Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fundacion Hogar and the Ridiculously Frustrating Time When I was the Least Experienced Spanish Speaker in the Room

Blog 4: Fundacion Hogar and the Ridiculously Frustrating Time When I was the Least Experienced Spanish Speaker in the Room

Why did the XM radio go to the hospital?
Because it was Sirius-ly injured.

We were told our next client would be a radio station. Imagine our confusion when we walked into a low-income hospital, but that is exactly where Radio Familia 96.9 is located. Fundacion Hogar is a trifecta organization consisting of a hospital, church, and radio station. The Verbos Church raises funds for the hospital and the radio station through soliciting donations and pledges. In turn, the hospital has an open-door policy, accepting everyone regardless of their financial situation or citizenry status. Medical procedures that typically cost $120 - $300 are administered at the fractional cost of $9. If the patient is not able to pay $9, the hospital is willing to accept any amount. This also includes repeat visitors, such as when checkups and reevaluations are necessary. On several occasions, the hospital treats patients entirely free of charge. One individual comes to the hospital once a month, and has been for over two years, and pays $2 each visit.

Radio Familia 96.9 is a Christian-based radio station that offers preventative treatment over FM, the only such radio channel in Ecuador. As the 8th most popular radio station in Cuenca, listeners call in with questions regarding health and hygiene to have them answered by medical professionals. Currently, Radio Familia 96.9 has 8,000 regular listeners with an average of 19,000 listeners per month. The Verbos Church is the only source of funds for the radio station. In the past, the church has raised funds for the radio station through “Time to Give,” a campaign to enlist churchgoers to pledge $1-5 per month. Unfortunately, Radio Familia has not raised funds on their own because they are not allowed to sell ads or commercials over the radio, out of fear of compromising their Christian values. Radio Familia can receive donations through individuals, whether it is domestically or internationally. The Ecuadorian government currently does not provide funding for Radio Familia because the government has more pressing concerns (understandably…the 2016 earthquake in Ecuador destroyed parts of the coast). Additionally, if one radio station in Cuenca solicits subsidies or funds from the Ecuadorian government, then government must also fund other similar radio stations. As such, at this time, Radio Familia does not believe that government support is feasible.
Annually, Radio Familia has costs of $60,000. Though we asked several times (in several different ways and languages), it was not clear where this $60,000 went; all of the equipment, such as the mics, soundboard, mufflers, and more, were donated by Peace Corps volunteers or USAID and the station employed five people. In 2015, Radio Familia spent $60,000 but was approximately $11,000 in debt (they received $49,000 from the church and related funds). For the future, Radio Familia hopes to build a fully equipped radio station in a church (Verbos Church) so that they can have complete autonomy over the material they broadcast and access to priests, sound technicians, and specialized talkshow hosts. Pablo estimates that this project would cost $300,000 in total.
Fundacion Hogar asked for help with fundraising. First off, how can they raise $11,000 to clear themselves of the 2015 debt? And second, how can they consistently raise $60,000 per year to sustain their operation costs? Finally, how can they move into a church of their own?

Pablo, the “chief” of Radio Familia, met with us twice to try and answer all of the questions we had. His teeth are as shiny as his bald head and his positivity is contagious. He is receptive to any of the concerns or feedback that he receives on the spot and is always offering himself as a resource for the interns. After leaving Fundacion Hogar for the second time, we (the interns) agreed that working with Pablo is incredible because it is clear that he is passionate about Fundacion Hogar and Radio Familia. We walked away intent on providing them with as much help as possible.

Our methods of tackling this are still in development as we speak. Josh, a soccer player from UConn with a love for international development, and I decided spearhead this initiative. We met together earlier to consolidate our ideas; we intend on presenting a strategic framework of sustainability for Fundacion Hogar. The rest of the team decided to hone in on one of the short term recommendations so that Pablo actually had a tangible plan of action that he could implement as soon as possible. (Later, we decided to make Fundacion Hogar a Priority Two project, one that we worked on throughout our time in Saraguro).

The basic outline for Fundacion Hogar is as follows. Short term solutions for Fundacion Hogar and Radio Familia are centered on raising funds as quickly as possible to eliminate their $11,000 debt from 2015. As such, the team decided to create a 5k run (which are apparently very popular among those in Cuenca, especially expats) and a GoFundMe page. Similar pages exist in Ecuador (Pablo’s assistant mentioned something called “Hay A King?”) but Fundacion Hogar has never tried using such resources. After talking to some Cuenca locals, I found out that many expats in the region try to find worthy causes to donate their time and money. GoFundMe has a large viewership and Fundacion Hogar would benefit, regardless of the amount of money raised.

Medium term recommendations were about creating partnerships in Cuenca. Cuenca is known for having an abundance of churches of various religions and denominations. Many of the churches in Cuenca have such a strong attendance that they are able to donate to several charities each year and still have an excess of funds. We recommend that Fundacion Hogar and, more specifically, Radio Familia  partner with other churches for events, such as “Time to Make a Difference,” so that church attendees are made aware of Radio Familia, their message, and their need for funds. If a member of their staff can dedicate their time to establishing such relationships with churches, fitness clubs, and philanthropic foundations, Radio Familia will have an abundance of events and individuals rally to their cause.

Long term ideas for Radio Familia were focused on two legs. First, Fundacion Hogar had to expand their network of reach. As of now, Radio Familia only receives donations from The Verbos Church, but Pablo, and the staff of the station, know several churches internationally that would be able to provide much larger sums of money for initiatives that are similar to Fundacion Hogar. One such way of expanding their reach is by creating a network of hospitals that operate similarly to Fundacion Hogar. That way, international campaigns and philanthropic initiatives can see that the hypothetical network is established, legitimate, and serves a large number of people. This incentivizes those large donors to consider Fundacion Hogar as a legitimate contender for those funds. Second, Radio Familia needs to appeal to the Ecuadorian government for funding. Many of the hospitals in Ecuador accept everyone and the Ecuadorian government ends up paying a lot for those individuals unable to pay for the medical procedures. Radio Familia provides a public service by offering preventative health care, for free, to listeners in Cuenca. If Radio Familia was able to quantify the approximate amount of money that they are saving the Ecuadorian government through their radio service, then the government is more likely to support the radio station (given, of course that the amount saved is more than the amount spent to support Radio Familia; otherwise, this would not be in the best interest of the government). Pablo mentioned that he could provide an approximate figure, but he would need a few more months of data to accurately make a claim.

We will be presenting to Pablo, Fundacion Hogar, the employees of Radio Familia, and some church members in our final week in Cuenca. I sincerely hope that these ideas will help them move forward to continuing their incredible work.


In the title, I mention (rather subtly, if you couldn’t tell) that speaking with Fundacion Hogar and Radio Familia was frustrating. My Spanish is nowhere near perfect, but I am usually able to understand most of the conversation that takes place around me. This time however, the technical words used went completely over my head. I obviously could not do my best job as a problem-solver if I could not accurately understand the issue. I felt that I was committing a disservice to myself and Pablo. After several minutes, I finally spoke up, asked for translations, and had a better gauge of the conversation. Was this the first time this happened? Absolutely not. Will it be the last? I hope not. If I am in a room where I do not understand the conversation, be it due to linguistic differences or thinking differences, that means I am in a very uncomfortable situation; I do not have mastery over the subject material and thus have a lot to learn. I am okay with that.

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