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Poverty, Gender
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South America
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Latin America, Ecuador, Quito, Religion
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Carmela, a 65-year-old missionary nun, was the organizer behind the original construction of Integral Promotional Center for Women (CEPIM) and now directs the center located in Comite del Pueblo, at the northern tip of Quito, one of Ecuador's poorest neighborhoods. The center provides a daycare, senior center, cafeteria, kindergarten and health clinic for people of the neighborhood.
Angela Jimenez

1999 — student award of excellence

Grass-roots movements are the building block of social change. Society is changing in Latin America, where a wide variety of grass-roots women’s organizations are a major impetus for the improvement of human rights conditions. I want to photo-document groups advocating reproductive rights in Latin America.

I will be in Latin America for five months this spring with a writer to do this independent documentary photo/essay project. The unique women’s movement of Latin America, which has evolved for over one hundred years amidst political instability, economic stratification, racial diversity, dominant religious ideology and traditional gender roles, encompasses a wide variety of grass-roots organizations working for change. Their movement for reproductive freedom is especially important in Latin American society, where it challenges the traditional nature of women’s relationships to family and home. The women involved are especially important because it is the conviction of their individual lives which collectively bring change.

The medium in-depth documentary work is suited to this movement and our photo/writing team is suited to the project. I am a graduate photojournalism student at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the writer I will be working with is a recent MU graduate with degrees in Spanish and magazine journalism. We are both Spanish speakers with sincere interest in human rights issues and documentary journalism.

We are going first to Costa Rica, where we plan to document groups responding to adolescent pregnancy and homosexuality. In Ecuador, we will document a group of protecting the rights of sex workers. In Argentina, we will work the Catholic pro-choice/family planning movement. In Brazil, we will document the state of marital rights.

We plan to publish our work in women’s publications and do some complementary work in North America upon our return. We are funding this odyssey with loans, limited family support, a little help from both the University of Missouri and Fuji Film, and a whole lot of moral support from friends. I believe in this work and feel it is inspired by the same spirits as Alexia’s mission. Any support the foundation could offer us would be sincerely appreciated. I would be thrilled to hear from you.

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Kindergarten students and a 20 foot tall white crucifix at the Integral Promotional Center for Women hover above the lower section of Comite del Pueblo. Comite, at the northern tip of Quito, is one of Ecuador's poorest neighborhoods. The center provides a daycare, senior center, cafeteria, kindergarten and health clinic for people of the neighborhood. Angela Jimenez/Alexia Foundation
A group of neighborhood mothers and CEPIM teachers push a heavy stone slab up the stairs and out onto the street outside the center. CEPIM was closed from December 1998 through February 1999 due to a lack of funds and the women volunteered to help prepare for its reopening. CEPIM, whose motto is "Force, Constancy and Action," is staffed entirely by women. Alexia Foundation / Angela Jimenez
On a free medical house call, Carmela administers to an open suture sight from a badly stitched prostate operation. She spreads newspaper over the patient's legs, smells the wound for infection, and picks up tweezers with her gloveless hands to clean it. She and the other doctors at CEPIM's clinic operate with a deficiency of funds and equipment and an excess of patients. The government has not paid the doctors in three months. Angela Jimenez/Alexia Foundation
Sometimes, CEPIM offers shelter to refugees from domestic violence and its doctors intervene in abusive situations. CEPIM gynecoligist-obstetrician Maria Piedad Fuel Sukiosquy makes a house call to talk to the abusive husband of a young pregnant woman. Mirian Muela, 18, sits on the bed while her friend who requested the doctor's visit waits in the corner. Sukiosquy says that although Ecuador has a domestic abuse law, there are few ways to enforce it. Angela Jimenez/Alexia Foundation
God is a constant idea here, but the only formal instruction is Carmela's morning religion class for the kindergarteners. She teaches them about the trinity then takes two students on an imaginary walk in the woods. She points out the plants and animals around them. "A bird falls from a tree. Do we put it in a cage?" Carmela asks them rhetorically. "No. We give it back to its mother because the best nurse is the mother." Angela Jimenez/Alexia Foundation
The senior group says the rosary in the small CEPIM chapel. As a nun, Carmela cannot conduct official mass, so the chapel is for personal prayer only. Carmela's decision to part from the parish priest soon after the founding of CEPIM allowed her to work freely with the people, but cut her off from church support. In the Catholic church, nuns do not have administrative authority to request funding or support for local projects. Some of CEPIM's programs, such as the distribution of birth control, are obvious results of this religious independence. Angela Jimenez/Alexia Foundation
Carmela says that she felt she had two options as a young university student - marriage or the nunnery. She opted for the later, feeling she was meant to "serve the people." She joined the Sisters of Charity, a social-service based sisterhood. She took her vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and social service. Carmela left her convent to come work in the Catholic parish in Comite, then left the church completely to devote herself to CEPIM. "From Monday to Sunday, it is hard work," she says. Angela Jimenez/Alexia Foundation
Carmela Espin Hernandez plays soccer with the daycare classes on a concrete playground across the street from the center. "For them, this is a park," she says. Carmela , a 65-year-old  misisonary nun, is a storm of energy. She was the organizer behind the original construction of CEPIM and now directs the center. Angela Jimenez/Alexia Foundation
Historic old Quito was the center of clashes between rock-throwing young demonstrators and tear gas-firing military police during the troubled month of March 1999. During a three day taxi strike which debilitated the entire country, the air of the neighborhood was filled with the popping of firing tear gas canisters, the floating smell of the acrid gas, the slapping sounds of running feet, and calls of "Tobacco! Tobacco!" from women selling smoking products to dissipate the effects of the gas. Angela Jimenez/Alexia Foundation
"I am going to bring them bread and coffee," Carmela said of taxi strikers who had been striking for several days. But when she gave some pedestrians stranded by the mass transportation strike a ride in her truck, drivers annoyed at her strike-breaking set nails on the road to pop her tires. Carmela loosens the bolts on a popped tire in front of a repair shop in Comite. Angela Jimenez/Alexia Foundation