Thursday, June 2, 2011

Welcome to Intag Valley

On Monday afternoon I completed the long journey from Quito to Ecuador's Intag Valley, approximately 7 hours total of winding through the highlands by bus. My first stop was Apuela, home to the DECOIN office and the most substantive town in the Zona de Intag. DECOIN stands for, in English, Ecological Defense and Conservation of Intag. For more than 15 years, this grassroots organization has been central to organizing against destructive mining projects in the region and has successfully kept out a major copper mine. They've also implemented numerous community development, conservation, environmental education, and watershed governance projects. You can read more about their work on their website.

I will be working with DECOIN over the next three months as a volunteer intern and also conducting sociological research on their development vision and activities (more about that later). So, naturally, I was anxious to get to DECOIN's office in Apuela on Monday. However, it was already fairly late in the day when I arrived and no one was there. I was also hoping that DECOIN folks could give me some tips on where to unload my backpack and sleep for the night, so not finding them in the office gave me the opportunity to walk around town and introduce myself to people. It did not take long to find a lovely older couple with an extra room that they let to visitors for $5/night. I ended up staying there for two nights, and finally got to speak with William at DECOIN on Tuesday.

The back wall of the office is covered by a huge poster depicting various mining disasters, underlined by DECOIN's slogan: "Dile no a la mineria!" (Say no to mining!). In front of the poster is a single desk, where William is seated; to the left, a shelf with piles of environmental leaflets and documents; to the right a motor cycle used for visiting projects. William explained to me that there is currently a big problem with a planned copper in mine in El Paraiso. He also showed me a collection of soap, shampoo, and loofah products that a women's group was producing. After we talked for about 20 minutes, he got in touch with Carlos, DECOIN's President, to make a plan for us to meet at his Santa Rosa home.

The next morning I rushed out of my $5 room, said "muchisima gracias!" to the elderly couple, and hopped on the bus toward Otavalo. They dropped me at the Santa Rosa school, as requested, about a half hour drive from Apuela. From there, I followed a trail into the forest to find Carlos's home. It would have been an hour walking, but I was lucky to be picked up by some guys working for the electrical company, just as it started raining.

I was so pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Carlos, and to spend a few days in his home. I have read and admired so much of his work. Over coffee, he updated me on some of the most recent developments, and listened to a brief overview of my research plan. It was a huge relief when he said that the research plan coincided with some information they needed in the El Paraiso community. Carlos immediately gave me a huge list of contacts throughout Intag who will be important sources for my research, and we also came up with a short task list to get started in my internship role.

Today is day 2 at Carlos's. Two leading community activists are coming to visit this morning, so I will have some time to talk with them about mining struggles in the region. Later on, a student group from the US will be here to take a tour through the forest and hear about various facets of DECOIN's work. I have decided to stay for this, since it will clearly be a good introduction for me too.

I'm looking forward to what the next three months will bring, and to occasionally contributing my reflections (rather than mere descriptions, as in this case) to this blog.

1 comment:

  1. Hope your internship is going well! The SIS Summer Abroad Program in Ecuador is starting on June 17, and they will be blogging here:

    Check it out if you're interested!