The Nitty Gritty // Ecuador Pt. 3

DISCLAIMER: Since I want all my readers to glean some level of enjoyment from my blog, the following post is primarily dedicated to the engineer types out there who would read my blog if it included more of the nitty gritty design detail and less personal story. This isn’t to say that the rest of humanity will not enjoy this post, but it is to forewarn you of the intent of this post.  As such, I will give you some of the pretty picture stuff first (from the architects of course) and will have other pertinent pictures (with captions) spaced periodically throughout so that you can skim through to get the idea of what I am discussing.  You have my permission to check out whenever you reach your maximum capacity for consuming detail.  If there are any hyper-engineer types out there, I also want you to be aware that the level of detail that you may be anticipating after a disclaimer like this will likely exceed my capacity to write, so I welcome any follow-up questions that you have and can likely get you a spreadsheet or two to help quench the desire for additional data.  The final design should be complete in December and I can let you take a look at that as well.

Below is a picture of the master plan that was drafted by our architect intern (Jihea Kim) while we were in Ecuador and also a picture of the master plan model that we built as a surprise for the ministry at the end of our trip.  The architects in our group were very gracious to let a civil engineer touch the model, so I was able to get my hands stuck together with super glue making some of the buildings you see there.  The architects eventually took over and made it look good though!

Master Plan Sketch

Master Plan Sketch

Master Plan Model

Master Plan Model

Our time with the ministry brought up questions that they were not anticipating and therefore could not answer immediately.  We also repeatedly requested to get written copies of any applicable building regulations (especially regarding the medical clinic), which we were unable to obtain while in-country.  Developing countries are notorious for not providing written regulations, either because they just don’t have any enforcement of standards OR EVEN WORSE because they want to be able to arbitrarily enforce standards as they see fit in order to exercise control.  Unfortunately, I am afraid the latter is the case in Ecuador as the government appears to be moving more and more towards a dictatorship.

For example, due to increasing regulations on medical clinics (again which we could not get in writing), Dr. Ayo has been forced to stop providing surgical procedures in his clinic. They now require him to have multiple doctors on staff and prohibit the collaboration between public and private medical professionals.  These regulations have rendered the poor of Quininde helpless if they need surgical service.  In fact, even the government run hospital in Quininde is not currently providing surgical procedures either (though they do plan to offer that service in the future).  For a person in Quininde to have a necessary surgical procedure performed at this point in time they are forced to travel 4 hours to Quito (that alone is too expensive for most people in Quininde, not to mention the cost of the procedure).  On top of that, you can only be treated at the government run hospitals if you have insurance (even in Quito).  Insurance is actually a misnomer because the government runs that as well and they decide what care you can receive.  But, in order to even have insurance you have to have a full-time job.  Employers are required to pay for government insurance for all full-time employees.  This makes hiring full-time employees too expensive for most employers, so they typically only hire part-time.  This disincentive to hire leads to less sustaining jobs for the people to acquire and less people with access to healthcare.  According to information provided by the local hospital, they are only able to treat approximately 10-20% of the people in and around Quininde.  This makes me thankful for ministries like CMSL that are actively making an effort to help these people, but at the same time it also concerns me for the future well being of the people in Ecuador and the parallel path our own country seems to be taking in some respects with the new healthcare laws and increasing regulation in general.

Government Hospital in Quininde (actually an incredibly nice facility for the few that have access to it)

Government Hospital in Quininde (actually an incredibly nice facility for the few that have access to it)

These are sad truths of the current political climate of Ecuador, but knowing this helps you understand some of the challenges we now face with designing a medical clinic.

Since returning home, the ministry has had more opportunity to think about the vision for this property, come up with answers to some of the questions that initially caught them off guard and they have also located SEVERAL (somewhat conflicting) regulatory resources that were not initially known or made available to us. None of these resources are official Ecuadorian standards, but appear to be what they are currently using to pick and choose the regulations that they are enforcing.  With our design we are forced to take a very conservative approach, assuming that they are adopting the most stringent regulations from each resource.  This has led to some modifications to the overall master plan and building layouts from our first drafts as you may be able to indicate below (but that is bound to happen with almost any design regardless of these things).  Still the major elements of the master plan and the ministry program have thankfully remained consistent.

Revised Rendered Master Plan

Revised Rendered Master Plan

Walking through the master plan:

Starting at the front of the property we have a multi-purpose public access building that will include storefronts, the ministry headquarters office, the medical clinic, and some second-story apartments for ministry teams to stay in.  Ministry teams will include outside specialist doctors and medical professionals that will assist in the operation of the medical clinic as well as teams that will be working with the community children and teams that will be assisting with some of the construction efforts.  They have not fully determined the uses that will be employed in the storefront areas, but they would like to have a pharmacy in one unit and are anticipating using at least one of the units for micro-industry training purposes.  They would like the uses in the store fronts to support the ministry operations and provide Christ-centered functions that are beneficial to the community.

The public access buildings also serve to block off the remainder of the property and enable increasingly private access as you go into the site.  Immediately behind this public area is a home for the caretaker of the property who will maintain site security while also keeping up with regular maintenance of the buildings and infrastructure that are put into place.  Beyond that is a large pavilion and a series of small pavilions that will provide areas for Dr. Yeny to provide preventative care training and host teams/events/retreats.  The large pavilion has a kitchen and bathroom block attached.  Past the pavilion is another set of apartments to house more ministry teams and a large field for sports and other activities.   Moving towards the back of the property there is an area that will be sectioned off to allow for a private access area for the future addition of an abused children’s shelter and housing for a full-time missionary family.

The ministry is currently working on completing a wall around the property to secure the site, and will start on the Phase 1 buildings and infrastructure after the wall is complete.  There is a residential subdivision and an unfinished Catholic Church on the North side of the property, a main road along the West side and vacant land covered in palm trees along the other two sides.

Portion of the wall being constructed around the site and the unfinished catholic church that was built right on the property line (so much for property line setbacks)

Portion of the northern wall and the unfinished catholic church that was built right on the property line (so much for property line setbacks)

The site has relatively reliable electric service compared to most developing countries due to efforts by the government to enhance the nations power grid.  The government currently subsidizes propane for cooking, but will soon stop that in order to swap everyone to electric energy.  As a side note, the government also subsidizes gasoline for autos, so the price per gallon was incredibly low.  However, low gas prices are not much consolation for all the control the government is enacting.

Electrical safety concerns we would like to avoid

Electrical safety concerns we would like to avoid

Gas prices I would love to see again if it didn't come at a high cost of government regulation (yes, that is USD per gallon)

Gas prices I would love to see again if it didn’t come at a high cost of government regulation (yes, that is USD per gallon)

There is a public water supply on site that provides water about 6 hrs a day.  The ministry plans to supplement with a water well that they will install on site.  We tested water from a neighboring property from both the municipal supply and a hand dug well.  Both sources had pretty significant contamination.  We will be recommending disinfection for the water that the ministry will be using on site.

Bacteriological sample of a neighboring well (the spots are bad)

Bacteriological sample of a neighboring well (the spots are bad)

There are not any sewer mains near the property; however, the government does have plans to extend sewer to this property and the neighboring subdivision in the future.  We will be designing onsite wastewater disposal systems (i.e. – septic tanks and leach fields) because even when sewer is extended to the property, it will not be taking the wastewater to a treatment facility.  Wastewater from areas that currently have sewer collection is discharged directly to the river that runs through the city.  I guess as the old adage goes, the solution to pollution is dilution!  Because of this, we are recommending that the ministry be good neighbors and properly dispose of their wastewater onsite.  Speaking of being good neighbors, they currently have some residential neighbors who are allowing their sewer to run across the ground onto the ministry’s property.  We are also going to design a drain system that will protect the ministry property from future damages caused by these illicit discharges.

The river running through the Quininde (the black rocks along the river banks are areas where sewer is discharging)

The river running through Quininde (the black rocks along the river bank in the center of the picture just under the railing is one of the areas where sewer is discharging directly to the river)

Structurally and architecturally we are recommending local building materials and construction practices and are designing the buildings to withstand earthquakes.  Most buildings in the city are reinforced block masonry or concrete with steel frame truss roofing systems.  We would like to see more quality control during construction (e.g. – making sure steel reinforcement is centered in the concrete and not showing through the bottom surface of the ceiling/floor).  One of the ways we are getting around this particular issue of improper steel placement is utilizing a concrete flooring system that is fairly new to Quininde which uses a corrugated steel plate on the bottom that interlocks to the concrete that is poured on top of it.  This also creates cleaner construction and final product that the ministry really liked.  We are also providing ventilated roofing designs (which have been installed in some buildings in Quininde) that will allow these building to be much cooler during the year round HOT & HUMID climate that they experience (made me think of AL summers, only without AC).  The medical clinic will however be equipped with AC units in the exam rooms.

As with all eMi designs, we are not designing to American standards.  Generally speaking, an American design would not be practical in most developing countries and could not be built.  The last thing we want to do is provide them a design that is impractical to build or maintain.  Our goal is to take what they are currently doing in terms of construction materials and methods and bring them up a notch in a developmental sense that will give them a more sustainable and safer design.

This project might be more similar to American standards than some of eMi’s projects would because it is in a slightly more developed area that has more ready access to a wider array of material resources and construction methods, but there is still a pretty wide gap in what we typically see in America and what is practical and possible in Quininde.  They also have some enforcement of building regulations (as I have mentioned), though not near in the sense that we think of in America where we have codes enforcement inspections.  Their inspections do not go near to that level of detail, and are not focused on ensuring safe or accessible construction practices.

We are currently in the process of getting the drawings together and a design report written with the hope that it will be completed and delivered to the ministry in December.  After the ministry has begun work on the first phase, we may even be asked to bring another team in to provide a more detailed design for future phases of the project.

That is all the details I can manage to put into words at this time.  Thank you to those that pressed on to the end.  And for those that skimmed to the bottom, here is another picture to make your scrolling more meaningful!

Presenting the preliminary design to the CMSL Board (what you can't see is that I was battling a migraine at the time of the presentation)

Presenting the preliminary design to the CMSL Board (what you can’t see is that I was battling a migraine at the time of the presentation)


Out of the Darkness… // Ecuador Pt. 2

God has a way of putting us in places and situations to reveal a glimpse of His glory, seemingly when we least expect it.  This happened to our team on the evening after our first full day of site investigation and exploration in Quininde, Ecuador.  We were all pretty worn out and hungry from a busy day and it was getting close to dinner time, but in an effort to be efficient with our time in-country (or so we thought), we spontaneously decided to go visit a medical clinic in the middle of the town that is operated by another local doctor, Dr. Ayo (more on him in at the end of this post).  We thought this would be a quick trip into town simply to see some of the things we needed to incorporate into the design of the Corporacion Mision San Lucas (CMSL) medical clinic and then we could check that off the “to-do” list and we would be back in no-time for dinner.  Little did any of us know what God had in store for us that evening…

After touring Dr. Ayo’s medical clinic, we were all set to head back to the place we were staying for dinner (as expected) when Dr. Yeny and Arlene (the ministry leaders) came up with the idea to go eat at one of CMSL’s ministry projects (where our dinner was actually being prepared).  This would be much more efficient because they would not have to bring the food back to where we were staying.  Plus, it just so happened that it was only a few blocks away from Dr. Ayo’s clinic, so we could walk there and get to our dinner sooner.  Being a group of logical thinking engineers and architects we did not even need to break out any decision matrix spreadsheets to figure out that this plan made the most sense!  So…off we went.

Dr. Ayo's clinic on the left

Dr. Ayo’s clinic on the left

As we started walking down the road towards an area of town known as Malecon where the ministry project is located, we started noticing that it was getting darker and darker as we ventured further away from the lights of the main street where the clinic was located.  The surrounding environment was fairly “typical” of what I have seen in other partially urbanized areas in the developing world, but to give you a little better idea if you have never been somewhere like this: it was somewhat similar to walking down a dimly lit, unmaintained urban street or alley in America…only there was sewer running in the open gutter along the edge of the streets, buildings that appeared to be unfinished or abandoned were actually inhabited, and the smell was similar to what you would experience among a commune of hippies on the 3rd day of a series of Widespread Panic shows (curious to see how many of my readers will resonate with that last analogy).  It was the kind of place that your mother would warn you to stay away from at night IN AMERICA and your own good common sense would lead you away from under most circumstances, as well, without some sort of serious protective escort.   But here we were being led by a female Ecuadorian doctor who was at best 4’-10” tall with high heels on (Dr. Yeny) and a female Canadian missionary who hardly had much size advantage on her (Arlene) and as far as I know neither of them were concealing a weapon (other than the Holy Spirit)!

It is amazing how you can read or be told something and that can be somewhat moving, but seeing it firsthand brings a whole new life to it.  We made a turn into Malecon (a riverside slum mostly inhabited by African Ecuadorians) and the best word I can use to describe it is “darkness”.   Not just a physical darkness, but there was a sense of spiritual darkness as well.  Again, this area is one of the poorest areas in Quininde and has some of the highest concentrations of drug use, prostitution, sexual abuse and gang violence in the city.  You could have someone murdered in this area for as little as $20!  Arlene had told us all this, but it didn’t really set in as reality until we ended up there…at night…as obviously out of place as a group of mostly white people would be walking through the ghetto of Detroit…only we were in Ecuador!  At this point I am thinking “we are lost”…“we need to turn around”… “at least I can run faster than some of the other people on my team”…“but, where would I run”… “never make decisions on an empty stomach without the assistance of a spreadsheet” … etc.

Our view as we turned into Malecon

Our view as we turned into Malecon

To my surprise, we continued walking down the street.  After walking a block or two, it seemed that the walls of darkness were closing in on us…


…the walls COMPLETELY fell down and LIGHT came through!  What started as one child running out from her home shouting with joy as she saw Yeny and Arlene pass by became another, and another, and another, until we were completely surrounded by a large group of children that were all coming out to hug these incredible ladies (and us as well just because of our association with them)!  I could literally see the darkness lift off of the street as these children began running out to us and I couldn’t help but think of Jesus in this instance.  I have read in scripture of children running to Jesus, but (in this moment) I saw it with my own eyes as the affect of these two ladies who had obviously been Jesus to this community was unmistakable!

Dr. Yeny embracing children while walking (notice the height difference)

Dr. Yeny embracing children while walking down the street (notice the height difference)

another pic of the children in Malecon

Walk through Malecon

Some of the children on the street in Malecon

Some of the children on the street in Malecon

After we arrived at the CMSL ministry center, another piece of the story we had been told (about how their involvement began in this area) came alive.   They knew God was calling them to start a ministry center in this area and had been praying for God to make it possible.  They found a piece of property for sale for $15,000. It was the last piece of vacant property in the area and just so happened to be the largest piece of property around but was incredibly overgrown.  It had been abandoned by the owner because he kept getting robbed as he was building a home on the property.  CMSL offered $11,000 and the owner  reluctantly agreed.  Part of the sale transaction included having the property cleared of all the overgrowth and appraised.  After CMSL sent teams in to help clear and clean up the property, it was appraised at over $50,000 because of the size of the property and also because of an existing 2 story concrete building that the ministry did not initially know was on the property due to the amount of overgrowth!  The owner now realizing his property was significantly more valuable changed his mind about the sale.  A few months later a man offered the owner $32,000 to buy the property with plans to turn it into a prostitution house.  Hearing this, Dr. Yeny met with the owner, told him their plans for using the property for ministry and pleaded with him not to make the sale to this other man.  The owner less than politely told her that he would do as he pleased with his property.  Dr. Yeny and her team felt very defeated at this point and even felt like they enabled this man to find the property for a prostitution house because they cleared the property and cleaned it up for him.  But they knew God’s call was real and they had been praying for salvation to come to this area for some time now, so they continued to pray for God to intervene in this situation.  A few weeks later the owner called up Dr. Yeny and said that he didn’t have peace with selling to this man and decided he would sell the property to CMSL for the originally agreed upon $11,000!

The property after being partially cleared. The overgrowth was so tall initially that they couldn't see these buildings!

The property after being partially cleared.
The overgrowth was so tall initially that they couldn’t see these buildings!

CMSL Ministry Center at Malecon

Our team at the CMSL Ministry Center at Malecon

Now, they have a fully functioning mission project at this location that is nothing short of a miracle of God.  Lives are being rescued and transformed! CMSL has encouraged the community to take ownership over this ministry center and because of that investment, they have not had a single instance of robbery or violence take place on the property since they purchased it!  The CMSL ministry projects are aptly named Creciendo Con Esperanza, which means “Growing Hope” and that is exactly what they are doing in this community.  Little girls who would be working in a new prostitution house BY THE AGE OF 12 and little boys who would be getting involved in gang violence are instead living with hope in an eternal Savior because of the love shown to them by this ministry!

Out of the darkness…
…into His marvelous light!
Malecon Community Children at CMSL Ministry Center

Malecon Community Children at CMSL Ministry Center


CMSL Classroom

CMSL Classroom

CMSL Classroom

CMSL Classroom (not sure what kind of math that is, but they are learning something!)

CMSL Classroom (not sure what kind of math that is, but they are learning something!)

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.     -1 Peter 2:9

P.S. – A little more information on Dr. Ayo:

Dr. Ayo is a friend of Dr. Yeny and a member of the CMSL Board.  He generously hosted our team at a very nice retreat property he owns in Quininde. Before he became a believer, he used this property as a country club for rich people in Quininde; and in his medical practice, he was one of the main providers of abortions in the community.  Since coming to Christ, he uses his property to serve ministries like CMSL and he no longer provides abortions in his clinic.  He allows CMSL to bring the kids from their ministry projects to his property on occasion to play sports and to go swimming in his spring-fed pool.  The only problem is that CMSL does not have access to the property all the time since it is also used by other groups.  They are hoping to utilize a portion of the property we are master planning to serve as another retreat location for their ministry project kids when it is completed.

CMSL Ministry Leaders Left to Right: Fred, Arlene, Dr. Yeny, Ruperto (Dr. Yeny's husband), Dr. Ayo

CMSL Ministry Leaders
Left to Right: Fred, Arlene, Dr. Yeny, Ruperto (Dr. Yeny’s husband), Dr. Ayo

Spring-fed pool at Dr. Ayo's retreat property. The outlet is plugged to fill the pool, but after testing the water quality our team was not brave enough to go swimming!

Spring-fed pool at Dr. Ayo’s retreat property. The outlet is plugged to fill the pool, but after testing the water quality our team was not brave enough to go swimming!

House of Hope // Ecuador Pt. 1

Up until the week before we left for Ecuador we were unsure who God had prepared to be a part of the design team and we were not even sure what the dates of the trip would be. Two weeks before we were scheduled to leave, two of our volunteers dropped out on us within an hour of each other, which left us scrambling to either find last minute replacements or postpone the trip. To top things off, our remaining architect who had been on one previous EMI trip, Mark Soroko, realized his passport lapsed and needed to be renewed. The deck seemed stacked against this trip leaving on time. We had commitments from Mike Young, a seasoned civil/structural engineer with lots of EMI experience and Mike Magill, a PhD professor in structural/mechanical engineering who also had volunteered on one EMI trip several years back. Unfortunately, if we were forced to postpone the trip (which was looking very probable) it might mean having to replace one or both of them as well.

Fortunately, God was preparing the exact right people to go on this trip at the exact right time. On the day we had to order plane tickets in order to keep the current trip schedule, God came through on the delivery of Mark’s passport AND our electrical engineer vacancy was miraculously filled by a first time EMI volunteer, Russ Bogardus. Suddenly, (after all the uncertainty of whether we would have to postpone the trip) we realized, we have a lot to do before we can leave in a week! The trip leader and professional surveyor, Bob Smith, who I am learning from in a co-leader role on this trip assured me that all EMI trips are not like this. Together with our two EMI interns, Devon Hall (mechanical engineer grad) and Jihea Kim (architecture grad) we managed to get everything done for an on time departure to Ecuador.


Design Team with CMSL ministry leaders
Left top: Ruperto, Yeny, Fred, Arlene, Jihea, Mike Y., Devon, Mark
Left bottom: Me, Mike M., Russ, Bob

One of the great things about EMI trips is that the design teams have usually never met before the trip. We all met up in the Houston airport and flew together to Quito, Ecuador.

We arrived in Quito at midnight after a long day of travel and slept in guest dorms at the ministries seminary. The next day we went to a 2.5 hr church service that was entirely in Spanish and I NO HABLO ESPANOL. I literally thought it was about to be over at least 2 times before the actual sermon STARTED! But, it was great to worship in a different cultural context and see yet again that Jesus transcends our many differences. There is something about singing worship songs and hymns that I know in English while everyone else is singing a different language that brings a sense of unity (at least to me). The rest of the church might have thought I was singing in tongues (and I guess I was), but technically it was interpreted simultaneously and no one seemed offended ;).

After church we ate lunch at the church and then got on the road for a four hour trip to Quininde, Ecuador where we would be spending the next week to serve Corporacion Mision San Lucas (CMSL). After arriving, we ate dinner and got to hear the ministry share the vision God has given them to reach the people in this area of Ecuador.


Retaining wall/sign in downtown Quininde

Quininde is a small urban community that has a population of about 55,000, which is about the same size as Auburn, AL. It is situated along a river in the mostly rural coastal region of Ecuador. Quininde is rampant with extreme poverty, drug use, sexual abuse of children, STDs, prostitution, gangs, hired murder, and racism. A large portion of the population in Quininde are actually Africans that ended up in South America in the 1500’s when a slave ship wrecked off the coast of Ecuador. The African Ecuadorians are heavily discriminated against and are treated as outcasts in the community.


Main street in downtown Quininde


African Ecuadorian girl at a school in Quininde

The primary religion in Ecuador is Catholicism, but the country is marginally evangelized. While most have a basic knowledge of Jesus through the Catholic church, very few have a personal relationship with Him. I was surprised to hear that the Catholic church is actually the main source of persecution for Protestant churches and ministries in Ecuador, including CMSL (which I will explain in further detail in another post). The adverse relationship certainly makes sense when you look at the history between Catholic and Protestant churches, but it is not something I have seen or experienced in the US.


Statue of Jesus in downtown Quininde
(only non-grotesque Catholic image of Jesus that I saw in Ecuador)

God has given CMSL vision to serve some of the poorest areas of Quininde, which are also the areas with the highest concentrations of major sin strongholds. The ministry in Quininde was born out of the heart of an Ecuadorian doctor named Yeny (pronounced Jenny) and her husband Ruperto. CMSL starts by actively praying for the communities they are engaging in ministry. Next they begin Bible studies for the women of the community, followed by ministry programs for the children. They bring hope to the community by loving them, giving them biblically based training and education, providing a place of refuge for the abused, providing a support system within the community, providing medical care and health training, providing meals, and much more. The same things that Jesus did in the communities He visited. Also, by bringing people within the community to Christ and making disciples of them, they are able to train them to lead the ministry projects and provide ownership of the ministry to the community.

Ministry property road frontage

Road frontage of ministry property
(beyond building on the left)

CMSL has asked EMI to come and design a master plan for a 5 acre site that the ministry has acquired that they are calling the House of Hope (Casa de Esperanza). They have the vision to build a full service medical clinic that can serve the poor in the community, some storefront areas along the road frontage to provide ministry support services and rental income, and a shelter for abused children at the back of the property. The storefront areas could include a Christian bookstore, a pharmacy, an internet café that would not promulgate pornography and gambling (as the others in Quininde do), and provide a space for micro-industry training. The storefronts and medical clinic would be available for public access at the front of the property and the structures would serve to close off the remainder of the property for private access to the abused children shelter and a children sports area in the center of the property. It is a huge vision, but Yeny and her incredible team have already proven that God is able to accomplish the impossible with a little faith in Him (I will elaborate more on this in the next post). A vital part of her team is a Canadian missionary couple, Fred and Arlene Jonkman, who have been instrumental in getting EMI involved and bringing other ministry work teams in to assist with the incredible things God is doing in Quininde.

I am excited to have an opportunity be a part of this ministry this week!


Panorama of Site

Out of the Darkness // Ecuador Pt. 2