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Academic all-stars

Danielle Castonzo | Mar 19, 2018

Kiwanians in Ecuador help young women succeed in school and life.

In 1997, Maria de Lourdes Valarezo Loayza faced a challenge familiar to many devoted to service: opening a new Kiwanis club. In Loayza’s case, the club was to be in Ecuador. Although she had no prior experience taking on such an endeavor, she formed the Kiwanis Club of Chuquiragua-Quito, named after the national flower of Ecuador.

When the club was still new, Loayza learned that young Ecuadorian women from low-income backgrounds often had to drop out of high school after their third year, while many men went on to graduate. So Loayza and the Chuquiragua club members decided to dedicate their service to women’s education. 

“Our desire was for these women to graduate from high school and later continue to study in university or enter the workforce,” Loayza says. 

Club members decided to implement a scholarship program to help women complete high school and university. To fundraise, members sold crafts and organized bingo nights and other community events. As the new club became more active, it received additional donations for scholarships. Today, the scholarship program is the club’s signature project. 

For high school students, each scholarship provides US$200 a year. For university students, a scholarship offers $300-$500 per semester. Through 2017, 437 high school women had received scholarships, allowing 417 of those students to graduate. Twenty-six women in university have received scholarships. 

The club also holds workshops on self-esteem, sexual education and personal growth for scholarship recipients and their parents. Loayza hopes these workshops will help women strengthen their communication skills and learn to find proactive solutions to the challenges they encounter. 

“We saw how this program raised their self-esteem, that these women became the best students in their school,” Loayza says. “They learned to not be victims of their circumstance and to confidently face their futures.” 

Gabriela Chalá received one of the club’s scholarships when she was 14. The funds, along with her scholastic efforts, enabled her to enroll in the Universidad Central del Ecuador. After graduation in 2016, she went on to work for Buen Trip Hub, an innovation company, and Guapulo.com, a blog focused on technology and entrepreneurship. 

Chalá’s success story is one of many that Loayza has witnessed since implementing the scholarship program. 

“From their testimonies, we’ve seen that our help has been effective and that our hard work has been worthwhile,” Loayza says. “Our volunteer work has allowed us to dedicate our personal time to these dear young women, transformed into great women, the pride of our society and our country.”

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