Building a house for an underprivileged family isn't the typical behaviour you associate with a teenager.
However, that is exactly how a 17-year-old pupil at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi spent her summer this year in Ecuador.
Francesca Fadel teamed up with non-profit charity Casas Emergentes de Bambu (Caemba), which translates to Emergency Bamboo Houses, and recruited a team of six to travel to the South American country, to help build a home for a family in need.
Caemba was launched to support Ecuadorians who were left homeless after the April 16, 2016 earthquake.
The charity helped victims by sending pre-fabricated bamboo structures with lightweight roofs, to provide makeshift shelters.
After offering that short-term emergency support, it focused on designing long-term housing solutions using bamboo.
Caemba now helps to build sustainable housing for vulnerable women in the country.
Francesca, whose mother is from Ecuador, told The National that after she visited the south American country two years ago, she was shocked to see how many families were living on the streets.
Mission of mercy
"I was struck by how much political unrest there was," she said.
"It made me realise the importance of having a decent standard of living as there were countless numbers of people sleeping on the streets.
"It opened my eyes and made me think about what I could do in order to help the economic situation there."
Caemba carries out surveys in communities to identify women and families most in need of urgent help.
Francesca said she was paired with a family after she raised enough money to build their home.
She received contributions from friends and family, and used her savings.
In July this year, she returned to Ecuador and travelled six hours by car to Esmereldas – a small underdeveloped province on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
Francesca recruited a team of six – comprising her mother, her two friends and their mothers – to help build the house.
It took nine hours to complete and is expected to last for at least 30 years, leaving no carbon footprint.
The bamboo house stands on a raised platform, about 90cm above the ground, and can withstand the heavy flooding that is common to the region.
The new home has been able to transform the life of Mariuxi Alvarez, a local mother of six, who was in desperate need of housing.
"It really opened my eyes how bad some of the situations are for some of the families there," said Francesca.
"I saw photos of her old home and there was no bathroom, the walls were covered in mould and were caving in.
"It made me open my mind and it took me out of this bubble that I think many of us are very used to when we live in a country as prosperous as the UAE," she said.
The situation in Ecuador can be particularly dire for the more vulnerable members of society, the director of the Caemba project told The National.
"It took about two years of planning because where they went, the province of Esmeraldas is quite a dangerous place," said Cristina La Torre.
"A lot of people are dying because of an internal narco war there so we had to do a lot of scouting to find the right place."
The murder rate in Ecuador has increased by almost 500 per cent since 2016, news agency Reuters reported in August this year.
There were an estimated 22 murders per 100,000 people in 2022.
Caemba works with organisations to help ensure that women in the region are given the means to support themselves – sometimes with direct aid and other times to help them learn a trade of their own.
"We give them their economic freedom so they do not necessarily have to depend on a man to take care of them and their children," said Ms La Torre.
"We try help give them that strength and work on their self-esteem in order to have a better, more prosperous life."