of the importance of fair pay and good working conditions.
We took the photos (L to R: Fernando, Ronald and Darwin), packed up the new samples and made our way to catch a bus into Portoviejo – the plan was to get an overnight bus from there to Esmeraldas in the North. The artisans waited with us to ensure we got on the right bus. It was starting to get dark, so Fernando suggested borrowing a car to give us a lift, we gratefully accepted and Carlos came along for the ride.
It was whilst in the office buying the bus tickets that the earthquake started – I have experienced several tremors before whilst working in Peru and been taught to get outside as quickly as possible. I was standing by the door so ran out into the middle of the street, however it was quickly clear that this was more than just a tremor… Empty parked cars were rolling up and down the street with their alarms going off in a ghostly manner. I was struggling to stand up, it was like being on a boat in a storm. I turned around and realised that the others were clinging to the post of the porch of the building and shouting for me to join them… I managed to get back to them and we clung to the pillar. It was terrifying – the three story building next door collapsed completely, showering the road where I had been standing seconds before with rubble. The air was thick with dust, people were screaming, children crying out, there were flashes as the power lines came down and the city was plunged into darkness and chaos. After what seemed like ages the earthquake subsided, although it was hard to tell when it was over as we were all shaking so much.
It was quickly decided that we weren’t going to be getting a bus that night and it would be better to return to Sosote. Fernando and Carlos were worried about their families and desperate to get back home. We jumped in the car and attempted to leave the city but every corner we turned, we were met with massive piles of rumble and power lines draped across the road. So many buildings were completely destroyed, it seemed to be an indiscriminate mix of old and new building; posh hotels and banks just as likely to have collapsed as ramshackle constructions. It looked as though it had been bombed. We kept trying to phone the families back in Sosote but all communication was cut off. We finally got back to Sosote and thankfully everyone there was safe.
I think the most scary thing during the quake itself was there was nothing we could do – adrenaline kicks in and with it the fight or flight instinct… Neither of which are any good – the only thing we could do was try to remain standing and wait until it was over, praying that the building we were sheltering in didn’t collapse.
Tuesday 19th April
Sosote is still without electricity and running water and there is no news as to when they can expect to be reconnected. Drinking water and food supplies are running low and so far no help has reached them. Fortunately no one in the small town was seriously hurt, but out of the five artisans we work with, three have lost their homes.
Vilma and I managed to get back to Quito on Monday night. We are in regular contact with the artisans and working out the best way we can help. They are desperate to start work again, and have asked for an electricity generator. We are working out how to send one, together with food parcels and provisions.
Fair Trade is about long term relationships. We have been working with the artisans in Sosote for over five years now; we have developed a great commercially successful collection and several bespoke ranges. We are completely committed to helping them get back on their feet and continuing our relationship based on fair trading principles. The point of fair trade is that it is trade not aid… However due to the exceptional and unprecedented scale of the current situation, we have set up a Just Giving page. Immediate needs are to pay for an electricity generator, food, water and clothing for those who lost everything. We are looking to raise £1000.
Medium term we are looking to raise money to help with the costs of rebuilding the homes that were destroyed. At the moment we don’t have figure for this but will keep you updated.
Longer term the best way you can support them is to continue to buy their wonderful products. Which brings us back to Fashion Revolution… Less than two hours after these photos of Ronald, Fernando and Darwin were taken, their lives had been turned upside down. Both Fernando and Darwin lost their homes. They are determined to carry on working and we are more determined than ever to support them in whatever way we can.
Who made your clothes, your jewellery, everything you consume… It matters, ask the question. The way you shop – it counts.
Laura Cave Founder Just Trade (UK) Ltd.