Usebio is a natural-born leader and offers up his own services to anyone who needs them.
Through his leadership, he helps others in his mountain community in Ecuador get ahead. And at 69, he’s had a lot of practice as a leader.
“I liked to lead and organize since I was little,” Usebio said. “When I was 9 years old, I started catechesis classes with the schoolchildren in my house. Also, when I was bigger, I organized young people to arrange festivals, dramas and social activities.”
His community is mostly made up of farmers, and there isn’t always enough work to go around.
“There are not many jobs here,” he said. “People collect sugar cane, guavas and grow cassava, potatoes, etc. During guavas season, people collect and sell them to people from the city. For example, we sell guavas at $1.50 per box. In a good day we can sell 10, but in a bad day we don’t even get $5.”
Usebio was only able to complete the third grade, as his mother didn’t have the funds to continue sending him or his five siblings to school. By the age of 8, he was working in the fields helping his mother.
“My mother was a farmer; she grew bananas, sugar cane, papayas and more,” Usebio said. “That’s a hard job for a woman, but that’s what they have to do here in the mountains.”
Farming isn’t the only job Usebio has held. During his teen years he had the opportunity to stay with a second cousin in the capital, Quito, and work cleaning house for a wealthy family. Even then, his main objective was to do something more for his family.
“When I was 12 until 17 years old, I went to Quito, Ecuador, to work because everyone had radios and we didn’t,” Usebio said. “I told my mother, if she granted me permission to go to work so I can buy her a radio I could pay it little by little. My mother said yes.
“So I went to the Phillips store in Quito and got a radio with credit. I finished paying in two years.”
Usebio stayed in Quito longer than it took to pay off the radio, though moving from the mountains to the big city took a bit of getting used to.
“It was hard for me when I started, especially with food: they ate different things than me,” he said. “I was always waiting for cassava which I was used to.
“I remember that when I was cleaning, I found money and watches. I realized that they were testing if I returned it and that made me angry. One day I told them to pay me and I would go because I didn’t want to work in a place where no one trusted me. Since that day, there were no more tests, so I worked many years with that family.”
Usebio returned to his mountain home at the age of 17 because some of his older siblings had passed away and he wanted to make sure his mother was well taken care of. He married a woman named Nancy, and together they took care of their six children and 12 grandchildren. Along the way, Usebio also ended up taking care of his community.
“I thought about her [my mother] and wondered what she would do by herself in the mountains,” Usebio said. “I came back and never left. I haven’t left, but I continued looking for help [for my community]. Since I came back, I searched for help for the community and the young people. I got uniforms for sports, so we could go and play in other places, I cheered people on. I like to be like that.
“As an adult, I was involved in building the local church. I remember that the church was made of wood, and the wood rotted because of the rain. Part of the roof fell in. Mass services took place on a portion of the church’s land. No one was doing anything, so a friend and I took some pictures and started requesting help from the city halls and institutions. We received some help. Then I supported the community’s organization and bought blocks and cement. The community, seeing this, started supporting and then we built it. We all collaborated.”
Usebio’s desire to serve and find solutions to problems in his community led him to Unbound.
“About 15 years ago, I was looking for help for the community and I was told about a parish in a town called Mira whose priest could help me with school supplies,” Usebio said. “I got there and Father Walter, who was Unbound’s coordinator back then, told me about the sponsorship program. He explained it to me and asked me if I could help.
“I started looking for children to sponsor in my community. We filled in the family records and took pictures of the first children. That’s how Unbound came to my community. My own children were never sponsored. Now we have more than 43 sponsored children and about three sponsored elderly.”
Now that Usebio is older, he’s no longer able to do the same type of work he did for most of his life. To continue supporting his family, he requested the help of Unbound and was sponsored by Nancy in Oregon, who shares the same first name as his wife.
“[To my sponsor], I would say ‘Oh, my sponsor, come visit,'” Usebio said. “I would hug her, and tell her not to leave, to stay a month if she wants. There is cassava to eat.”