On April 16, 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Ecuador. Close to 700 people died and thousands were left homeless or injured. The coastal port city of Manta was one of the worst affected. My mother and grandmother were born there. When I heard about the disaster, I knew I had to go help my relatives. Despite never having been to Ecuador, I flew alone with a suitcase full of food and clothes to donate. I also took my camera.


I arrived in June and my aunts took me in. There were people living in tents on the street, and many of my family members’ homes were damaged. Nevertheless, everyone helped each other out, offering food or a place to stay. I spent a few weeks taking care of my aunt who lost her house. She was traumatized. I helped her emotionally as she coped.


I felt that photographing one family as they carried on after the tragedy would teach me about the struggles of the collective whole. I didn’t yet know that the process would teach me so much more.


Walking around the city, my lungs heavy with the cloud of ash and dust blowing in the salty air, I found my aunt’s neighborhood, El Mirador. Almost every house left standing had walls missing. In some places, just piles of rubble remained. All that was left of my aunt’s three-story house were a few pieces of orange tile from the kitchen, and the basement garage. I looked in the garage and found a family inside: a man, his sister and her four children. They told me they were my aunt’s neighbors. Their house was destroyed. The garage was their only shelter, aside from a donated tent. I felt compelled to share their story, and I spent the next week documenting them and the rest of their family.


Manusco, the first man I met in this family, introduced me to approximately 30 of his relatives -- sisters, brothers, grandparents and children -- living on the stretch of road across from where their small apartment complex used to be. Most of the houses on the coast are built using a mixture of cement and sand, which crumbled during the quake. No one in the family at the time had enough money to rebuild a house. Some said they were waiting on the government to help them. Others were working and saving money. In the four months since the quake struck, they’d been living in shelters built out of tarps, plywood and tin.


They told me that when the earthquake hit, just before 7 p.m., they were eating dinner. The shaking was slight at first but grew intense in a matter of seconds. All but two of the family members – parents of three children --managed to escape. The couple remained trapped until the next day. By the time their frantic family members could dig them out, the couple had passed away.


The three children are being taken care by an aunt. The rest of the family helps when and how they can. Every day, they gather for dinner together, and on weekends, they continue their old tradition, making ceviche. The government sometimes donates basic foodstuffs like rice, pasta, and milk, but they have no running water. For electricity, they hook wires to street lamps.


And yet, while the earthquake was devastating, those who went through it say it has also made them stronger. This is not to sugarcoat the experience; with aftershocks rattling their makeshift homes almost daily, they live in fear of the possibility of another huge quake. This project, though, aims to showcase their strength. It aims to give a voice to a family who has suffered a tremendous loss, and yet continues to embody the values of loyalty, compassion and faith. I could see many characteristics of my own family in theirs.

The Veliz family stands outside of their makeshift home on Aug. 23, 2016.

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Lilibeth Balladares, 18, and Jose Marin Velez, 22, sit with their daughter Domenica in their room. They are expecting another child.

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A woman does her family's laundry in the area where her apartment used to be, which collapsed during the quake.

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Jorge Franco sits inside his temporary home on Aug. 23, 2016, which contains the few belongings he was able to salvage from his house that was destroyed during the earthquake in April. He has a tarp for a roof and sleeps in a tent.

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A woman gets her daughter and neice ready for school in their tent home.

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Jorge Veliz Mero sits in front of his home and watches people pass by.

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Denisses Garcia holds her nephew, Dereex, on the land where her family's apartment used to be. What's left is an empty lot.

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Cara Veliz Reyes, Roberto Veliz Prado, Julio Arias Veliz and Jeliette Arias Veliz stand in front of their home on Aug. 23, which was damaged during the earthquake. They sleep in one tent by their house because they fear another big earthquake will hit and their roof will collapse on them.

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Mercedes Veliz Mero, from Manta, does laundry.

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Joanna Franco gives her son Jeyden a bath inside the bathroom. They have no running water so she uses a bucket.

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Joanna and Jeyden Franco have a moment together in their makeshift home.

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Gloria and Jose Veliz in their home.

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A door sways on its hinges as the rest of the house lies in rubble after April 16th’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Manta, Ecuador.

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Gloria Veliz washes dishes outside her temporary home while her daughter, Gloria, and nephew, Jorge, eat dinner inside on Aug. 24. Her brother was crushed and killed by his house during the earthquake. Now she watches over his three children.

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Dylan Veliz, 4, looks up the stairs to his old room. The walls collapsed and he now sleeps in a tent with his parents.

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Luis Alfredo Velez Mero, of Manta, watches television inside his home. He found scraps and built it himself after his house was knocked down due to damage after the quake.

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Katherine and her cousin Sandra bathe her son, Dereex, outside.

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Rosa Veliz looks out of the front door while sitting on her couch in her tiny plywood home. She is surrounded by the few things she saved from her house before it was demolished due to damages.

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Denisses Garcia holds the only doll she saved from her old house.

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Victor Espinoza poses for a portrait in his home.

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Jenny Toala said she is waiting for the government to help fix her house because she doesn’t have insurance on it. She sleeps in a tent with eight family members down the street. She and her husband are both unemployed. She said she has hope that they will get help.

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