Johana Orozco first encountered the SALEM center in Mindo at the age of 8 when she’d walk by, watching how the children played. Home wasn’t a place where she wanted to spend much time. She wanted to play, and laugh and learn, so she went in. At SALEM, Johana experienced a safe place where kids played in well-kept areas under the supervision of caring adults. Delicious, healthy vegetarian meals were served everyday. She was asked to wash her own dish, clean up after herself, and contribute in the shared responsibilities of the group. She saw how the adults treated the children with respect and care and how the kids spoke and acted. It was so different from her day to day life and she wanted to spend as much time at SALEM as possible.
Johana was one of the first kids to start living at SALEM Ecuador in the early 2000s. For a number of years, the SALEM center in Mindo was a boarding house and recreation center for children and teens who needed a safe haven in Mindo. Johana reflects that the structure and positive reinforcement given by the guides, administrators, and volunteers was what drew her to SALEM. With her family’s permission, Johana stayed at the SALEM center Monday through Friday and returned home on the weekends.
The 10 years Johana spent at SALEM were formative. She learned how to navigate a difficult family situation by benefiting from the reaffirming, communicative, and healthy structure provided at SALEM. Now, as a 24 year old young woman, Johana understands that living at SALEM didn’t separate her from her family, rather she can see that her fondest childhood memories are of her time at SALEM.
“I am so lucky to have a second set of brothers and sisters, the ones I made while living at SALEM. We are all still very close. We share a strong connection with each other.”
Today, Johana is close with her mother and the rest of her family. She will soon finish her undergraduate degree in Social Work at the Technical University of Ambato. She continues to spend as much time at SALEM as she can. Johana is currently designing and implementing the first ever socio-economic survey for the community of Mindo. Her hope is that Mindo and neighboring communities will benefit from the results of the study. Thanks to Johana’s work, SALEM will determine which projects and initiatives are valuable to the community. The hope is that the local government will also use the results to better allocate social and educational resources to our community.
SALEM Ecuador no longer provides boarding services for children in vulnerable family situations. These days we are focusing on providing support and resources to as many children and teens as possible within the community. You can learn more about our day-to-day activities by following us on social media: