December 2 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


An eye-opening journey from Ayrshire to Ecuador

— Fr Martin Chambers, in the first of a series of extracts from his book Walking With The Poor, describes his introduction to missionary work

Looking out on my new home in Guayaquil, I could see a totally different scene from anything I had experienced in Scotland. Mile after mile and all the way up the hillside there were homes made of bamboo. I have often thought that the best way to describe what they actually look like is to say that they are large, old B&Q garden huts but then that would do a disservice to B&Q huts.

Into these huts are crammed up to ten people —granny, grandad, aunties and uncles and loads of children. On top of that, there is no running water; water is delivered by trucks that come around all day from about 5am tooting their horns as if to wake people up. Outside each house there is an old oil drum which is filled with water and from there the family would carry water into the house to use for washing clothes, cleaning themselves and for cooking.

It always amazed me how little water they needed to get by or, to put it another way, how much water we waste. Apart from the water situation, there is no sewerage, so toilet waste gets thrown out into the back porch or onto the front street. Then there is a poor electricity supply forcing many power cuts. There is poor education and no medical care. In short, I was looking out on extreme poverty.


I was to stay in Tom Oates’ house for seven months before moving into rented accommodation in my own parish. Tom was a great host and a very cheery person. He was always encouraging me to take things easy and not to rush at life. I was trying to accept this advice but day one proved that taking life at a slow pace was going to be almost impossible.

As we sat at breakfast that morning, there was a knock at the door—it was Ramon waiting to greet me. He must have known I was coming because he was brandishing a letter saying that a certain plot of land in Nueva Prosperina had been allotted to the Church by the city council and it was there that I was to build a house and church. While I was greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm of Ramon, I wondered even at that stage what I was getting myself into.

Danger signs

Bizarrely for a shanty town, it had the name of Nueva Prosperina which actually means ‘new prosperous town’ which, clearly, it was not. It was neither prosperous nor new.

My first weekend there brought another aspect of shanty living to light—corruption and gangsters. The local leader was called Sergio Toral and, like many self-proclaimed lawyers, he ruled with an iron fist, claiming money from the poor defenceless people, but showing little in the way of return for their cash. He looked a completely severe man, young but worn–out by life and looking down his nose at most people.

All around the shanty, there were signs proclaiming that he was the champion of justice and that he would fight against drugs, violence and theft. The reality seemed different and, over the years, I was to hear various rumours that the complete opposite was true, that he had been the leader in many of the acts of violence and intimidation that marred life in a shanty town that has no real police presence.

That weekend, Sergio was the godfather at a parish Baptism and, as I watched him make his Profession of Faith, I remembered the film The Godfather where Marlon Brando, during his Profession of Faith, has flashbacks to all the criminal acts for which he has been responsible. Meeting Sergio reminded me of that film and was my first wake-up call to what my dad had alerted me to months back—when you go there, you could be living in danger.

— To obtain a copy of Fr Martin Chambers’ book Walking With The Poor, contact him at

his home parish’s address: St Matthew’s, Grassyards Rd, New Farm Loch, Kilmarnock KA3 7SH or call 01563 533587

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