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Archive for the ‘Ecuador’ Category

My partner in Ecuador, Valentina, has been conducting orientation workshops at Casa Sol Otavalo for our team coming to Washington State this spring. I love that she does these things at that place in particular. It is very close to the sacred Cascada de Peguche and is such a calming spiritual retreat. Instead of doing a formal orientation sitting around a table in a school or some other public space, this group is getting all of the practical information they need, but they also leave the orientation feeling stronger together as a team and inspired from a deeper place. They will gain so much more from their travels as a result.

I can’t wait to meet them in person. If you live within driving distance of Washington State University and would like to host one of these fine young people in your home, contact me. We are recruiting host families now.

2009 Ecuador Team at Casa Sol Otavalo

The team at their orientation in Otavalo, primed and ready to go

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One of my favorite projects is our Youth Ecuador Leadership Program (YELP). Even the acronym is fun. This spring, we will host a team of ten talented youth from Pichincha and Otavalo to participate in a month long intensive training in leadership and community development. This program is a great fit with Washington State because our rural communities face so many challenges in common with rural communities in Ecuador – brain drains, sustainability, poverty, cultural identity for indigenous peoples etc.

I’ll be writing about this project in more detail in the coming months. In the meantime, if you should happen to live within driving distance of Washington State University in Pullman Washington and if you should happen to have an extra bedroom and might be interested in hosting one of these fine young people, I would love to hear from you.

Please send an email with any questions and/or download this host-family-application.

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Thinking Ahead

This spring, I have a project that will bring 10 teenagers to the US from Ecuador for an intensive month of leadership, democracy and innovative ideas around sustainable communities. They will then return home to do some small projects based on what they learned during their American visit.

I’m mapping out a calendar of activities and have so many ideas that a month doesn’t seem long enough. We have fantastic resources at Washington State University and I have always been impressed with a special streak of independent innovation in Washington’s rural and indigenous communities. This promises to be a great learning experience for me too.

More than anything, however, I am excited about the opportunity to facilitate idea sharing from the South. Latin America has much to teach us about participatory democracy and protecting the environment for peace and prosperity.

If you have ideas for activities for these young people or know of great programs to visit in Washington State, I’d love to hear from you. If you live within easy driving distance of WSU in Pullman and would like an application for hosting a young person in your home please contact me about that too. Spanish speaking families are especially requested to participate.

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One of the most important goals for our exchange program with Ecuador is to provide the visiting youth with training in democracy and civil society. So, while visiting Ecuador it was important to me to see interesting local solutions to both issues. I was not disappointed.

I had a morning to meet with the director of a citizens’ assembly in Cotacachi that may be one of the best examples of participatory democracy in the world. This citizens’ group formed rather spontaneously with the encouragement of Cotacachi’s progressive Kichwa Mayor and was officially recognized in 2000. The original idea was to provide opportunities for citizen input into the local governance. This local voice has now become a local power as the citizens’ assembly has developed into various policy making bodies. Groups focused on issues such as health, education, indigenous issues, women’s issues, etc have evolved to the point where they actually draft policy and the municipal body acts as an implementer. As a testimony to its success, Cotacachi was recently designated an illiteracy free zone by UNESCO as a direct result of a literacy campaign launched by the assembly.

We are recruiting for participants in our exchange program from this community and I am excited about the prospect of having a young person from Cotacachi share their success with peers in the United States. The assembly is a successful model that is just now being replicated in other parts of Ecuador.

After visiting Cotacachi, we drove through a cloud forest in the Cotacachi Cayapas Reserve in Northern Ecuador. This very unusual forest is an ecological gem that people all over the world are seeking to protect. More importantly, many who live in the preserve have a remarkably global outlook and an awareness of how special the place is. We visited a community in the valley of the Intag River that was unlike anything I have ever seen.

This valley was a veritable hotbed of activism – filled with people who understood the only way to protect their special forest was to find a way for citizens to make a comfortable living in a sustainable way. How exciting to see an innovative health clinic run by women, an artisan’s cooperative, an organic coffee cooperative teaching sustainable farming techniques and interplanting with food crops, and a hydro-electric company that uses low impact technology and collaborates with communities within the watershed.

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