Ramiro Rojas, a physical education teacher in Ecuador, promotes healthy living habits and conservation of green spaces by leading a program of community exercise in parks in urban areas throughout the country.
The New Idea
Ramiro Rojas is building community and a constituency for urban green spaces through mass participation in fitness and sports. Beginning in Quito and later extending to other Ecuadorian cities, he has organized weekly community sporting periods to which the public is invited. He leads the group in such activities as jogging, walking, aerobic calisthenics, and gymnastic exercises.
Besides its physical benefits, Ramiro's exercise program organizes stronger communities. People become committed to preventing their parks from being displaced by economic development. They revitalize the spaces through physical exercises and in so doing begin to collaborate to administer and conserve urban green spaces more generally.
Ecuador has no tradition of mass participation in physical recreation or sports. On the whole, sporting activities are limited to students and a few specialists, and Ecuadorian communities neither actively promote nor financially support sports activities despite a survey that reported that 80 percent of the population is attracted to physical recreation. Though people may privately desire physical activity, generally they do not enjoy its benefits, which have been affirmed by studies conducted by the Pan-American Health Organization.
Similarly, numerous recreational spaces in Ecuador fall under the responsibility of municipalities, where there is little social participation in their care. Not only do people not know how to go about practicing sports, but available recreational spaces are underutilized and not well maintained. Scarcity of green space is a problem: a 1975 study by the Pan American Center for Studies and Geographic Research found that Quito's park deficit reached 5.3 square meters per inhabitant.
Urbanization has also placed great pressure on communities to build on park lands. In order to save public park lands, communities need to build political will and the social organization necessary to fend off developers.
With the goal of institutionalizing his activities, Ramiro has created the "Foundation for Integral Health and Sports," which promotes his ideas and cares for Quito's 80-hectare La Carolina Park, the most important park in Ecuador's capital city.
Ramiro's goal is to disseminate his methods throughout the country. With the support of city mayors, he evaluates the recreational potential of local parks and then begins new programs that are staffed by his trained volunteers. Along with the organized exercise, the program includes volunteers who staff clinics to treat injuries and who are available to tutor schoolchildren.
The program has spread through the innate appeal of large numbers of happy people exercising together to music from Ramiro's boom-box. As Ramiro says, "Aerobics can enter your heart." Adolescents are attracted by the constructive fun and find a chance to learn teamwork through sports.
Ramiro encourages the development of independent groups by special interest and assists people in setting them up. People have formed conservation groups to keep their parks from being covered over by new apartment construction; and hiking and bicycling groups have evolved as weekly exercisers branch out.
Ramiro studied Education Sciences and did post-graduate work in Physical Sports Training in Brazil. He has taught physical education since 1980. Over this period he has conducted and participated in several updating courses and has worked in various institutions as a recreational park technician, trainer for teachers, and personal physical trainer. He has served as a playground consultant in numerous Ecuadorian communities. Ramiro's most challenging activity is the consolidation and organization of physical activities in the Carolina Park in Quito where currently ten sports groups meet regularly. Ramiro has organized activities at Carolina Park since the mid-1980s. He estimates that about 20,000 children, adults, and young people come to the park to exercise every week. He loves his work; he says about it, "Working directly with the community is a very gratifying task. I have developed a beautiful, friendly relationship; people show me theirgratitude and appreciation."