In early May, Rainforest Partnership CEO Niyanta Spelman met Ecuador projects team members Raina Chinitz, Senaida Cerda, and Giovanni Siquihua in Ecuador to visit five Kichwa communities on the frontlines of forest protection and conservation: Hatun Urku, Munditi Urku, Isla Flor Amazonico, Flor de Pantano, and Sani Isla, to strengthen our close partnerships with women-led organizations in each community.
We were welcomed very warmly in each community, with traditional dances, Kichwa food, and kind words from community presidents, and we met with the presidents of each women’s group as well as members. We shared experiences and ideas and deepened our personal relationships over tables of maito and bowls of chicha shared between the team and all the people present. Since this was the first time she had visited since the pandemic, Niyanta had several emotional exchanges with Kichwa women she’s known for years.
Rainforest Partnership’s work on the ground lies at the intersection of forest protection and community empowerment and access—not just to basic, essential resources like clean water or internet, but to opportunities that too often are inaccessible to indigenous and local communities in the Amazon. We connect communities to resources they need and support projects that create sustainable livelihoods and build economic resilience: from agroforestry and pisciculture projects, to supporting local schools, environmental education, and capacity building opportunities.
In each community (besides Sani Isla, where we have been working for over ten years) we introduced ourselves and Rainforest Partnership team members (Senaida has visited them all several times), meeting with the women and other community members.
We discussed the projects already underway in each community, including sustainable pisciculture projects and artisan products, and together with the women we shared ideas, answered questions, and developed visions for the future of these projects and our collaboration as partners. We visited community schools and chakras (family or communal land designated for cultivation), where our community partners cultivate a rich and diverse range of products from cacao to medicinal plants, fruits, and even raising native melipona stingless bees. This foundational work helped us better understand the needs and opportunities of each individual community, and will inform where the projects go in the future.
It was extremely important to establish a greater Rainforest Partnership presence in these communities, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to do so after more than two years of pandemic challenges. The in-person connections we made build mutual trust within our organizations and in the projects themselves, which in turn increases communities’ motivation and commitment, an essential component for long-term success and forest conservation outcomes.
For those of us not born and raised in the Amazon, we witnessed firsthand the threats to the rainforest and its communities—threats that comprise the reality of life for these indigenous communities. We passed through seemingly endless palm oil plantations, saw oil flares and miles of pipes pumping oil across and beside rivers, and even running across houses, porches, bus stops, and tiendas. The threats are imminent and unrelenting, making it all the more critical that we help build community resilience.
But as we made our way down river through the lush and breathtaking forest brimming with biodiversity, we found hope in the work that we and our community partners do together– there is so much more to protect.
Thriving and resilient rainforest communities provide the best resistance to deforestation and the encroachment of extractive industries. Rainforest Partnership’s intimate, trust-based conservation model expands communities' capacities to lead in the protection of their forests and in the protection of their rights, cultures, and livelihoods—and responds to the unjust systems that abandon and marginalize indigenous communities and exclude them from access to sustainable economic livelihoods, clean water, food security, education, transportation, health care, and more.
We are incredibly grateful for the opportunities to connect with these communities and learn from the indigenous women organizing on the ground, to support them and to strengthen their vastly essential work protecting forests for themselves, for people around the world, and for future generations.