Julieth: A story of hope

This article is a part of a larger series on teen mothers in Ecuador. 
To read the first article in the series, click here.
Read the previous article here. 

It is easy to get caught up in the statistics of the thing.

july1 in 5 girls in Ecuador have their first child before the age of 18.

Girls living below the poverty line are 4 times more likely to get pregnant.

Some statistics have even stated that as many as 62.7% of pregnancies in the Amazon jungle are unwanted or unplanned.

Like I said, easy to get caught up in the statistics. But perhaps what I learned, more than anything else living with five teen mothers in the Ecuador, is that hope is found in the individual story. It’s in what we do for the person directly in front of us.

Julieth, also known as July, was 11 when her mom died of cancer. She’s an outgoing, passionate girl, who laughs and loves easily. She was the “mother” in a home of mothers, helping the younger girls adapt to taking care of babies who were sick, didn’t want to eat, cried easily or couldn’t sleep. My first night at Casa Elizabeth, she saw through my fear and culture shock, told me to sit down and watch a movie with her.

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But she was not always so comfortable in that role. July lived with her stepfather, an aunt, then a friend of her mother’s before getting pregnant at 15. “Before, I went out with boys without thinking,” July said. “I drank a lot. I was always partying.”

It is easy… to become overwhelmed by the mixture of social disadvantages, bad choices and pure evil that contribute to the situations teen moms find themselves in.

It wasn’t until she had a medical scare that the lifestyle halted. “I felt a bulge in my stomach and my entire family was scared [because they remembered my mom],” July said. “But I went to the doctor, had a test and he said you’re pregnant.”

July’s story is unique because she came to Casa Elizabeth after she had Felipe, who was then four-months-old. Social workers said she could no longer stay where she was, and Casa Elizabeth made an exception, because “Julieth had nowhere to go,” July recalled.

She did not want to be there. She said she had a bad attitude, didn’t want to share her space and it was “very, very difficult.” But the house parents showed her how a family could be different.

“When I came, I saw their lives, how they acted,” July said, remembering that she found their kindness weird. “But now God has done many good things in my life. They make you apart of their family.”

DSC_0171Casa Elizabeth is a home that doesn’t just help the girls with the physical and economic needs of having a child. They also help them continue school and emphasize living a healthy lifestyle physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. But everything Casa Elizabeth does is centered in the family, something July decided to take with her when she left. “I’m nervous,” July told me days before her wedding last June. “Because for the first time I am forming my own family.”

July is also unique because she married her boyfriend, and the father of Felipe, Gorge. A beautiful wedding, perhaps because it showed that we don’t have to fear the insurmountable.

It is easy when listening to the tragic stories of five teen moms in the mountain capital of Ecuador to become overwhelmed by the mixture of social disadvantages, bad choices and pure evil that contribute to the situations teen moms find themselves in.

You only have to listen to Lucia’s mom tell her she must marry the 57-year-old man who sexually abused her for months. Or to the fear that Yamileth’s boyfriend might come back, and hurt her or her son. Or as Sofia, a 19-year-old girl, struggles to read at the kitchen table.

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These are a few of the people I met this summer: moms, babies, volunteers. They inspire me in the face of the incredible pandemic of teen pregnancy in Ecuador.

But then I remember laughing at dinner over some mistake I made in Spanish. I remember Dani, Yamileth’s son, making faces at me across the room, late night facial nights and dance parties. I remember the pure joy that anyone can find anywhere love and acceptance is.

It is easy to get caught up in the statistics of teen pregnancy. But the hope I see is not in large-scale public policy or international efforts, although those do help.

I see hope in a school psychologist who noticed something was wrong and called in social services. I see it in the house mom who spent hours on a Wednesday afternoon picking lice out of a girl’s hair. Or the counselor who volunteers on Tuesday mornings to just listen. It’s in the mission team who comes to build beds large enough to sleep a mom and her child. It’s in the family who donates baby clothes or weekly buys diapers.

I see it in the individual who dedicates his or herself to helping the person right in front of them, without judgment and full of love — and I realize that anywhere there is an overwhelming problem, God also provides unexpected hope.

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Wherever the Story Takes Me: My Journey as a Journalism Student

I’ve been a closet nerd most of my life. I say closet because I’ve always been the personable, class events, party-throwing friend. But I was also the friend who informed anyone who would listen what was going on in Syria. I was the one who followed politics, economics, and social issues, trying to figure out the why behind the what. So when it came to choosing a major, the answer was easy: journalism.

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Enter freshman me, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on a world of current events, social injustices, and scandal. All in a blazer and pair of fabulous heels.

Just a year and a half later, I was ready to give up. I was overwhelmed, burnt out, and not even sure I liked journalism anymore—let alone ready to dedicate my life to it. When someone said the word journalism I felt stress, boredom, and an overall feeling of dread.

Thankfully, the young rise again and love gets a second chance.

It started with my summer internship in Dallas during summer 2013, where I worked for WFAA Channel 8. I didn’t want to go. Like I said, I didn’t know if I liked journalism, and I definitely didn’t like TV news. I’ll be honest; for some reason I had a bias that TV journalism pandered and was somehow a lesser medium. I basically went because I had to do something to fill my graduation requirements.

Then I discovered the power and fun in telling a story visually. I watched these reporters who had been working in the field thirty plus years, day in and day out, find stories people cared about, ask hard questions, and do it all with excellence. I learned that each medium has its own point of view to share. However, I knew that while I enjoyed video, broadcast journalism probably wasn’t for me.

Fast forward to Spring 2014, to little ol’ me sitting in Multimedia Storytelling. I had no idea what I was walking into—a class that would stress me out, challenge me, excite me, and reignite a passion for a field that’s always been a first love.

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I’d spent this entire year wondering where I fit in journalism. Thankfully for me, the answer fell in my lap: online multimedia.

In my skewed view, I had felt limited by the different media, seeing them as competitive instead of collaborative. In this class, I discovered that in multimedia journalism there is incredible potential to tell stories and make people care. By combining text, video, infographics, links, audio, photography, etc., I can show people more fully why I get so excited about news.

And the best part? I don’t have to do it alone.

One of the biggest take aways from this class is that news at its most excellent is covered in a team. I collaborated with other students—students who were often better at writing, taking video, making infographics, or researching than me—while still keeping my personal creativity and voice. I learned from others while contributing my strengths. And the results were something I think we can all be proud of.

So the end to my story? I for one have re-fallen in love with the field of journalism.

Now when I hear the word journalism, I get excited. I once again devour current events hoping one day to cover them myself. I see local stories as a way to impact someone’s life. I am filled with passion when I face the challenge of explaining a complicated story simply and engagingly. And now, I have so many more tools to do it.

From closet nerd to hard-nosed journalist, now more than ever, I’m ready to take on the world in whatever platform or medium the story takes me.

A sticky situation: Senior biology major studies blood for honors project

Things are getting a little bloody over in Reed. But don’t worry—it’s in pursuit of science.

Senior biology major, Brian Ginn, is pricking fingers, smearing blood, and analyzing DNA, with the goal of creating a new method for undergraduate students to study blood types.

“The end goal of the research is to have a protocol that goes from cheek cells to [DNA] for undergraduate labs,” said Brian, his passion for science evident as he started drawing blood cells on the white board.


Brian Ginn tests blood type. Clumping indicates a positive result.

The beginnings of the project started two years ago, when Brian began his capstone honors project. He went through five different project ideas before settling on this one, using cheek cells to determine someone’s blood type.

Blood type is usually determined with a finger prick test. The finger is poked with a small needle, and blood from the prick is smeared on three separate plates. A different type of serum is added to each plate. How the serum reacts with each blood sample shows blood type: A-, A+, B-, B+, AB, or O.

This is where Brian’s testing gets complicated. He doesn’t want to just know the blood type, but the DNA behind it. This means another test, requiring gels, electromagnetic waves, and ultraviolent light.

But Brian’s goal is to bypass all that, doing the same test, but much less painfully. Cheek cell testing just requires rinsing the mouth and spitting into a cup—good news for biology students who may not want their finger pricked.

“The goal is to get the students learn,” Brian said.

Creating a new experiment method, though, can get challenging.

“You’re often going to do the test and not get the results you want…. Doing something that’s not been done before, you have to start with what you think will work, and go from there.”

And although Brian has a newfound respect for research, this project has solidified his dreams of being a doctor, possibly on the mission field. In the past few years, Brian has been to Papua New Guinea with medical work teams twice. On the last trip, he worked the entire summer in a mission hospital.

“[This project] tells me I don’t want to be a researcher full time. I’d rather interact with people.”


A dream still years of medical school away, but today Brian Ginn contents himself with pricking fingers, smearing blood, and hopefully, helping some squeamish biology students in the process.

Attached is the TV and radio version I wrote of this story: GG-blood

Here is a link to the story that was published in my school newspaper and on the Olivet website.