Ecuador earthquake

Let’s Not Turn Away When We Can Help-Ecuador Earthquake 2016: by Jen Oliak

A major 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador on Saturday, April 16. The Ecuador earthquake damage was severe. Towns close to the epicenter were almost completely leveled. Almost 700 people were killed and 27,000 injured.

“Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.” ~ Voltaire.

Upon hearing about it, I tuned in to CNN and Fox hoping to see Anderson Cooper en route to Ecuador. There was some coverage of the Ecuador earthquake disaster the first day after the earthquake, but not much. The media felt that Trump, and a few days later, Prince, were more compelling news topics than the worst natural disaster to strike Ecuador since 1949.

Rewind 8 months

I traveled to Ecuador with my family this past summer and visited Quito, Guayaquil, San Cristobal and the Galápagos Islands. These areas, along with many others in Ecuador, were declared a state of emergency after the earthquake.

In Quito, we visited volcanoes and the equator. We then traveled through the Galápagos Islands on a boat for 5 days.

On the Galápagos portion of the trip, we spent time with many Naturalists, most of whom are local residents of, or grew up in Guayaquil and the Galapagos area. We ate with them, went on hikes and explorations with them, and slept on the same boat. These people were kind. They were modest. They were proud of their country.


Roberto giving talk about evolution in the Galapagos

One naturalist in particular, Roberto Carrillo, made a strong impression on me and my family. It is interesting how sometimes we meet people where the light around them shines so bright. There was a quiet strength, intelligence, and integrity about Roberto. His career is in educating people about the evolution of life in and around the Galapagos islands. I was impressed each day with the way he taught the tourists. I have never seen my kids so engaged in any form of learning.

2015-08-14 12.12.59

Picture taken with my iPhone at the airport with Roberto

At the end of our Galapagos trip, after realizing we lost our camera, we ran into Roberto at the airport. He was on his way to Quito and leaving to Europe on vacation the next day. We were surprised when, although he was in a rush, he asked us questions to figure out where we left our camera. He said he knew most of the people in town and would make some calls.

When we exchanged emails, we had no expectations from him. To hear the next day that he found our camera and would get it back to us when he returned was unbelievable! And then to receive a package in the mail a few weeks later, with our professional camera inside, in perfect condition, holding our 700+ pictures of our once in a lifetime trip was so wonderful! We were extremely touched by his kindness.

8 months later

When we learned about the Ecuador earthquake, I emailed Roberto to see if he was ok. He responded that he and his family were safe, but he was distraught by the devastation to his people. He was planning to buy and gather supplies to deliver to the affected areas.








The displaced, sleeping in a church with only the clothes on their backs.

Hearing, seeing, and reading about this earthquake was frightening. The same thing could happen to us at any moment. I imagined people trapped in the rubble and others searching for their loved ones who disappeared. I imagined the survivors with no water or food, having lost their homes and their towns.

Ecuador is a poor country. They do not have the resources for this type of catastrophe. I felt I needed to help. As my 10 year old son, Jake, said, “It might be easy to ignore because they have a different culture of life than us, but it’s not fair they got everything taken away. We need to help them.”

On Tuesday morning, April 19, I started a GoFundMe Fundraising campaign to help raise money for Roberto to buy items for people in the most affected towns. By mid morning on Tuesday, I heard the news that Prince was found dead in an elevator at his compound. The country went crazy. Prince was all over the news for days. My Facebook feed was blowing up with posts about the sadness of his death. People were crying. Reminiscing. Playing their Prince songs.

While there was little news coverage the day after the Ecuador earthquake, now there was absolutely nothing. 150,000 children in Ecuador were affected, almost 700 people dead and it would cost $3 billion to re-build Ecuador. The corrupt government was confiscating aid and unfairly rationing unless there was a direct source to deliver. But the news showed nothing. I had to deliberately search the internet each day to find updates on the earthquake. There was so little coverage, but I finally found one video from Greta Van Susteren that gave me hope that the rest of the media would soon follow.

The Prince frenzy ended at the end of the week, but the spotlight returned to Politics. I was so angry! My heart was heavy that these people had no voice. There was so little coverage on this disaster and therefore not much help being offered. But I had a personal connection with Ecuador that others did not.

I ranted multiple times a day on Facebook about how the Ecuador earthquake victims were being neglected. I begged for donations so Roberto could deliver food and water. It gave me new perspective from a helper’s point of view. When you are giving and so few are joining in, it is disheartening. But how many times was I guilty of the same reaction in other world catastrophes and news events? It was a wake up call to myself that I need to be more empathetic. We all do.

Thanks to my friends and family (and with our donation included), in less than two weeks, I was able to raise $5,040 to send Roberto. Roberto secured two 4.5 ton trucks and two large vehicles. With the transport along with the help of 10 family members and friends, he delivered food, water, medicine, blankets, flashlights, baby formula, mattresses and tents to help 480 people displaced by the Ecuador earthquake in the towns of Portoviejo and Bahia (two of the worst impacted areas).


27 Mattresses (For 2nd trip to distribute aid) from donations


2nd trip to distribute aid from donations (100 blankets, 70 kits of food (1 per fam of 4), 600 gallons water, 4 large tents)



Waking up to this was really touching. I wrote to him, “This brings tears to my eyes, Roberto! I believe in karma, and we were meant to cross paths again. I am happy to be able to pay you back for your graciousness to my family in this way. I love how you lead in life by example. It has been a gift to see all the work you are doing to get aid to your people. Thank you for this beautiful picture and birthday wish. I will hold it in my heart.”
Life gets busy and we all have our own stuff going on. But this experience reminded me that when we can, we should help. It’s that simple.

Flavor Your Life with an Ounce of Salt.  A lifestyle blog by Jen Oliak.