Sunday, May 18, 2008


As another summer begins, it is high time we did some updating of Shunku Llacta's activities!  At the end of last year's International Team event, on August 3rd, our U.S. Team coordinators, Abby and Anita, discovered a group of what turned out to be "environmental" consultants to a new Canadian metals mining company, Avalanche Minerals Ltd. wandering around Rio Guaycuyacu taking samples, and gleaned enough specific information about their company that local residents and our extended Shunku Llacta family were able to follow-up on their activities and learn that some 80,000 hectares of northwestern Ecuador has been given in concession to said company for large scale metals mining exploration.  This opens us up to potential environmental and social disaster, as mining for metals is the dirtiest and longest-lasting polluter of all extractive activities, running directly in counter to all our initiatives -by Shunku Llacta and many other groups, as well as government and non-government organizations working with local communities to promote sustainable and environmentally friendly development models which stress organic agriculture, community and conservation tourism, and cottage industries as viable alternatives to the devastating lumbering, and now mineral extraction, that have proliferated with the roads and rural electrification.
Thanks to Abby and Anita for quick thinking and brainstorming, and to Lindsay for sieving the Worldwide Web for timely information which we at Shunku Llacta could then disseminate to others within these new concessions, thus arming local awareness and resistance!  Lindsay, Anita and Chani have been instrumental in setting up Blogs in both Spanish and English to put the information out into the world (though of course many rural residents have no access to the internet), and for keeping us abreast of events beyond our most local territorial borders. Anita keeps her hand on the pulse of the Asamblea Constituyente in Montecristi which is currently forging a new Constitution for Ecuador, which will include a new Mining Law.  Chani is mobilizing the international community and considering how best to support our efforts here.
Regionally, individuals and organizations in the areas of northwestern Pichincha, Santo Domingo de los Colorados, and southwestern Imbabura Provinces who are within these new concessions have banded together -a first- to form the Coordinadora para la Defensa y Conservacion del Noroccidente (CODECONO), which aims to promote environmentally and socially  sustainable economic alternatives and rejects metals mining as an inappropriate and inevitably disastrous development option unwarranted in the region due to its environmental and archaeological importance, geographical/climatic conditions, and the presence of more acceptable development models which can provide long term economic sustainablilty to the area. Shunku Llacta's in-country coordinator, Mimi Foyle, is an integral part of the Coordinating body of CODECONO.
Check out the blogs for ongoing information and how you can help our efforts: (English) (Espanol)
In Santa Rosa, Guayabillas, and Saguangal, the months have passed quickly.
Shunku Llacta's Lindsay Hagamen's proposal to Brown University was funded to work in these three communities with the following objectives: 1) to promote local involvement with a sustainable resource, Guadua angustifoloia -the local native bamboo; 2) to network regional and local organizations with similar objectives to fortify and expand these to effect positive changes in the areas of forest conservation, organic agriculture, sustainability, etc.; and 3) to contribute materially to raising environmental awareness in local schools. Though this project was slow to start due to the perceived greater urgency of the mining issue, some of its objectives have already been realized as we participate in other local initiatives:
 --The Corporacion Nacional de Conservacion Voluntaria ("the Forests Network"- the Red de Bosques), in view of the threat of open pit mining and the proliferation of new voluntary reservas along the "eco-ruta" between Quito and the coast, worked to attract other conservation-minded individuals and organizations to work as a regional network for conservation and sustainability issues. Out of this new network, CODECONO formed, and continues to work, with concrete activities planned into the near future. (the 2nd objective)  
 --Also, Thomas Riedmuller in the Republic of Ireland received a grant from Irishaid to support an international school exchange, "Learning to Live with One Planet," which linked schools in Ireland, Ecuador, Kenya and Mexico; offering an educational program stressing world citizenship, environmental responsibility, and sustainability concepts -including mapwork, games and hands-on exercises to enhance environmental sensibilities in students. A group from The Hollies Centre for Sustainable Living came to Ecuador last winter and gave workshops in several communities, as well as exchanging letters, photos, drawings and gifts between Ecuadorian school children and their Irish counterparts. Some of these materials are in the process of being translated for use in workshops for environmental trainers and Ecuadorian schools. Another summer project for Shunku Llacta! (the 3rd objective)
This leaves the primary objective, to work with Guadua angustifolia. Last September we had the first meetings with community groups in Santa Rosa, Guayabillas, and Saguangal about the bamboo component of the project. In October we made use of local resources by sponsoring a basket-making workshop at Rio Guaycuyacu. Due to conflicting meetings at that time, only Santa Rosa residents were able to attend as their own maestro, Celin Vasco, explained how to select and split Guadua angustifolia "canes", and how to make a durable work basket. Currently, each community is developing its own plan for a bamboo construction that will fulfill the needs for each group. In Saguangal, it will be a family guest house for their community tourism project; in Guayabillas, a bamboo second-storey on the Casa del Comite that will provide meeting and community tourism interpretation and lodging space in that community. In Santa Rosa, it may be a Community Center, or portable bamboo structures upon which to display their agricultural and other products at local fairs.
With Shunku Llacta support for transportation, Santa Rosa has participated in both the Parish Fair at the end of March in Pacto and in the El Paraiso Fair in April, taking first prize in both for the most diverse array of agricultural and related products, a source, now, of local pride and a stimulus to continue to promote excellence in this traditional occupation.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Greetings from Ecuador, where Halloween preparations are in full gear! A little strange, since it is actually FINADOS which is traditionally celebrated here. People have already had community work parties to tidy up Guayabillas´ local cemetery, and families will soon be getting together to make delicious colada morada - a purple corn-based, mildly fermented beverage which features reddish fruits such as tiny blueberries and the andes blackberries as well as pineapple, naranjilla -even araza- with a multitude of spices (cinnamon, star anise, whole cloves, allpspice and ishpingo) and special herb bundles with amaranth, orange leaves, elderberry branches, lemongrass and lemon balm. Very yummy stuff, made in huge batches to take to the cemeteries with "guaguas de pan" - breads made in little human figures- and crowns of flowers for a picnic with the ancestors. people get an extra day off from work, since the traditional holiday (all souls, the day after all saints, which is the day after all hallows eve (Halloween).

Earlier this month, Shunku Llacta sponsored a workshop for interested residents of Sahuangal, Guayabillas and Santa Rosa in working with the native bamboo (Guadua angustifolia). Community representatives spent the day learning how to select the bamboo and prepare it for basket weaving from Santa Rosa maestro Celino Vasco. It was fascinating to watch Don Celino work the material, he made it look easy. But then we all struggled to figure out how he could weave those strands into a basket, and all agreed we needed some followup tutelage if we were to ever get it right! Don Celino was patient and adept. It was a great pleasure to work with him. We are hoping to add some sort of bamboo products to our line, as it is a truly sustainable material, native to the area.

In other news, Santa Rosa and Guayabillas, indeed many of the communities in our part of Northwestern Ecuador are now challenged to respond to the threat posed by a large-scale effort on the part of Avalanche Resources, Ltd. of Canada to open the entire area up to mining for metals. There is evidence that the many people engaged in projects to promote sustainable development and environmental conservation in the same area are beginning to join forces to create a resistance network. If we are able to show that sustainable alternatives are better for Ecuador in the long run, perhaps there will be government support for creating a special sustainable economic area free of large-scale mining and non-sustainably produced lumber.

Shunku Llacta is also involved in developing environmental education materials to share in schools, and bringing in volunteers to help community members and teachers understand this special environment and the watersheds which sustain us all. Stay tuned!

Mimi Foyle

Saturday, October 13, 2007

My experience with Shunku Llacta

I became very interested in Shunku Llacta because they were working with the communities of Guayabillas and Santa Rosa, communities very close to the property my husband and I bought in 2005 and will be our permanent home in few years. Thanks to Abby and Mimi I began helping Shunku Llacta by selling some of the artesanias. Since all the artesanias are hand made and signed, I became very familiar with all the names of the women of Santa Rosa and Guayabillas. The next step was to get to know them in person, so I took advantage of the Shunku LLacta 2007 trip and joined it. After spending three days in Santa Rosa and three days in Guayabillas, I sure feel like those people I shared the days with will be my friends for a long time. I look forward to moving to Ecuador and participating in the communities of Guayabillas and Santa Rosa.

One of the highlights of my three days in Santa Rosa was to be hosted by a local family, Miche and Franklin's household. Miche was a great host, she made sure I felt comfortable in her house and I was well fed! Their life in Santa Rosa is very different from my life in the Bay Area in California. I spend all day in front of a computer and attending to phone calls, and they spend their day caring for their animals such as chickens, pigs, guinea pigs, and their crops, which are their food source and their income.
I am glad I got to know Miche and her family in a more profound way by sharing their house. I hope to come back next year and I hope to continue to be their friend.

Another highlight of my visit to Santa Rosa was to work with the community on our second day. We painted the walls of the public bathrooms. It was a great day and we all felt a great sense of accomplishment. Working together is the best way to make community and get to know each other.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Jungle Hike

Don Orlando led the '07 volunteer group on this totally incredible hike to his farm through the jungle. Here we are pausing in the jungle: (L to R) me, Anita, Jadira, Lexi, Katy, Heber, Orlando.

And below . . . a flower we saw, I think the kids called it "Christmas decoration" or something like that.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

First Day in Santa Rosa '07

This past summer I (photo to left) visited Santa Rosa and Guayabillas as a Shunku Llacta volunteer for the second time. I was so excited to come back, find out if anyone remembered me, and see how much the kids had grown! This year we were a group of three volunteers: me, Anita Rodriguez (who lives near me in the Bay Area and just bought a farm near Guayabillas) and Elaine Velasquez (from Salt Lake City).

Mimi Foyle, Director of Shunku Llacta, hosted us at her farm as our home base. Our first morning, we hiked about an hour from her house to Santa Rosa. My pack was HEAVY!! I was carrying painting supplies for our mural project. But that was nothing. Mimi's pack felt like a solid rock!! She is one tough cookie.

When we arrived in Santa Rosa, the town was gathered at the school watching the students' pageant. Students danced and acted out popular songs about tough old grandpas (see photo) and an Ecuadorian boy whose girlfriend had migrated to NYC and died in the Twin Towers.

When the show ended, we greeted everyone. I am happy to report that my past host family remembered me! Andrea (mom) was happy to see me and so were her kids - Katy (in pic with me above) and little Kevin.

We (the volunteers) had planned an opening activity to help the families get to know us, and to do some environmental education while we had the kids' attention at school. We did a big name game with the whole group, kids and families, introducing ourselves and our favorite fruit or vegetable that sounds like our name. Well, "Abby Habas" stuck with me as a nickname for the entire trip! Ana Banana and Katy Colada were also popular.

Anita, Elaine and I split up the group for the activity. I took all the jovenes, or older kids and teens. My favorite age! Katy, her cousins Johnny and Jadira, and about 5 other kids came along. We went for a nature walk in the outskirts of town and our task was to find things that were living ("cosas vivas") and nonliving ("cosas sin vida") to bring back to the big group. We set out along a path in the woods.

We started collecting flowers and leaves as living things, and bits of trash and litter as nonliving things, discussing each item's role in or impact on nature. We stopped, as all the groups would do, for a short meditation. I told the kids to stand in a circle together in silence, and to use all their senses, including their hearts. Each one would choose one thing he or she loves in this place. We stood listening, smelling, and feeling for 5 minutes, and then everyone shared the birds, fruits, butterflies, and trees that they loved in Santa Rosa.

We went back to our search. Someone spotted a beautiful blue butterfly, as a living thing. Pretty soon, everyone was hunting insects and gathering them in a plastic cup (nonliving thing) to take back. Each kid would find a grasshopper, beetle, wasp (non-stinging), or caterpillar and ask Johnny (age 16) to identify it. Apparently, Johnny is the resident insect expert!! He explained what each one ate - the moth caterpillar that eats all our crops, the parasitic beetle that lays its eggs on the caterpillar that kill it when they hatch. I was very impressed!! We also found the shell of a large river snail (tasty to eat when roasted!).

All the groups gathered back at the school and we handed out paints, brushes and paper. Each group made a collage of the living and nonliving things we collected. Then, each group presented their posters, explaining the importance of living things in nature and the impact of the trash or other nonliving things on our environment. Everyone from the grandpa's to the kindergardeners had a chance to present!!

It was a great way to break the ice and start getting to know everyone, while learning all about the local nature and enjoying it together. And of course the message of protecting the planet. At the end, we went home with our host families for the next two nights. Miche requested Anita, who she had gotten to know on the hike. Elaine went with Andrea, while Olimpia (Andrea's sister) took me home. Jadira, my host sister, linked arms with me and showed me the way. We became practically inseparable for the next three days! I needed serious help to learn all the ropes--especially nighttime bathroom trips and outdoor showers! The fun was just beginning.
Photo of all the kids: