Saturday, December 16, 2006

Update: A return to Ecuador

The semester is winding to a close... its been a different sort of semester, maybe more real and down to earth now that the glossy sheen on all the opportunities and crazy things happening at MIT has faded and I start to realize hugeness of complexity and challenge involved in efforts to make real change in the world. I am continually inspired by stories and people around me, and ever seeking to find my place in these groups, changes and movements that I believe in.

As most of you know I spent last summer in Ecuador, working on a potable water system in the small indigenous community of Santa Ana in the rain-forest region of Ecuador... As we worked to build a dam, teach technical and administrative skills to the water board and operators, and spread hygiene and health awareness in a world where boiling water is a multi-hour endeavor of wood hauling and fire-tending I realized in a really personal way the paradoxes of "international development" I learned that good will, energy, enthusiasm and effort are not all-powerful, but at the same time that coupled with patience and a truly open mind, they can still do something extremely worthwhile. If you are interested in reading more about our work in Ecuador, you can check out:

The water is now flowing to the homes in Santa Ana, and along with Froylan, I am going back to Ecuador for the month of January to continue our work with community empowerment around their water system. This time we are hoping to work with the operators and water board that we have already taught and help them develop their skills and put together a program for them to do water hygiene and health workshops and well as technical training in other communities. One of the most striking things I felt while I was there was the oppressiveness of the paradigm of indigenous people asking for help and outsiders giving...a paradigm perpetuated both by indigenous communities and by well meaning governments, NGOs, and individuals such as our selves. We don't presume to be able to change this attitude in a month, but we would like to lay the foundation for a much more powerful type of capacity building than simply teaching them to run their water system -- teaching them that within their communities they have so much knowledge and power to share with one another.

For that reason, we are going to be working with an association of 33 indigenous communities that Santa Ana is a part of. The "Comuna San Jacinto" is based out of Puyo, the small city that is about 1.5 hours outside of Santa Ana, and works to attain legal land ownership recognition for the communities and facilitate some limited health and education sorts of programs in the communities.

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