During my recent visit to Quito I was fortunate enough to meet a truly inspiring individual – Mónica Silva, founder of the Fundación de Muchachos Solidarios and ‘La Cuchara de Chocolate’ café.
The ‘fundación’ is a charitable organisation, established by Quito resident Mónica in 1998. Having worked with children for much of her life, Mónica was particularly moved by the plight of the city’s street children who are unable to attend school regularly (if at all) due to having to work as street vendors or begging. The best-known aspect of the organisation’s work is the provision of a daily, nutritious meal for the children, prepared by Mónica and her dedicated team. This is no mean feat in itself, as we discovered in our early morning visit when lunch preparations were already well under way. Much time and energy is spent ensuring there will be enough freshly-cooked and nutritious food to give the children sufficient fuel to keep them going for the rest of the day.
Gathering the children here is about more than just food however. Mónica aims to provide them with a space where they can find support in various aspects of their daily life and personal development. Many of the children who attend the lunch are vulnerable and come from very precarious living situations so the café provides a safe space and a ‘constant’ for them in what can otherwise be quite a chaotic life.
As well as being genuinely moved by Mónica’s untiring dedication to improving the lives of these children, I was also struck by her entrepreneurial spirit. She is someone who never rests on her laurels, constantly thinking of other ways of raising funds as well as awareness for the foundation. During our visit, other projects being worked on were the preparation of Christmas presents for the children, and the creation of small Christmas chocolate gifts to be sold to raise funds. Not long before this the foundation had organised a mass collection across the city of pencils, pens, exercise books and other school supplies for the children at the café to be able to use.
Another initiative organised by Mónica and her team was encouraging teenagers from local schools and colleges to volunteer to shine shoes of city workers or sell sweets on Quito’s streets. There was a greater purpose to this than simply raising money for the foundation however. For Monica, the experience of being treated with utter indifference was just as important for these more privileged youngsters to experience as the bit of cash they may have raised. It served as a valuable awareness-raising exercise to inspire a next generation of more caring and community-minded youngsters – literally ‘Muchachos Solidarios.’
You can learn more about the organisation on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/fundacionmuchachossolidarios/ or through the Illa Experience Hotel, which supports the foundation. If you’re in Quito be sure you call in to La Cuchara del Chocolate café for a coffee or hot chocolate which will warm the cockles in every sense. It can be found on Almeida 134 y Junín in San Marcos, just a short walk from Illa Experience Hotel.