Alums travel to Ecuador to support children with disabilities

Occupational therapist Marsha Baker, ’96, part of Erikson’s Fussy Baby Network team, headed some 3,000 miles south this summer to spend a week in the coastal province of Guayas, Ecuador, with Zully JF Alvarado, ’84.

Marsha Baker working with families in Ecuador

Marsha Baker working with families in Ecuador.

The pair wasn’t there to work on their tans. Alvarado, who was born in Ecuador, is founder and director of Causes for Change International. Baker had agreed to join one of the organization’s regular volunteer missions of medical assistance and training in health, education, and economics to underserved children, women, and persons with disabilities.

“The purpose of the trip, for me, was really to talk with parents and staff at the schools for children with disabilities. Both groups had a lot of questions about how to work with their children, many of whom had significant developmental disabilities and had not received early services.”

Few early intervention programs are available in Ecuador, and there is little training for early childhood educators. Together, Baker and Alvarado conducted training sessions at AVINNFA (Volunteer Association of the National Institute for Children and Families), a school and rehabilitation facility in the town of Milagro, and the National Council of Disabilities Rehabilitation Center in Naranjal. They also traveled to locations in the countryside to meet with infants and mothers.

“In one village, we put down palm leaves on the ground, and that’s where parents brought their children as they were waiting to see the dentists. It was fun for me, but a cultural disconnect: Most parents felt that their children were doing fine.”

All in all, Baker spoke with more than 250 parents and professionals during the week. One outcome of these conversations was to give her a better idea about what kind of information and trainings might be helpful.

She and Alvarado are currently discussing delivering trainings via Skype on visual systems that center staff can create for their classrooms and parents can use at home.