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Family is everything to an Ecuadorian. The extended family unit is the most important aspect of life in Ecuador, and all activities of life centre around benefiting the family unit. Here are a few notes on Ecuadorian life regarding education, childcare, and family activities.

Education

Education is offered to all children in Ecuador and the government is committed to making sure that all children are able to go to school. All primary and secondary schools, whether private or public, expect the students to buy and wear their own uniforms and to buy their own books and supplies. Education is viewed as the most important manner in which this small country will compete with Europe, Asia, and North America in science, commerce, and trade. Children are encouraged to stay in school and government programs are in place to pay for the best students to go to any university in either Ecuador or elsewhere in the world. Students, if they have the grades and test scores in the top ten percent of their secondary schools, may receive a government 'Beca' (scholarship) to attend university in their chosen field. If they don't receive a 'Beca', parents and students can borrow money to be able to attend higher learning institutions, either universities or trade schools. Students are expected to attend school either in the morning or the afternoon, as many schools offer split or double schedules. Homework is given out daily and can take many hours to accomplish every day, in all grades.

Childcare

Ecuador's larger cities do offer daycare facilities during working hours, but many professionals prefer to employ a nanny or a housekeeper to take care of not only the home but the children too. Nevertheless, as the family unit is so important, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can often be of help to the professional couple, and many families enjoy having older and even younger relatives living with them from time to time, helping out with the children. The extended family unit can be a valued assistance, especially to help with smaller children and toddlers, a common thing in Ecuador. It's not unusual to see a family shopping around town with Grandma or Grandpa following along behind, holding the hand of a small child or pushing a stroller behind the parents of the child.

Family Activities

On Sundays in Ecuador you will find families walking in the parks before or after lunch, enjoying lunch at the mall while the children are running around, or visiting with other family members for a large sit-down almuerzo. Hardly anyone works in Ecuador on Sundays, only hotel staff and some restaurant workers and hospital employees. Sundays are for family.

The 'Almuerzo' or lunch, is the big family meal of the day, and usually lasts around 2 hours. Students almost always go home for lunch and most professionals try to enjoy almuerzo with the family every day, or as often as possible. Quito and Guayaquil, due to their large sizes and populations, seem to be losing this tradition as professionals more often seek lunch at fast food restaurants close to their offices or with clients or working associates in the city. Nevertheless, enjoying a family Saturday and or Sunday almuerzo remains sacred for families in the entire country.

Holidays come often in Ecuador, and many families (and extended families too) travel to the beach, to a bigger city, or to the countryside or jungle retreats for long weekends or holiday weeks. During the Christmas and Easter holiday weeks, bus terminals in all cities are full and every bus is packed with holiday travellers. Larger cities seem like ghost towns with light automobile traffic as everyone has either gone on a vacation holiday or are staying at home. Banks and stores are very busy on the first day of the working week after a holiday weekend so be prepared for long lines!

An observation of Ecuadorian charity is that there are not many organized charitable foundations, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church. If a family member needs help, either physical or financial, it is expected in Ecuador that the extended family will step up and assist, to the best of each member's ability. Therefore, it can be said that charity is offered and acted upon only rarely outside the family, with a few exceptions, socialized government programs being one avenue of aid for needy families. This can be seen as a wonderful cultural characteristic. However, those without family in Ecuador are certainly not as lucky as those with a big family.

Useful links:

Safari The Globe
Life in Ecuador
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