Study Abroad

Are we really working in Ecuador? – Student Blogger Delaney

We’re lucky enough to have three student bloggers from the Community Internships in Latin America program in Ecuador this semester. You’ll have the chance to hear from all three over the next few months! Last month we introduced you to Maya Swope, a Macalester College student majoring in Environmental Studies and Geography. You can read Maya’s post here. This week your Ecuador correspondent is Delaney Tight, a Colorado College student majoring in Environmental Studies and Mathematics.

Are we actually doing work in the beautiful country of Ecuador?

By Delaney Tight

The answer is yes, but I’d say it’s a bit of a work hard, play hard situation.

The internship aspect of HECUA is one of the key reasons I chose to study abroad with HECUA. It has been a super rewarding experience to be able to work with Ecuadorians on issues that plague various regions in Ecuador. Many students are working directly with victims in Quito, such as Isabel Nathanson who is working to support refugees, Laura Hurley who is helping inform parents and children about physical health and cleanliness, or Rachel Lieberman who is helping out at a school for disabled children.

On the contrary, my organization works with issues outside of Quito. I am interning with EcoCiencia, an organization that works to map the Amazon Rainforest, combat climate change, and find innovative solutions to problems that plague Amazonian communities living in the rain forest. Although I am not working directly with victims of deforestation or climate change, I am supporting the mission of EcoCiencia, which is to conserve biodiversity through scientific research, recovery of traditional knowledge, and environmental education, promoting harmony between humans and nature.

I have been working on two projects with EcoCiencia: one being a chocolate exhibit in a museum in Quito and the other, a project to bring students from the United States to the Amazon to help study and come up with solutions to complex issues. What in the world does chocolate have to do with conserving biodiversity? A lot. Story time!

There is an indigenous group of people, called Waorani, that live in the Napo, Pastaza, and Orellana provinces of the Amazon. Originally, they were hunter/gatherers. The men would hunt rodents and pigs while the women would gather fruits and vegetables to feed their communities. Over time, hunting became a great source of income for the communities as they began to sell to those living outside of their territories. Given that this was causing biodiversity to diminish, laws were created to prohibit the hunting of certain threatened species in the Amazon. For example, if you were caught killing an animal on the endangered species list, that’s 3 years in prison for you. Although beneficial to the conservation of the biodiversity, this caused the illegal hunting of wild Amazonian animals to occur.

This is where my organization, along with the help of a few other organizations came up with the idea to replace this necessary form of income with cacao production. EcoCiencia, along with the Association of Waorani Women of the Ecuadorian Amazon, taught women from Waorani communities how to grow cacao on land that has already been deforested. The eventual success of the cacao production caused the communities to stop relying on illegal hunting and shift their focus completely to artisanal handicrafts and cacao production.

The cacao is then brought to the city, where it is made into chocolate with the brand name WAO for Waorani. My job has been to help set up an exhibition of chocolate in a museum and Quito and eventually figure out how to import WAO chocolate to the United States… which is looking like quite a big project if the chocolate bars have to jump a wall along the United States border to reach American consumers.

basket full of wao chocolate bars

I have been kept quite busy with my projects, and I’m hoping to be able to help out more once I return to the states! Ideally, I could bring the chocolate to my college as well as bring more students from my college to the Amazon to help come up with innovative solutions like that of WAO chocolate. Let’s take a look at what some other students are doing!

Rachel Lieberman (Macalester)

“In Quito, I work in a rehabilitation facility for people with special needs. The biggest challenge with my pasantía (internship) has been that I don’t agree with all of their methods of working with the ‘patients’ (nor with calling them patients) since it is structured like a school. But I do feel like I am making a difference in trying to introduce new methods, and I really love talking with the teachers/psychologists about their methodology, and about some of what I have learned working with people with special needs in the past, since they are all really open minded.

My favorite thing about my internship is that I get to spend time with wonderful people, the worst part is that it’s unpaid. (Just kidding – the worst part is that it keeps us super busy and it can be hard to make time to get involved in other things in the city for example, for me, the dance community which was one of my goals).”

Leidy Rogers (St. Olaf)

“I always struggle to describe what they do because they do so much. I work with El Churo Comunicación, which is a community collective of young people that works for the right of communication. It does this in a number of ways, including running their own community multimedia news source called Wambra Radio. They also support, promote, and I think sometimes even help form campaigns that work for social change. I do a lot of different things, including going to political actions and protests to help film and translating articles to English.

Biggest challenge has definitely been the language barrier, coupled with the fact that I’m already a pretty shy person in English. With the two together, I often feel like I’m not connecting with the awesome people of my internship as much as I’d like.

I don’t feel like I’m making that much of a difference but I’m okay with that because I know my organization is. I didn’t come here to make a difference, I came here to learn from people who make a difference so maybe I can glean some wisdom off of them. If I end up helping out in any way while I’m here, which I do believe I’m doing but only to a tiny degree, that’s a bonus for me.”

Rachel Mintz (Colorado College)

“I work at the Coordinadora Juvenil por la Equidad de Género (CPJ), and it’s going pretty well! The first month or so felt slow, and I was kind of bored, but now they’re coming up with more projects for me. My work includes: writing part of their weekly radio script, translating their website into English, selecting movies and creating questions for their movie forums, and cataloging books.

Before going into the internship, I wish I had known a little bit more about the real work that the organization does, as opposed to just what they are about. While the mission of the CPJ–to fight for Sexual and Reproductive Rights–is the same, their approach is different than what I imagined. However, everyone there is passionate, intelligent, and committed to seeing a world free of discrimination of all forms, so working with them is always fun and positive.”

Marge Stelzer (Macalester)

“My internship is with an organization called Acción Ecologica. They work on cases of environmental and human rights abuses. I work on a project investigating the psychosocial impacts of mining on the lives of women. Everyone I work with is passionate about fighting these injustices.”

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