(March 8, 2019) When Colleen Eschenburg first visited Ecuador a few years back, she saw that the women there were stuck in a “serve others before yourself’ mentality.”

As of today, however, the 2007 Stephen Decatur graduate is attempting to change that with the launch of Mírame, a women’s empowerment program that aims to help women there achieve a better balance between work, their own lives and family.

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Ecuadorian women celebrate a new women’s empowerment program started by Stephen Decatur High School graduate Colleen Eschenburg

Mírame, which translates to mean “watch me,” will offer Ecuadorian women access to virtual and in-person workshops and support groups, along with monthly events to support women in areas such as reclaiming their identities, establishing personal safety and financial security and practicing nonviolent communication.

Eschenburg was a student at Salisbury University when she traveled to Ecuador to study abroad.

“I moved here and fell in love,” Eschenburg said. “I got into nonprofit work with the expat (expatriate) community here. There’s a pretty large expat community it’s about a thousand people, which I think is about the size of the residential population of Ocean City.”

One of the things Eschenburg noticed immediately, however, was many women in Ecuador were bound by the cultural tradition of women putting everyone else before themselves.

“There was never really the first wave of feminism here, at least in the high Andes,” she said. “Women here … they are a servant to their families and they’re almost kind of trained to be. There’s a lot of gender bias where little girls are not playing outside because they have to do the dishes and they’re like, ‘Well, why is my brother out by playing soccer?’ and they’re told, ‘No, no, no, you have to do the dishes’ or, ‘No, no, no let’s serve the food for the men in our family.’

“They’re taught this. So, you’re trained to serve the other person and you lose your own sense of identity or voice … and when you confront … it there’s a lot of pushback [here],”

Eschenburg created Mírame to help Ecuadorian women become independent and find their true calling beyond being a housewife, which is still commonplace for Latin American women. Some of the programs offered provide basic education.

“Another partnership involved here … it’s about women’s cycles and about menstruation,” Eschenburg said. “So, they have workshops on introducing young women and their mothers to their first workshop about menstruation, which is totally taboo. You can’t talk about it.

“It’s very symbolic of the whole feminine aspect in Latin America,” she continued. These women work with mostly the urban population that has a bit of affluence or self-awareness. I would like to replicate this with the populations that are in our nonprofit network so doing a workshop for underprivileged rural women about their menstruation ... and about how that relates to nature and women’s empowerment.”

Other programs include awareness of post-partum depression, breast feeding, raising self-awareness and self-reflection and other women’s privileges many in more developed countries take for granted.

Changing the life of even one person is a step in the right direction, Eschenburg said.

“It’s our women’s story. It’s reaching out to help our sisters that don’t have what we have in the states,” she said. “When you help one person, it starts there. When you do that, it changes the reality for all women and it changes the reality for yourself. Knowing that you’re the one impacting someone else’s life … that that’s your legacy: helping other women grow. That’s why I think it’s important.”

Mírame is working with the Hearts of Gold Foundation, and is participating in a fundraising campaign from March 8-15 through GlobalGiving, the largest crowdfunding community connecting nonprofits, donors and companies from all over the world.

In addition, on March 8, which is International Women’s Day, GlobalGiving will match 30 percent of a contribution to Mírame up to $250.

“[Today] is International Women’s Day and it’s a huge thing in Latin America,” Eschenburg said. “Which is funny, because women are respected for being women but they’re not respected for being themselves.”

Eschenburg hopes to reach $10,000 through her new program. The money will fund the various workshops and programs these women need in Latin America.

However, despite her embrace of South America, she credits her upbringing in this area for allowing her flourish elsewhere.

“I think my experiences would never have happened if it wasn’t for the Eastern Shore,” Eschenburg said. “I don’t think I would have ever found myself at a place where I could be a leader, and I never saw myself in Ecuador or even doing women’s empowerment at all.

“But I think a lot of the benefits that I’ve had from the Eastern Shore … having a wonderful education from Worcester County and having a wonderful college education that was affordable at Salisbury University, I just don’t think any of it would have happened,” she continued. “So I’m just so grateful to be a daughter of the Eastern Shore and being able to share that strange legacy that’s imprinted on me with by giving a gift to the world just because I’ve had that experience.”

To help support Mírame and Ecuadorian women in honor of International Women’s Day, visit Mírame’s program page on GlobalGiving at: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/resilient-ambitious-women-in-ecuador.

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