By Carrie Hamilton, Global Citizen Year Fellow and Runa Volunteer
As I sit here in the Runa office in Archidona, I cannot help but feel the panic bubbling up in my chest: my time in Napo comes to an end in just a mere two weeks. All that has happened over the past six months and all of the people that I have met here in Ecuador have come together to shape an experience that now defines my sense of self and my sense of normality.
It is hard to realize that I have no idea when and if I will see all of this again, and it is even harder knowing that it will never be the same. It and I will be haunted by the memories I've had here. I will see my friends' faces everywhere, feel the laughs we shared together, the frustrations. All of the escapes to rivers, treks up the mountains, and hunts for ever-abundant jungle fruits will come back to me. I will be in search of memories and an experience that I will not be able to have again because the timing of this venture and the people that I am sharing it with are just so crucial. This truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and for that I am both incredibly grateful and terribly heartbroken.
As I make myself come to terms with my nearing departure, I begin to notice and appreciate absolutely everything about this place that I love. Though I am finding it nearly impossibly to squeeze the meaning I found from these last six months into a mere two weeks of savoring, I am drinking it all in as best I can: the vibrant Amazonian green, the unmistakable bum-bum-bum of Kichwa music blasting on buses, the way the jungle-mountains fringe the cities and communities, how the buildings stand touching each other, often old and disintegrating, the way the people are shaped, their colorful outfits, their smiling faces, their curious stares. It’s all incomparable.
As all of this is coming to a close, the sadness is undeniable. However, both the good and the bad, the love, the struggle, the lightness, the gratification, the frustration, the warmth, the intensity, the happiness I’ve felt here: that’s what makes it all worth it.
By Sara Hundt, Community Development Intern
Something is to be said about purchasing a cultural item from the person who handcrafted it, and learning firsthand the beauty and rich history behind the piece. During my internship with the Fundación Runa, I had the unique opportunity to stay with an indigenous Kichwa family in the community of San Pablo, outside Tena, Ecuador. Many of my experiences from this short home-stay included learning about and watching as everything from harvests to earrings were performed and created right before my eyes. Growing up on the East coast of the continental United States, I was not accustomed to being visually swept up by a production line. Food comes mass-produced and processed, and jewelry—well, that was just a mystery to me. Needless to say, I was humbled to gain what was an unforgettable vantage point into a culture strikingly different from my own.
For more information on the Mamacitas and their work, see Sara's project summary.
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By Carrie Hamilton, Global Citizen Year Fellow and Runa Volunteer
One of the many things I have come to realize during my time in Ecuador is how inherently obvious my foreigner-status is to the Kichwas of Alto Tena. I don’t know if it was my look of disbelief when my mother put a plate of chontacuro (maggots) in front of me to eat or simply my distinguishing pale skin and blue eyes that did the trick, but from my arrival and undoubtedly until my departure, I have been and will be known as the Village Gringa.
I have to admit, at first I fought it. I cringed every time someone shouted, “Ya viene la gringa, la gringa!” I couldn’t help but turn bright red whenever I entered a room and everyone burst out laughing just because of my very presence. I shied away from the relentless pursuit of the many indigenous men determined to teach me how to dance Kichwa style. But, alas, after many near-death falls into hidden jungle trenches and countless failed attempts at scrubbing stains out of my clothing, the title prevails. Fortunately, I have learned to embrace it and, in fact, now see that it even has its perks.
I can’t tell you how many new and interesting people I have met simply because their curiosity over where I come from and what I’m doing here has driven them to approach me. I’ve shared many a laugh with fellow community members over the fact that my name, pronounced “Cari” here, means man in Kichwa. I am silently amused by the looks of hilarity and disbelief on my siblings’ faces as they watch me zooming away over the river in a cage supported by nothing more than a thin steel line. I am always grateful for the steady hands of my mother on my waist, making sure I don’t fall to my doom as we shuffle across streams on slick and shaky logs.
As I’ve been here for longer and longer and as everyone starts to warm up to me, I am beginning to find my place in my community and am learning to love the laughs directed my way. Even though I will always be the Village Gringa, I now affectionately understand how that status defines my increasingly normal role as a member of Alto Tena.
By Carrie Hamilton, Global Citizen Year Fellow and Runa Volunteer
One month ago when I first arrived in my small Kichwa village of Alto Tena, my mind was blown. I simply could not fathom how unbearably slowly time passed in my community, and it was hard to imagine being able to spend six months living in a place where a day felt like a week, and a week felt like an eternity. The hours are long in Alto Tena, that’s for sure, but after being there for a few weeks I am beginning to see just how beautiful that is.
Every single morning, the people in my community wake up around 4AM. They go to drink the traditional cup of Guayusa, and then they begin their days either going to school or farming in the jungle. Sometimes they will return home for lunch, other times they will work through the daylight. By 6PM, everyone is home for dinner, and we all sit in la cocina to eat and chat, reminiscing on our days and the latest community gossip. By 7:30, everyone is in bed preparing for what will become of the next day.
The people work hard in Alto Tena; there is no doubt about that. In fact, I have never met a group of people that works harder. But there is also a degree of tranquility and simplicity that comes along with their way of life. They do spend hours and hours laboring away, but the attitude of the entire community is one of unlimited time and no pressure. Periodically throughout the day, people find time to share a laugh over someone tripping or stop by home to catch the latest fútbol game on TV. When one is tired, he or she rests. When one is hot, he or she bathes. When one is hungry, he or she eats. We didn’t repair the bridge today? That’s alright; there’s always tomorrow.
As I change my perspective, the days in Alto Tena are beginning to blur together and I am able to appreciate spending my free time swimming in the river or just lounging in la cocina. Finally I can take the time to explore myself, pursue hobbies I’ve never had the time for before, and go out and learn to just be. I see this way of life as an opportunity, one that I may not have again for the rest of my life. As I sit here, sipping my cup of Guayusa and writing, I can’t help appreciate: What an utterly beautiful simplicity this is.
By Varun Goliapth (Community Development Intern, Summer 2012)
It has been a week or two since my homestay with Bartolo Licuy and his family in the community of San Jose. The decision to be part of a homestay was suggested to me by Cass Walker – the Internship Coordinator -- so that I could improve my fluency as well as learn more about the life viewed through the eyes of a Producer Executive Board member.
Most of my time during my internship experience has been devoted to working with the needs assessment that Fundación Runa has been working on for some time now. The needs assessment has its basis on the questionnaire given to farmers during the harvesting of guayusa leaves. Fundación Runa’s goal is to interview ten percent of the farmers they work with to get an accurate picture of what the needs of the farmers are. Needs that are specifically being targeted include education, nutrition, financial security, and areas of disparity in general. The idea behind the needs assessment is that it would yield results which could then aid decisions made by the Producer Executive Board – a representative body of the guayusa farmers --as to where funds from the Social Premium Fund would be allocated. By taking advantage of the opportunity of staying with Bartolo – PEB member – I could really make a real world connection to the numbers that I would be working with.
In the beginning I didn’t really know what to expect of my host family and what my situation would yield. All I remember is that Cass dropped me off at the house and told me that I could return to the office whenever I was settled in. The first person to greet me from the family was Bartolo’s wife. Since the rest of the family was either at school or work, she took care of the house and the tienda that the family ran. She was an elderly figure who for some reason reminded me of my own mother in terms of her mannerisms. She was very soft spoken but at the same time was very independent. She showed me to my room which to my surprise was similar to my room back home. Then after settling into the room and doing a little bit of exploring in the immediate area I went to the kitchen so I could interact with Bartolo’s wife. Though I was nervous I knew that the only way to communicate with her would be to force Spanish to come out of my lips. From that point I didn’t care about the sentence structure but just spit whatever vocabulary I had in my head to convey a point. I formally introduced myself and told her why I, a student from the states, was here in a small Kichwa community in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Then she told me about what a normal day consisted of. Usually the day started of with breakfast and of course guayusa, immediately following children and adults went to their respective work place, then everyone would reconvene during the afternoon to talk and socialize as to how everyone’s day went by. She also warned me that the smaller children would probably want to play during the evening which I was excited about. After talking to her for a little bit in the kitchen, I went back to my room to lie down for a little bit as it was midafternoon by this point. When I came out of my room I saw that she was tending to customers at the tienda while holding one of her grandchildren. I decided the least I could do was help her out with the shop for a little bit. After which I headed off to the office and work on some data input of the needs assessment data.
When I returned to the house later that evening it had seemed like a party was ensuing in the house. I walked to the kitchen area while greeting everyone with a “Buenos noches”. Then the questions started. To give you a picture I was sitting on a chair in the kitchen when practically all of Bartolo’s family was in the room. Four of his daughters were there along with six to seven grandchildren who varied in age. All of whom, who were interested in who the new extranjero was and why he was here. So I explained to them that I was a student interning with Runa and wanted to learn more about Kichwa culture. What I found fascinating was how immediately after asking my name they immediately asked how old I was and if I was married. Once I sat in the hot seat I didn’t get up for another 3-4 hours. I listened and conversed and I wasn’t bored for a single second. Because everything was new to me and all I wanted to be was a sponge that could absorb as much information as I could. The electricity would go on and off, food would be served, and new people would come up to me to talk. They would share their stories and I would share mine. Even their lives were completely different from that of my own I knew that a human connection was ever present.
I had an especially deep talk with Bartolo in which we discussed respective histories of our people. I spoke of both American and Indian history as I have background knowledge of both culturally and historically. And Bartolo would talk of Kichwa culture and how it began and how it has weathered time. It was an inspiring conversation to have with Bartolo. And Bartolo reminded me of my now deceased grandfather in the way he was enthusiastic about his culture and want to inspire the youth. By comparing these different cultures we sparked new ideas and all of this was done through a language that was a second language to both of us. I stressed the importance of the PEB and how the representation of the farmers is really the base of Runa’s operation. To avoid exploitation as has happened in the past with tea in India I stressed that the PEB working with Fundacion Runa should be knowledgeable of what is happening in an effort to prevent wrong doing. We recognized that what Runa was doing was helpful for the Kichwa farmers but by each part of Grupo Runa being knowledgeable of all activities we can move forward in a sustainable sense. This conversation supplemented with guayusa went on late into the night in a candle lit room at times when power would go off for hours at a time.
The interactions that I had with Bartolo and his family gave me a renewed sense that no matter what boundary or characteristic that all humans have an innate connection to each other. The interexchange of ideas was really something that I will treasure for my entire life. It was also an eye opening experience to also learn some historical background to how the Kichwa culture has evolved with time. And most importantly I got a glimpse of what world is viewed through the eyes of a Kichwa farmer’s eyes in small community of San Jose.
By Maya Manning (Community Development Intern, Summer 2012)
Culture shock is fading and I have begun to observe and appreciate the cultural differences around me. In particular, I have started noting the intersection between the traditional Kichwa culture and the more modern Westernized Ecuadorian culture. Today was a prime example.
I wake at 4am to go to a traditioanl guayusa ceremony in a nearby Kichwa community. Six interns and the program manager pour clown style out of a taxi and the first thing I notice is the music blasting out of a nearby house. It is currently 5am. Latin dance music is reverberating throughout the community. The ceremony takes place in a round one-room building with bamboo walls, thatched roof, and dirt floor. It is still dark outside so the electric lights are on in addition to the fire. We sit on wooden benches placed around the edges of the room. There is a fire in the center and a tin pot of boiling water balanced on top. The radio is playing when we arrive but they turn it off after a few minutes. Carlos and Maria are the Kichwa couple who own the building and invited us to their ceremony. They are in their seventies and were married when he was 18 and she 13 as part of an arranged marriage. Both have faces painted with a henna-like plant. She is in traditional dress, he is wearing a polo and shorts. Maria hands us guayusa in bowls made from dried fruit shells. Carlos is busy making bamboo flutes and Maria speaks very little Spanish so their son, wearing a t-shirt and athletic shorts with long hair pulled back in a ponytail, tells the seven gringos present stories of guayusa.
There are many myths about guayusa. Some say the plants of the jungle spoke to the Kichwa and told them to brew it into a drink, some say they have always known about the plant, but all agree on the plants beneficial properties. It seems guayusa can do just about anything. The Kichwa drink it every morning for the energy it gives them to start the day, rather like an elaborate coffee ceremony for the entire family with a spiritual vibe. They put it on their skin to wake it up and to heal it. They say the guayusa protects them from snakes and other dangerous jungle animals. While they never explicitly call it holy, they are certainly not talking about an ordinary plant.
The ceremony itself begins around 4 in the morning when the mother of the family prepares the brew. Some families wake even earlier although in general families are waking later these days. Later as in 5am. Carlos informs us that he wakes at 2am everyday. I think of life at Brown and how on a good day I go to sleep at 2am. These are not lazy people. The rest of the family members and some neighbors trickle in and gather to drink, wake, and share stories. Carlos asks us if we had any dreams we would like him to interpret for us. We are a little too groggy to remember. Their daughter is sewing. She is wearing brightly colored spandex leggings which is what all the Ecuadorian women in this area wear. Maria leaves and comes back with a parrot on her shoulder.
They have stopped talking about guayusa and have moved on to discussing music. They are part of a group that performs traditional Kichwa music and dance. Instruments include drums, flutes, a turtle shell, and one that looks like a bow and is played with the mouth. They have performed in Quito and despite the rampant racism in Ecuador they say they faced less discrimination in Quito than in nearby towns. They play for us. In the background we can still hear the music blasting from the nearby house - techno now. A song I have partied to for years. It competes with the flute and turtle shell being played next to me. Carlos has informed us that their neighbors are playing the loud music to wake up everyone in the community. The kids have to go to school. I think of home and the disaster that would occur if someone played music that loud that early in the morning. With the techno music playing in the background it feels like a late night and I am surprised that daylight is dawning and I am going to have to start my day.
The guayusa is gone, it is daylight outside, and we rise to say our goodbyes. Maria spits guayusa onto the sleeping puppy because "it is time to get up." We shake hands, leave the hut, and head off to work. It is 6:30am.
By Kaley Deal, Nourish International Volunteer and Fundación Runa Summer Intern
Staring at this screen for the first time in two weeks, I was trying to think about how I could possibly decide what to write about from the plethora of experiences that have occurred thus far when it hit me: the capacity to love here. To borrow the words of Henri Nouwen, “Often we talk about love as if it is a feeling. But if we wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn to love well. . . When we “do” love, even if others aren’t able to respond with love, we will discover that our feelings catch up with our acts.” Such has been the reception of us here. Working in a community that has never had volunteers before has certainly exposed us to a genuineness of love, and that within itself has mad our experience greater than anything that we could have imagined. My host mom calls me “ushi,” which means daughter in Kichwa, the children are always making sure that we don’t fall, and I could not tell you the number of times each day that we’re asked about how we’re doing.
We’ve made lots of progress in our English and computer classes. It’s inspiring to see the kids’ desire to learn and willingness to help with the other projects. We’ve started using a double digging technique for the school garden, have begun a composting project that will incorporate kitchen waste from the school’s breakfast program, and have made progress on the school chakra, planting guayusa, yucca, plantains, guineo, and pineapple. We also had a painting day for the students to decorate rocks to surround the garden.
We are all looking forward to what the next month will bring and are sad to know that our stay is already halfway over. It’s amazing to see just how the time has flown (not to be cliché). We hope that we can truly take advantage of the time that we have left to continue building our relationships with the families in the communities and mirror the love that has been afforded to us. Emily and I will be without Internet for another two weeks, but we’re looking forward to where these projects will be at that point. Chao chao, amigos. Que todo vaya bien.
On May 28th, four adventurous students from Duke university arrived in Archidona as part of a new partnership between Nourish International,a student movement to address poverty (www.nourish.org) and Fundación Runa. Kaley, Emily, Juanita and Jayda gave up their home comforts for 8 weeks in the jungle to take part in community development projects in two communities that Runa works with.
Here are the first installments of their adventures, more soon to come.
Post 1 - Grab your bags
Our bags our packed and our anticipation is ever increasing because, in two days, we will be flying to the beautiful country of Ecuador. We will be spending eight weeks in Archidona, partnering with the non-profit Fundación Runa to help build gardens and guayusa (a tea-like plant) nurseries as well as teach classes in computer literacy, and English. Fundación Runa is a new organization, but they have made leaps and bounds in helping secure increased and more stable incomes for farmers in the Napo province. Through their partnership with Runa, a for-profit company that is trying to create a greater market for guayusa, they have been able to fashion a fresh and so far effective model for social entrepreneurship.
Although we have a plan for this summer, we understand the importance of being flexible and fulfilling the actual needs of the community rather than trying to force an ill-fitting agenda. We are not there to help but to empower. We hope to give those with whom we work some tools to improve their own communities and create the foundation for a self-sustaining environment. Fundación Runa began their project by recognizing the strengths of the Kichwa people with whom they were working, and they used their own knowledge to create an organization that would help share and preserve indigenous knowledge while alleviating poverty in the area. We hope our summer exchange will allow for both parties to learn and grasp new understandings.
Thank you for following this special journey; we cannot wait to share our adventures with you.
Post 2 - Orientation Week (Tena!)
Ali tuta (or buenas noches in Spanish)! It’s been a week since we landed in Ecuador, and after a five hour drive through the mountains and the jungle we arrived in Tena. We were greeted by a cozy cabin-like intern house at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of the city. Our first night was spent exploring the unique streets of Tena along side other interns and employees of the Fundacion Runa. Our dinner conversation revolved around Guayusa and the company’s efforts to form its image as a sustainable cash crop for small Kichwa farmers. Runa has taken a creative approach to international development by forming a company that has both for profit and non-profit sectors in both Ecuador and the United States. The four parts work as one, to promote Guayusa as an organic fair-trade product over-seas. They focus on marketing Guayusa as not just a drink but a story, a story of centuries old indigenous tradition and culture. Guayusa has been historically central to the Kichwa culture, bringing together families at 4 o-clock every morning to share stories, interpret dreams, and discuss the coming day. By promoting this image Runa hopes to create a product that will always stay in the hands of Ecuadorian farmers and provide a sustainable income for them. Starting this coming week we will have the opportunity to take part in Guayusa ceremonies with our host families.
In order to prepare for the coming 7 week excursion into the Amazon, where we will be completely immersed into the indigenous Kechwa culture, and cut off from society as we know it, we have spent the past week taking intensive Spanish and Kechwa language classes. We also discussed culture shock and the cultural norms we will be experiencing over the next seven weeks. On Monday we will re-pack our bags and enter Santo Domingio and Puni Kotona, two indigenous communities deep in the Amazonian jungle. With excitement and uncertainty looming ahead we are looking forward to this journey where we will strive to make a difference as well as learn about an ancient, beautiful culture and about ourselves. Pakharinkama (adios)!
Post 3 - First Week in the Jungle
We have concluded our first week emerged in the exotic and beautiful Amazon. It was spent integrating ourselves in the communities Santo Domingo and Puni Kotona, getting to know our host families and teaching English to the indigenous children. The educational system differs from what we’re used to in the United States. The educational system is more structured around oral and written repetition. In response to this, we are trying to introduce more critical thinking and creativity into their curriculum. Outside of the curriculum, the students are very vibrant and welcoming to us extranjeras. Everyday is new adventure with them!
Only a week into living in the communities we are starting to establish a rhythm in each of our living situations. For example, the food in the communities revolve around staples such as Yucca and white rice and are completed my small portions of meat. After eating certain meat for a few days, we were surprised to find out that “mountain meat” we were eating was actually monkey. You would never know because it is so appetizing.
As the first week comes to a close, we are already planning to implement our other projects which include building a chakra for the community and school to help raise money, implementing a recycling and compost project, and expanding our English classes to include teachers and students who don’t go to school in the community. Teaching these two groups of people will create a more sustainable impact on the community.
So far our initial arrival to our Amazonian communities have heightened our sense of awareness about the world and kindled a fire of positive change within our community and with ourselves! Yupaichany and Ally Tutta! (Thanks and good night!)
Post 4 - Adaptation
As we wrap up the second week, we finally feel at home in our communities. Adapting to a way of life so different from our own was difficult, and not without bumps in the road, however, after two week we have grown accustomed to the Kichwa way of life. One of the hardest things was that we are unable to communicate with our families and friends because we only get internet and phone service closer to the town. In addition, we are also far removed from technology and chaos of world events. Despite these shortcomings, our host families have treated us as if we are one of their own, if not better. Just this morning a seven year old boy ran up a mountain to stop a bus that was quickly evading us, as several other people yelled and whistled to catch the drivers attention. We had never previously spoken to any of them and yet they went out of their way to help us. That is one thing that is very special about Kichwa culture, their sense of community. Another thing we have noticed about the culture here is that the people all seem to have a sense of simple happiness. They work extremely hard to feed their families and go through the trials and tribulations associated with living in the jungle such as fighting off a Watusa (the largest rodent in the world) with a machete, or accidently encountering a group of Boa Constrictors on their way to work, and yet they never stop smiling. This may have to do with the importance they place on relaxing and spending time with their families. After a long day at work or school, they always make time to sit and share their stories with one another, to laugh and enjoy the presence of their loved ones.
This week, we had a charla (meeting) with the Padres de la Familia (the parents association at the school in Santo Domingo) to discuss planting a chakra (plantation) of Guayusa behind the school. They all seemed excited about the idea, as it would bring in more funding for the school and its students. We also discussed the possibility of implementing a compost system at the school to provide a place for organic waste as well as improve the quality of the soil in the chakra. In addition, we brought up the idea of planting a vegetable garden to provide the students with new nutritious food items. After the charla it was decided that at 7 AM this coming Monday, the Padres would reconvene, and we would all begin the preparation for the 300 Guayusa plants Runa plans to send. While teaching English and computer skills has been incredibly rewarding, we are excited to begin these new projects!
One ex- Runa volunteer, Andrew Given, demonstating some pure Guayusa inspiration! For more information on Andrew's instruments, you can contact him on email@example.com. Viva Guayusa!
Check out Gracie's experience with Fundación Runa, which she shared with her local newspaper: