By: Calvin Ross
Global Citizen Year Fellow - Partnerin with Runa
I'm loving life. I couldn’t ask for anything more. My little village of Santa Rita is so beautiful. A small village made to look smaller by the size of the mountain it nestles up against. Everything but the roads and houses is completely overgrown. In ten square feet of space you'll find an uncountable number of plants and novel bugs of the jungle. It's incredible. My new family is a Kichwa group of eight. I have six siblings, four brothers, 20, 17, 15, and a toddler and two sisters, 14 and 12. They definitely fit the indigenous stereotypes of being shy and small but they’ve warmed up beautifully. Even though my Spanish has improved immensely and I would now call myself shakily conversational, I'm still hitting a language barrier. Everyone’s first language is Kichwa and that's what they prefer to speak. Unless a question or comment is directed at me, conversations go right over my head. Spanish was difficult to learn but there are many similar roots to words and the sentence structure isn't too difficult. Everything in Kichwa seems to be backwards and the words and pronunciations are completely foreign. It's as if it's from a whole other planet. I'm starting to learn though, or starting to try to learn. The Kichwas are also very heavy drinkers. It's really sad. No matter what day you walk around the village, you're likely to find one or two men passed out drunk on their doorstep. But once you shift your eyes to the backdrop, and behold the beauty of the jungle, all imperfections are washed from your mind. You can't see an inch of the mountain above the village because it's so densely packed with trees and bushes of all kinds, some with the most beautiful flowers and most looking as if they came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.
The convention center in Iguazu, Argentina
By: Maureen Stimola
Lush green forests misted with rain, brightly colored birds, and mischievous ring-tailed coatis greeted me on my arrival in Iguazu, Argentina. The small town was buzzing with activity. Hundreds of people with poster-carriers strapped to their shoulders were milling around on the red-brick streets (myself included), preparing for their presentations at the 4th Annual Latin American and Argentinean Forestry Conference. Iguazu is accustomed to tourists (people travel from all over the world to visit the Iguazu Falls, a recent admission to the list of world wonders) but the town is still adjusting the new yearly influx of government employees, scientific researchers, and forestry workers who flock to attend the conference.
Before the conference began, one day was devoted to registration and event organization. This only took up a couple of hours, so I went out to explore the area. There is no question why Iguazu is the site for this international forestry conference. The natural beauty of the forests, wildlife, and the Iguazu falls was breathtaking.
By Mira Word: Community Development Intern
I'm sure most interns go into a home stay in a Kichwa community with some preconceived notion of what they will learn and how it will change them. Some sort of simple storyline that goes something like, I went into the jungle, saw some poverty and the experience changed me. I too had my own idea of what living in Santa Domingo would be like and I totally underestimated how intense of an effect living with seven children and their widowed mother would have on me. I figured it would be kind of like camping, but I had done that before so this should have been a cakewalk, I thought. However, I found myself marveling at the internal struggle going on within me. I have never felt more like an outsider or questioned what I had gotten myself into more than I did living out in the Amazon. I repeatedly found myself surrounded by people speaking the Kichwa language I did not understand in the slightest, my cheeks burning while I sat as the main attraction and subject of stares and giggles. I consistently felt either over prepared or underprepared for the daily activities of machete chopping in the chacras, swimming the rió, or chasing after niños.
This blog is a collaboration between our two current Community Development interns Mira and Zoe.
In spirit of cooperation and collective learning we took a field trip up to the sierra with a bus full of people from different Kichwa communities, plus four of us from Fundación Runa. The purpose of the trip would be to introduce them to a different successful community organization, and have them share ideas and learn from what was working for the other organization.
We started our adventure with a magical, winding bus ride that carried us up 9,000 feet in altitude through diverse changing landscapes. We left the jungle behind and embraced the dry, chilly air of the Sierra.
By Matt Zinsli
Agircultural Economics Intern
When I was in third grade, my class tried to save the rainforest. This was in 1993, when saving the rainforest was among the most pressing environmental issues of the day, along with the ozone hole and chlorofluorocarbons. Our class did some fundraising — mostly from our parents, I’m sure — and collected enough money to save about ten acres of the Amazon. I don’t remember the exact mechanism whereby our money went to protect these ten acres, but it probably involved a nonprofit land conservation organization, which already would have held the ten acres as part of a larger reserve and used our money to fund ranger salaries and other operating costs. (This is similar to The Nature Conservancy’s “Adopt an Acre” campaign, where donors can choose to adopt an acre of land in the conservation zone of their choosing. The donors don’t actually hold title to the land, and these parcels are already part of The Nature Conservancy’s easements or partnerships with private landowners, but the spirit is there.)
When I was that young, my perception of those doing the deforestation was somewhere along the lines of the eco-villains from the cartoon series “Captain Planet”. They were monstrous figures, hell-bent on destroying the rainforest as fast as they could simply for the joy of mayhem; they were greedy fiends, selling off millions of board feet of mahogany to unwitting (or uncaring) buyers in the United States who valued high-quality furniture over biodiversity; they hardly seemed human, rather more like a hoard of chainsaw wielding insects leaving destruction in their wake. As I matured, so did my environmentalist drive and my perception of rainforest deforestation. Those cutting the trees and clearing the land became more human in my mind, although still motivated purely by greed and deaf to the growing concerns of the world around them. They were probably ranchers, clearing land despite knowing it would quickly become infertile, moving deeper and deeper into the jungle in a relentless drive to provide us with cheap McDonald’s hamburgers. Above all, my perception remained fixed that these people were deforesting the rainforest almost out of spite, that they could be doing something productive but chose to slowly nibble away the borders of our greatest reserves of biodiversity.
By Allie Miller
Community Development Intern
It was an early Wednesday morning when Lindsay, Maureen and I piled into the company pickup, soil collection equipment and rubber boots in tow, ready to drive the almost 2 hours it would take to get to a distant chakra. The air had the feeling of a crisp New England fall day, and after over 24 straight hours of rain, the blue skies where a much welcomed sight. We put on our neon Ray Bands, and in a bout of joy that couldn’t have been timed better Lindsay yelled in her subtle twang, “ROAD TRIP!”
As we headed down the highway, Lindsay slipped in a playlist her husband had made the night before. It had a little bit of everything, from Calvin Haris to The Lumineers; songs that were still fresh in my memory as new, but likely outdated by now. As we sang our way through the playlist our minds began to forget where we were and we started reminiscing about our homes. Somewhere between “Hey-Ho” and “Wagon Wheel” the acoustic melodies got us talking about state fairs, seasons, and real maple syrup. While I had only been away for 8 weeks, the other two had been in Ecuador for a year and 2 years, respectively. Needless to say, their longings were justified. Soon the playlist was over, and we switched to a different playlist that had been left in the truck. Salsa and raegee filled the car and we were shortly there after pulled out of our wanderlust and back into the present.
By Allie Miller, Community Development Intern
If Rosie the Riveter had been the creative work of the Ecuadorian government, she would have likely been a farmer whose flexed arm held a machete rather than a clenched fist. This week has been all about the strong Ecuadorian women, and usually through the context of farming. My first week at Runa has flown by with each day more interesting than the last.
First, let me give you a brief background on Runa and Fundacíon Runa
. The guayusa
(y-us-a) tree is an indigenous tree in the Ecuadorian rain forests whose leaves are used to brew a highly caffeinated tea. After a study abroad trip in Ecuador, Runa’s founders wrote up a business plan that would work with indigenous Kichwa farmers to grow and harvest the tea to sell to an American market. This model would dramatically increase the farmers’ incomes as well as garner access to capital and a say in the production process. This model would also promote agroforestry which emphasizes diversified crops that grow naturally within the rain forest rather than the more lucrative cash crops.Guayusa plant where Runa tests growing conditions
By Sunny Chao, Social Media Intern
Just when I thought that settling into simple Tena life was easy. Two days ago I moved in with my homestay family in a community called Barrio Lindo, and I’m realizing that, compared to this, Tena life was hopping. Eating out with the other interns every day for almost every meal seemed like integration because we were getting to know the town, and frequenting the laundry lady’s door was the closest I was to “meeting the locals.” At first it was difficult to adjust to new sights, sounds, and climates, but in hindsight, that seems to be about all that changed. It was more like I was part of an American culture that had been picked up and placed in Ecuador.
By Eva Bartlema, Runa/Andean Collection Intern
All though I have been trying to deny it, it is time to face the reality of the fact that my time in Napo has run out. I postponed my departure a couple of times but tomorrow morning I really do believe I will be sitting on a bus back to Quito, where I will spend a couple of more days before I fly back “home”. Home between parenthesis because, as big ol’ Pumba once said, “Home is where the rump rests”, and Tena has become a place where my rump has become very comfortable doing just that. But that’s not all it has done! Hiking, running, jumping, swimming, swinging, rafting, cycling are all things I have done here as well and there is still so much left to see and do!!
If I look back at the goals I wrote down at the beginning of this adventure, I see that my first goal was to create a network for myself that would help me forward in some way. I feel I have definitely succeeded in this. The people I have met here at Runa are people I have come to think very highly of and I am sure that they would let me pick their brains about anything they have stored up there at any given time. There is an incredible amount of know-how walking around in that little office in Archidona and I feel proud and happy that I can call them my friends.
By Connor Gibson, Eco-tourism and Conservation Intern
Since leaving Princeton, NJ on June 18, life has been a whirlwind. I have had a wide variety of new experiences, some exciting and positive, others more daunting and challenging, but the one constant I have had since being down in Tena, Ecuador, has been the onslaught of change. Never in my life have I packed up a bag and moved to a different country (where they speak a language I don’t know) to live and work for 8 weeks. Focusing on these new experiences, I have put together a list of 10 things I have appreciated doing / trying and would recommend for anyone wanting to travel to Tena (or anywhere abroad, for that matter). This list is generated after just 2 weeks of being here and shouldn’t be taken as serious wisdom from a veteran traveler: