This is my story.  It’s the story of a little girl afflicted with polio, growing up in a tiny village in Ecuador.  It’s the story of great kindness.  But most of all, it’s the story of how Causes for Change International came to be.

When I was only two years old, I was struck by polio, leaving me paralyzed on one side of my body and unable to walk.  I came to the attention of Father Joseph Lauro of the St. James Society.  Father Joe was serving aboard the famed medical ship the S.S. Hope of Project HOPE.  The Hope had docked in the waters of Guayaquil, and Father Joe encountered me on a mission to build schools, chapels, an orphanage and other vital structures in my area.  Father Joe had me taken aboard and examined by doctors serving on the ship.

The ship’s doctors prescribed that I receive further treatment, including surgery on my afflicted leg.  This was unavailable in Ecuador at the time.  In an act of great compassion, Father Joe arranged that I be flown to the United States, and that I receive treatment at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago, all for no expense to my family!  Father Joe also spoke to his brother, Frank Lauro.  Frank agreed to take me into his home.  I grew up in Chicago with Frank and wife Jean and their two daughters.  They became my second family.

However, the separation from my first family was painful.  I was eight at this time and I begged my parents not to send me away.  I promised them that if they would let me stay, I would learn to walk.  My parents rightly feared that the polio would take my life if left untreated.  They were resolute in their determination that I should go, despite their grief over my leaving.  I would be grateful for their sacrifice and the suffering it caused them, only many years later when, as a grown woman, I threw off the uncomprehending anger and hurt of a little girl being sent away.

As it turned out, I was to make a life for myself in the United States.  I was unable to return to and stay in Ecuador except for very short visits.  My health, made precarious by the chronic after-effects of polio, invariably failed in the difficult, humid climate.

But my life in the States, with the love and support and friendship of so many extraordinary people, had been wonderful.  The opportunities available to me were far greater than what I might ever have dared hope for, had I remained living in Ecuador.

When Father Joe died in 1971, I resolved to continue the work he had undertaken in Ecuador and to give to others some of the kindness that had reshaped my life.

Since then I’ve established Causes For Change International, to promote health, education, and economic self-sufficiency in Ecuador and other countries in the underdeveloped world. We specialize in the welfare of children, women, and persons with disabilities.  The organization has made numerous missions to Ecuador, performed by American volunteers traveling at their own expense.

Doctors, dentists, and other health professionals have examined and treated thousands of children, and fitted many others for donated hearing aids.  Educators have provided advanced training to local teachers. Engineers have helped design and establish systems for collecting and disposing of waste and for providing clean drinking water. Police officers and Firefighters on the force of the City of Chicago have trained volunteer departments throughout Ecuador. All the work is done with the support and participation of local residents, who are encouraged and trained to take on responsibility for the continuation and development of work begun by Causes.

Most recently Causes has established a dental clinic in a small village in Ecuador, with plans to establish four more clinics well underway.  Also proceeding is a project to build a center in Ecuador for the rehabilitation and training of children and youth with disabilities.  Land is being acquired for the center, and the government has offered its assistance.  The work of Causes will soon be expanding into Panama, Costa Rica and into other countries of South America.

The kindness and compassion of one man, Father Lauro, has transformed not only my life, but also the lives of thousands in need.  If you have been inspired by my story, if you can now see the river of kindness that runs through your own life, all I ask in return is that you give.  If not to Causes, then to someone, somewhere who really needs your help.  You never know what will grow out of the seeds of compassion that you plant today.  It may just be your own happiness.


  • Zully JF Alvarado