COVID-19 Stories of Change: Huertomanías, Ecuador

Aug 19, 2020

COVID-19 Stories of Change: Huertomanías, Ecuador

These are testing times for the mental health projects we are working with. Each has had to think quickly, adapt & overcome challenges due to COVID-19. Each has had a unique journey, which we're going to share them through our COVID-19 Stories of Change series.

Huertomanías is a collective of people living with severe mental illness who, through their urban garden, work to provide livelihoods for themselves and tackle the stigma surrounding mental health problems.

What were the greatest challenges?

For Huertomanías, COVID-19 has been a period of great uncertainty. Having to leave the urban garden behind during lockdown meant not only that remaining crops had to be given up on, but also that all income-generating activities which require the team’s physical presence, had to be paused. Insecurity about the organisation's financial resources, became starker than ever. Concerns about health system access during this period, in the case that a team member would destabilise or become infected with COVID-19 were also very present, as the pandemic has exacerbated inequities in access to healthcare services at a national level.

The team has also endured the loss of friends as well as very complex personal experiences with hospitalisation during the pandemic. When the caseload in Ecuador began to decrease and movement became possible, unfortunately Huertomanias’ urban garden remained located within a COVID-19 ‘hotspot’ meaning that the return to the urban garden had to be delayed a little longer than hoped.

How have they adapted?

Given that the work of Huertomanías’ happens in and around the urban garden, thinking of how to apply the concept of ‘remote working’ required a lot of creativity. Further, not all team members had used technology pre-COVID. During the first month of the pandemic, the team spent their time understanding how to ensure their own wellbeing. From Monday to Saturday they would speak over video calls, checking in about how they were feeling and what they were experiencing during quarantine.

They also took advantage of this extra time to review the governance systems of the organisation and make sure all documents were up to date. From the second month of the pandemic, the team turned to focusing on capacity-building - Aimée Dubois, director of Huertomanías, says, “We thought, let’s come out of this pandemic stronger than we were before.” The team began organising workshops on how to be better salespeople, how to have more initiative, how to lead workshops… slowly they have been working their way through strengthening every activity they carry out.

The team has also been learning how to carry out some of the workshops that used to be presential online, in case not being able to access the garden becomes more frequent. Overall, the team at Huertomanías has been constantly adapting and brainstorming new ways to continue to address their two main areas of work - income-generation and awareness-raising.

What were the enablers?

The virtual space has brought the team closer than ever; it has made them share openly with each other their concerns and emotions and remain grounded during such a difficult time. Teleworking has also made the team feel part of this global digital transformation and teleworking has allowed them to maintain the sense of independence that Huertomanías brings them. In fact, this period has made them realise that Huertomanías is not only an urban garden, but about the community of people who make up the team. They have been able to truly appreciate their shared sense of belonging and collective commitment to the organisation.

Finally, on July 15th, after 4 months of not being able to access the garden due to the lockdown, the team was able to meet face-to-face in their garden and discovered that life has continued there. As said by the team, “The plants have shown us that time has passed without us. Our little garden is still alive there, but it has lacked our care. Being close to it again made us feel more than ever that Huertomanías is love.” The garden will need some care but it is still alive, just like the team's desire to continue transforming lives with the project.