Dear Friends of the Wishi Project,
We were welcomed to the community with loving, open arms. The children have all grown a bit, and learned a lot. Alcón, who last year could barely hold a pen, wrote his name for me in the sand; Narcisa counted to ten in English; and they all sat around reading aloud from the books we brought for them. To keep the kids on track, they have had a teacher in the community working with the kids in preparation for their formal school. Unfortunately, their teacher left after four months because the makeshift school they were using was too small, not well closed in, and flooded badly during the rainy season. Everyone is excited for that to be a problem of the past.
After a series of meetings in the community, we created a construction schedule, a design for the school, and a concrete list of materials with approximate costs. We planned a ‘minga’ – a community work project – in which everyone agreed to volunteer their time, building, cooking, and doing anything else that is needed to make the project happen. Ramón has been working tirelessly to finish the wood extraction, and it is nearly done and looks beautiful. The community has submitted a formal proposal to the Dirección requesting funding for the professor: a young, enthusiastic woman who is professionally certified and speaks fluent Shuar; and the mayor himself assured me that when the school building is built he will be behind us with desks, chalkboards, uniforms, and anything else we are lacking.
During our time here, we have spent time in other Shuar communities, gotten to know lots of their extended family, participated in a sacred ceremony and attended Ramón’s wedding. We have met other foreigners who have worked and lived in these communities, and gotten to know many of the locals in the nearby cities. We have built great relationships with JUNTA, a local organization which works for child rights; COICA, a multi-national indigenous rights organization; the Palora Municipality; and more. Everyone we have met has been warm and loving, and welcomed us with incredible graciousness and kindness.
Unfortunately, all of these experiences were shrouded and marred by concerns, controversies and challenges. Many locals shared with us scathing rumors about the character and reputation of Shuar communities. Questions came up about land rights, land ownership, and the validity of their presence in the area. We heard stories of Shuar schools being burned by the government with no warning or explanation. And all of this came to us amidst a controversial local mayorial election which we were told could potentially threaten the school and even our safety. We got caught in this whirlwind, with new information and claims coming to us every day, and it became increasingly hard to separate facts from fictions, rumors from reality.
Throughout all of this it became important to remember that behind the mystery there is a truth, beneath chaos there is stability, in confusion there are answers, and beyond fear there is love. The challenge was to not get overwhelmed by all the noise, not to dwell on the problems, and to instead find ways to work dilligently and effectively to find solutions where they exist.
We decided to spend some time away from the area, let the election pass, and wait for the dust to settle to allow us to see things more clearly. A friend we met in our travels was generous enough to host us and all the volunteers at his beautiful Hostel in Riobamba. We spent this time speaking with people who better understand the nuances of these communities and the governments, meeting people in various agencies who may help us in the future, and determining a path to move forward with all the formal backing we can get. Just as importantly, we had some time to relax and clear our heads to discover the right way to move forward.
There are three important things that we must do before we will move forward: ensure the safety of everyone involved; guarantee the legality of the building project; and protect the continued functioning of the school into the future. We are currently working with COICA, an indigenous rights organization in Quito, to help us arrange all the necessary formal support. The community has been incredibly helpful and patient throughout all of this, and they are now working to gather all of the documentation from APKIUS, FICSH and CONFENAIE to document their legitimacy. Ecuador Volunteer continues to be very supportive in all ways, and we are consitently in touch with JUNTA, who will help us follow through with funding for the teacher when the time comes. This is just a small part of the incredible community of support that we are working with.
We are so lucky to have gained many contacts, both professional and personal, who are helping us navigate this process. We are moving forward with enthusiasm, but with appropriate caution, to ensure that everything is secure as we advance with the project.
And, we continue forward with an eye toward truth, stability, answers and love.
Sigamos en adelante,