Summer in the Amazon: Reliving Hakuna Matata

CollageDuring the summer I had the privilege to work with Fundacion Runa in Tena Ecuador. Located in the middle of the Ecuadorian Amazon, Fundacion Runa specializes in commercializing Guayusa (a tea native to the land and sacred to the Quichua Community). Since its creation initiation in 2010, Runa has earned “Fair Trade” labeling through FAIR TRADE USA due to its organically grown products. The foundation offers different internships directly related to the product including agro-forestry research, social impact studies and community development.

As the community development intern, I focused on working with the FAIR TRADE social premium fund. Under Fair trade agreements, 15% of all Guayusa sales must be redirected to the community. Other fair trade organizations have help fund schools, buses to schools and health clinics for women. The purpose of my internship was to establish goals and set deadlines for projects that the Guayusa Co-Operative could work on in the future. My assignment over the two months was to focus on issues pertaining to children and women of the Quichua community.

I was able to do research by talking to different members of the community and working with children for three hours every other day. It was difficult at first because of the lack of trust and because most of the work I did set the foundation for the future. I was also able to find resources through local “children defense fund” and work with them on children issues including rights and harassment. For two months, I was able to witness poverty but also help the foundation set a plan for women and children in the Quichua Community: Immediate necessities include simple first aid kits for each community and operational schools throughout the academic year.

I was also able to establish a youth council for teens in “Alto Tena” with the sole purpose to voice their opinions on how and what to fund for their communities. The youth council will provide a voice to the youth and hopefully allocate funding for things they need: operational schools, health clinics, etc.

The work was challenging. I visited communities in the middle of the rainforest; sometimes not accessible through cars or busses. I experienced the Quichua culture: tried delicacies (larvas), checked out the Fincas, learned a couple of words in Quichua and even attended school with the children.

The internship solidified my interest in local domestic issues and how to solve them using a different perspective. I was also able to put into practice management techniques learned in class.

post submitted by Eder Gaona-Macedo, MPA 2014, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy (USP)

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