Ecuador – How cultural identity preservation and moving towards an eco-friendly world go hand-in-hand

In a time when many of us are seriously starting to question our lifestyles in relation to their impact on the environment, we should think closely about our choices. The environmental crisis that we are living in is a direct consequence of our lifestyles. But what can we do to change this? How can we live sustainably? And most importantly, are we ready to commit to doing what it takes? These are questions which the Shino Pí Bolón Cultural Group are helping us answer.

On the 4th July 2019 The Kindred Project launched its 4th expedition to Ecuador, composed of fourteen students and three members of staff with many of these questions in mind. 

Leaving SIS at 5am, we had no idea what the next 23 days would bring.

The arrival at the Shino Pí Bolón Cultural Group community centre was a slight shock to us as we undressed all previous conceptions and absorbed the jungle, our home for the next few weeks, in all of its beauty. The first days involved a large period of adjustment as we grew accustomed to no wifi, sleeping in bamboo huts and using a waterless eco-toilet, whilst living amongst and starting to connect with the fascinating wild-life that surrounded us so closely.

All of these experiences became more significant as we moved from a period of adjustment, into a period of understanding. As we spent more time with the community members we came to see the engineering, ingenuity and reasoning behind the functioning of the centre and the Tsáchila day to day life. From the structure of the buildings to the growing and harvesting of their own food supply, there are centuries of knowledge sewn right into the seems. We soon understood that our journey had really began the moment we left our comfort zone, and that our way of life was possibly not the most sustainable. It was tough, but we were there, actually there, and ready to wholeheartedly get stuck in and give it our best to live the experience..

One of the key projects we as a team were involved in was assisting the Tsáchila community with was their Organic Farming Project. This is something The Kindred Project has been working alongside the centre since 2016 also supporting throughout the year, so to be on the ground helping to physically push the project forward was something very special. The Organic Farming Project doesn’t only aim to farm local products in a sustainable manner through ecological methods and without the use of chemical products, but also takes the regeneration of the delicate flora and fauna surrounding the fields very seriously. This also feeds into their Edible Forest Project and the reforestation activities undertaken by the group. To deepen our understanding of the methodology behind the work we were undertaking, we participated in an incredibly informative session with an Ecuadorian Forestry Engineer. He explained how important it is for him to be able to interact with an indiginous community, such as the Tsa’chilas, and learn from their wealth of knowledge which is so far entwined into their culture and way of life. The Tsá’chila culture cannot be conceived without understanding their connection to the flora and fauna around them.

This, for example, materialises with the Tsáchila’s knowledge, understanding and use of medicinal plants, renowned across Ecuador, as ailments for medical conditions. The community centre has recovered and insured the existence of traditional flora, as well as building a traditional medicinal vapour hut and developing eco-pathways through the jungle to allow for easy access to plants of medicinal value. One of our projects with the children from the local school, was to develop a signage system to identify these plants and help raise awareness amongst the younger generations who are, unfortunately, losing this wealth of knowledge.

However, it has not been a simple, easy or straight-forward task for the Tsa’chilas at the Shino Pí Bolón Cultural Group to maintain their traditional way of life and find effective ways to pass on this knowledge, living only 30 minutes from Ecuadors’ third largest city. There is a commitment to finding a balance between modern and traditional ways of life. For example, by using permaculture farming practices, working hard to avoid heavy commercialized processes and products, whilst maintaining respect for the natural world, all requires incredible willpower with determination and passion to make a difference. It is here that cultural preservation and protection of the environment go hand in hand. Having the opportunity to implicitly understand this link through the expedition is a unique and very humbling process for everyone involved, leading to an ultimate respect for the commitment undertaken by the Tsa’chilas to act as one of the guardians of our home, planet Earth.

It is a privilege for our whole school community, through The Kindred Project, to be part of the Shino Pí Bolón cultural centre. In line with their priorities, our projects work towards finding social entrepreneurship initiatives to generate sustainable income, help create channels through which information can be passed down through generations, such as knowledge of medicinal plants, traditional tales, fishing and farming sustainably and learning about the jungle as an environment in itself. We also focus on raising awareness of the Tsáchila community, beyond their area of influence.

Our support towards these projects not only feeds information to the next generation of Tsáchilas, but also to the students and teachers of the Sotogrande International School community, and beyond. In turn it is then our roles as honorary members of the Tsáchila community to use this knowledge/learning to empower and guide our own decisions about the way we choose to live, to be conscious of our collective impact on our local and global environment, and spread an understanding of the knowledge we accumulated on this incredibly life shaping expedition.

The Tsáchila Community is an indiginous group in risk of disappearing, living in the North-West of Ecuador. The Kindred Project has supported the Shino Pi Bolón Cultural Group since 2016 through the Yanapuma Foundation from Ecuador. Our collaboration with the Yanapuma Foundation goes back to 2008 through language rescue projects, intercultural exchange and Spanish language programmes, various construction and social enterprise initiatives, and the development of teaching and learning resources for the local schools.

For the academic year 2018-2019 The Kindred Project made a total investment into the project of €12.215 covering the following areas:

  • Annual higher education scholarships for 2 Tsáchila students: €2.300
  • Acquisition of traditional tsáchila weaving machine (social enterprise): €2.375
  • Traditional construction (eco-tourism project): €204
  • Storage room and painting at local school: €438
  • Acquisition of teaching and learning resources: €1.100
  • Celebration of Tsáchila Family Day: €250
  • Acquisition of native trees & plants (Edible forest project): €645
  • Tsáchila cultural club for 80 kids: €380
  • Daily meals for 80 kids (Nutrition Programme): €1.000
  • Eco-tourism project (Expedition): €3.480
  • Others: €43
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