Ecuador and Our Organization
My name is Simon Cretien. After participating in a 6 month program in community development in West Africa in 2007 my life took a turn and I began studying in International development at Trent University. Then in 2011 I partook in a study abroad program in Ecuador which consisted of a semester of study at the Universidad Andino in Quito and a field study which I did in with a community organization in San Lorenzo on the North coast bordering Colombia. In San Lorenzo the turn sharpened and this is how it all started. I have been travelling to and working in Ecuador ever since.
In my time and travels there I have made some incredible friends, mentors and some who I consider family. The people who I have spent time with all live in very different parts of the country: geographically, socially, economically and I feel very fortunate to have been brought in so closely and to experience and learn about these very different environments and societies of Ecuador. From the rural Quechua farming communities of the Andes to the primary cloud forests of the Intag Valley. From tribal subsistence villages in the Amazon to the Afro-heritage fishing villages hidden along the muddy banks of the Mataje estuary.
In some of these places I have had the opportunity to work along with or learn from local organizations and municipal governments, in combating environmental deterioration and in creating community organization. In others I have spent time with families and individuals organizing resistance against the expansion of foreign mining or the palm oil industry, and the vigilante armies which it brings.
But in all of these places those who I have spent most time with are the families who have taken me in. Those who live out their lives and perform daily activities among such beautiful locations where their history is rooted, but also where political consequences affect them daily.
Among these people is where my real education started and through them, through Ecuador this has been what I’ve learned: Each region, each community around the corner is in itself its own incredible pocket of the country, but each with their own story and their own fight. Each of these places is resounding with community organization, with vision and the inspirational people within who work tirelessly toward these goals.
In those places I’ve come to know best, the community leaders, the organizers or those who simply believe most in their community’s movement have been the greatest inspiration to me, in my life and in this project. They’ve shown me how in each region they has their own complex story and a way forward, which- obstacle after obstacle, victory after victory- they continue working toward.
This has been the inspiration of our mission and the reason for our founding. Each of these communities has its own need, but each knows their own way forward, has a plan, or a success model. To me it is clear that development, education, rights, and empowerment all start at the community. So to support sustainability we only need to listen to and understand where help is being asked for so need can be met with progress. We must create networks so that what is being offered can fit where there is need. We need only to put our money or efforts where solutions are already in motion. As an organization this is our purpose, and this is what we vow to do.
Viva la comunidad!
I first visited the community of Piñán in 2016 with a few other of my Canadian friends. We were in Ecuador doing some research for their business, Cloud Forest Coffee. That week we had visited some small coffee cultivators who are part of a workers cooperative in the Intag Valley where they source their coffee from. From there our goal was to head North, into the mountains.
The Hike into Piñán was no easy matter. The one road in during the rain season is virtually impassible so we embarked on an incredible 11 hour hike through dense clouds and rain over several mountain passes which brought us consistently over 4000m elevation. During the hike I learned much about the community; its history, struggles and vision, from our guide, Louis Alfredo.
Piñán’s long struggle through the colonial years has lead it into difficult times today. The last 30 years they have been battling for rights to land, education and simple developments such as road infrastructure and electricity.
Pinan has recently been developing their potential as an Eco-touristic landmark. Their model is an incredible example of a social industry in which the entire community participates and equally benefits.
During our stay in the rustic, but impressionate lodgings which pinan has to offer different women from the community kept our rooms and cooked our group meals. We were guided around by none other than the community president Fausto Rodriguez and the mules and horses used for guiding treks and our hike in are rented from different families on a rotation. We were told that a group of 10 visitors employs about 14 people during the time of their stay.
So this where the community is hoping to steer it’s economical development. Louis voiced a problem. He is the only certified guide in the community and in order for anyone to study for this certification they would need a highschool diploma, something few in Piñán have ever received and something such a remote community will never be able to offer.
The next day we visited their schoolhouse, which offers up to a basic primary education. After speaking with the teacher and with the president, it was clear that their lack of complete education for their youth is one of their greatest obstacles toward developing and moving forward as a community.
Later that week, as we left the community and descended from the mountains into the tropical forests we were all left with a great impression, and in my case with the spark of an idea. I returned to Piñán the following year with that spark, set up a meeting through Ivan Suarez, a friend and associate of the community and after an hour of brainstorming the idea was born.
Colegio - or high school- in Ecuador is an institution for technical training and specified educational development. It is the step which prepares youth to enter the workforce or to gain expertise in various professional fields. Simply due to the manifold requirements for an official colegio it was not an option for Piñán to develop its own institution. But we could establish a point of access for the youth of their community to access the variety of public institutions which already exist in the surrounding areas. We decided that creating a community education center and dormitory for the community in the city of Cotacachi was our best option.
With this access point youth from the community will have the opportunity to continue their studies in the field they choose and receive their diploma upon completion.
This is an invaluable asset to the community of Piñán. Education is at the centre of any community’s future. The education and certification of the next generations in Piñán will mean an opening in their potential for developing their economy and infrastructure into projects such as their community tourism and expanding the horizons of their future.
Please continue to follow our story as it unfolds. We will be keeping you up to date on our progress through our news page as well as regular newsletters which you can sign up for.