My name is Edgar Arbaiza (pictured, surrounded by children from the community of Tzawata) and as a student of Humanitarian Action, I do believe that we all can rehearse a change until we are able to make it happen. I have to say that when I first arrived in Ecuador and met all the people from Rehearsing Change (RC) I was kind of scared because I did not really know what to expect from Pachaysana. Even though I had some conversations with Daniel (Executive Director of Pachaysana) and I had read the website a thousand times, I couldn’t really grasp what “Rehearsing change” meant, so I was worried that I might have made the wrong decision by coming here. However, there was also this feeling of adventuring into something unknown, because at the end of the day, you get nothing in life unless you take chances, and so I did.
I must say that I am not a student in the RC program; rather, I’m an intern for Pachaysana so my perspective of things is a bit different from that of the actual students. Unfortunately, I couldn’t join Pachaysana until mid-February. My first days with RC were really confusing. Every day I saw people rehearsing different plays with a lot of meaningful messages about a lot of different topics such as identity, gender, respect, among others. I couldn’t see why they were doing it until those messages started to sink in. The interaction with all of the people from Nina Shunku (Pachaysana’s counterpart organization in Quito), with the participants from Tzawata (2 community members from a Kichwa community in the Amazon joined RC for 2 months in Quito) and those from the USA was very enriching because all of them had different perspectives of the world we all live in. I remember certain plays which really got to me because they made me realize things that even if I had thought about, I hadn’t seen them from that point of view. To my disappointment, these were the last days the program was taking place in Quito. Soon, we would go on to the Amazon Rainforest and a real adventure was about to start.
(RC participants on the way to Tiputini)
Our first destination was Tiputini. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the Amazon. The thing that I liked the most was that this was not a trip for fun, but mostly to reflect upon our relationship with nature and the way we can connect with it. Spending time with people from the kichwa and mestizo communities helped me understand the importance that this rainforest has for them in their everyday life, a relationship between humans and nature that most of us hardly see because we’re always so immersed in our city lives. Listening to the rain, the insects, the wind, the river… seeing all those animals peacefully wandering in the jungle not being afraid of being killed by humans, those huge trees sharing their shade with us protecting us from the rain and the sun, I can only think of how in awe I was of just being there. It’s something words can’t explain.
Immediately after, we went on the Toxic Tour, which I consider to be one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had. We had the “unfortunate” opportunity to see the devastating effects of oil extraction in different indigenous communities in the Amazon. We had the chance to talk with the Cofán in Dureno, we even had the chance to talk with Pablo Fajardo, the lawyer in charge of defending the rights of the indigenous peoples against Chevron-Texaco, the company that destroyed most of their environment, affecting not only the communities nearby, but also those of all of us. This was also my first chance to be in contact with an indigenous community, something I had only dreamed about in the past and now it was coming true thanks to Pachaysana and Rehearsing Change, even if it was only to learn about their sad story and their fight against this oil company.
(RC participants on Toxic Tour)
After this, classes started again, but this time in a kichwa community named Tzawata, located in the Province of Napo. The concept of “rehearsing change” was becoming more tangible. I could clearly see what it meant and I felt really honored to be part of a program like this. I had come to learn about the management of an NGO, but besides that, I was also learning about making changes, no matter how small as they might seem to other people’s eyes. Living in this community allowed me to learn about their fight, about being strong no matter how many challenges you have to go through. We all had the chance to exchange ideas with the members of the community, to share our time, to laugh together, to experience what life is in a community in the Amazon.
(Edgar working with children of Tzawata)
Unfortunately I couldn’t be part of the whole Amazon experience since I had other responsibilities that made me return to Quito. Nonetheless, I did have the opportunity to go back to Tzawata for a week as a volunteer of Pachaysana, this wasn’t part of the RC project. This week that I spent there with two ex-students of the RC program, Ruby and Liza, made me realize that I really want to work in favor of indigenous communities and the defense of their rights. Before coming to Ecuador and interning for Pachaysana, I had some sort of idea of what I wanted to do in the future…now I am sure that I want to help these people. I really enjoyed spending a few days with them, talking to them, learning from them and from the way they organize themselves. I really liked the idea that Pachaysana is there ONLY to help them become stronger, but at the end of the day it’s them who decide how to use the new knowledge they have acquired… Rehearsing change is called “El Trueque” in Spanish, and I can totally see why. It’s all about an exchange, we all learn from each other, we’re here to help each other and to enrich ourselves with these new experiences.
To finish this entry, I would like to sincerely thank Daniel and Pachaysana for letting me be part of this. I will leave Ecuador rich in experiences and knowledge and certain that I chose the right path by pursuing my studies in Humanitarian Action. I am sure there is a lot to be done if we want the indigenous peoples to be fully respected, and I do believe Pachaysana has definitely made a good decision by empowering them through rehearsals of change.
(Edgar and RC participants - International students and community members from Tzawata and Quito)
All photos courtesy Edgar Arbaiza and Pachaysana