Andy Abad and Alexandra Benavides, both 36 years old, have been together for five years. They live in Guayaquil, Ecuador, one of the cities worst hit by coronavirus in Latin America. Official estimates count 4,274 deaths in Ecuador as of June 24 but reports by the New York Times and others say the total number of deaths could be up to 15 times higher than reported.
Lack of work due to COVID-19 forced the couple to leave the apartment they shared with Alexandra’s two children and move to a smaller place in the center of Guayaquil with Andy’s aunt. Now Alexandra’s children are staying with their grandmother.
Andy (top left, in stripes) and Alexandra (top right) stand in the courtyard of Andy’s aunt’s house in Guayaquil. “I am restricting myself from going outside because of my diabetes. I cannot go to work or to buy the daily bread,” Andy says.
“My biggest concern is that my children will get infected, I don’t have them here with me, they are in Naranjal with my mom because of the pandemic,” Alexandra says. “Before we had an active life, we’d go out to work, my children studied, and we would go buy the daily bread, relaxed, without the fear of getting infected.”
Andy has diabetes, which increases the risk of coronavirus. As a transgender man, Andy is particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, LGBTQ+ people regularly experience stigma and discrimination while seeking health services, leading to disparities in access, quality and availability of healthcare, according to UNHCR.
“The biggest challenge is to stay in good health and maintain my diabetes control, because they still hadn’t given me a doctor’s appointment for my condition,” Andy says. “My biggest concern is not being able to go to work, maybe getting sick for long or getting infected.”
Andy and Alexandra used to own and operate a restaurant together. In October 2019, it was looted and they never recovered what was stolen, leaving them with high debts and no plan for their future. In Guayaquil, Andy and Alexandra make some money selling humitas, a South American corn cake dish, which helps to pay a little for their expenses.
LGBTQ+ people face challenges accessing work and livelihood opportunities, making them more likely to be unemployed and to live in poverty than the general population, according to the UNHCR.
Alexandra, Andy and their aunt were able to start their humitas business with financial support from CARE.
It’s part of a larger response by CARE in Ecuador to serve vulnerable communities, including domestic workers, Venezuelan refugees, sex workers and the LGBTQ+ community.
So far, CARE has supported 13,686 people in situations similar to that of Alexandra and Andy and has reached 820,000 people through messages and social networks in Ecuador. CARE is also responding with cash distributions, hygiene kits, food kits, social, legal, psychosocial support through telephone hotlines; gender-based violence prevention and support and virtual psychosocial support to persons with COVID-19, as well as providing care to COVID-19 patients living in quarantine in Ecuador.
“I am grateful for CARE because this support is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Andy says.