Interview with Monsignor Eugenio Arellano Fernández, Chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ecuador and Bishop of Esmeraldas.
The project Ciudad de los Muchachos (the City of the Boys) along with its additional work, the Angel Barbisotti High School, is an initiative that the Catholic Church of Esmeraldas has been driving since 1961 for the benefit of at-risk boys, girls and teenagers.
The high school was formerly located in the area of the Esmeraldas Refinery, which was very dangerous and unsafe for the students. In 2007, OCP Ecuador provided support for this project and built new infrastructure on Isla Piedad, an area known for its high crime rate. The area became an area of opportunities as a result of the presence of this institution.
How did this project begin?
When we began the construction of the Angel Barbisotti High School, most people thought we were crazy for choosing to locate the high school in a high risk area. However, I wanted something for those in need. Together with OCP Ecuador, we have helped thousands of boys.
Why do you think this work was necessary for Esmeraldas?
Many of these boys, had they not been given this chance, would have died due to gang violence or overdosed on drugs —we saved them from that. Both, OCP as well as my colleagues and me were seen as advocates for seemingly hopeless cases.
When these people are treated with respect, they become aware that they deserve respect. The workshops, classrooms and spaces we provided were geared to foster self-respect. .
Why the idea of having workshops?
In addition to instilling self-respect in the boys, OCP saw that an emphasis on manual work was needed. This led to the idea of having workshops aimed at developing practical skills, such as carpentry, mechanics and electricity, and the like.
I am convinced that when a company invests in education, it reaps the benefits of its investment. In this case, an investment was made to educate people for whom education was not an option. They were living in a violent environment both within their homes and on the streets. A person who falls must be given a second chance to get back up.