Sumak Kawsay in my life

How can you incorporate Sumak Kawsay into your own personal story, or your own construction of identity?

This question was posed to Sophie Schectman and the rest of our Rehearsing Change students last semester as part of our course, “Identity and Place.” Here is the context, also written by Sophie, for which the below story comes…

Sumak Kawsay is an ancient term in Kichwa. In South America, many indigenous people live by this idea, which teaches that we are all one. One community of plants, animals, humans, nature, past, present, future, our ancestors, our children. We are all connected. While I read about this concept for class, I gathered much more knowledge by learning with the Tzawata community in the Amazonian region of Ecuador. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a study abroad program that allowed me to explore different ways of living. Through my semester in Ecuador, I redefined my relationship with the world. The program brought international and local students together to learn in a nontraditional environment that extended the “classroom” to different communities in Ecuador, two of them being Tzawata and Pintag. Both towns have an agrarian economy and lifestyle, and both are heavily affected by globalization. Tzawata is an indigenous Kichwa community and Pintag is a rural community not far from the capital city of Quito. Both communities coexist with nature, and both have lessons to share, especially on the connection between food and community sustainability.

(Sophie at Quilotoa Lake)

Reflecting on Sumak Kawsay in my life and as part of my education, the following dialogue evolved…

Do you remember when you were little? And you played on “the nature trail”? And you ate fire ants and onion grass? Do you remember that you were actually in school during this time?


I remember when you had classes with people that are called teachers, but to you they were just your friends.

Aaaaaahhh right haha I never called them “Mr.” or “Mr.s so and so.” Just Anne, Kenna, John, Suzanne…

I remember that you had classes on knights and castles, on how to make a lamp, on how to write stories.

Yesss true. But what I remember most is recess and all the traditions we had! We played outside for like 2 hours every day. Just wildly running around or constructing fairy houses, making mud “pinch-pots”, trading rocks in our little shops. We celebrated tons of events each year that united the community. The importance of community, freedom, and plain childhood with respect to nature was made clear.

But what happened when you left this space? I mean you couldn’t be in 5th grade for forever.

I’m not sure...but it never was the same again. The relationship between nature and the realm of people separated.

(Bringing the class to nature in Pintag... with Javier Cevallos)

I remember when school turned into a thing of pain, fear, oppression. And also brought all the forms of free expression- art, music, dance, and nature- into the system. Those things, for you, turned into work just like your homework.

Hhhmmmm...nature, fun turned into work because the system took charge of them?

Yes...or I believe so...well I don’t know why are you listening to me I’m just your conscience! All this is in your head.

Hmph. Right. Can’t free myself from my head. But that’s O.K. sometimes...we’re just having a conversation in order to discover a little more. Let’s continue.

Alright. Tell me, how was it when you got to College? Same system and everything?

Hah yeah. It’s like you have these blinders on and you have to continue on this path without thinking.

But one thing’s different, right?

(4 amazing women, Kayla Gangemi, Sophie Schectman, Alice Markham-Cantor and Mayra Aimacaña, with Shen Aguinda bombing)

Aaaahh yes the Femme Collective!! We’re trying to make a different kind of community. A Community of Trust (UVA’s slogan)- but for real. Where we live, we work, we party, we learn, we eat, and we share together.

I remember last summer...the peak of femme collectivity.

Yes it did function best then. That’s when we had community dinners on Wednesdays, collective learning, work in the garden...but when school started, we weren’t able to continue the same things because classes and work.

Yeah. Interesting how this radical form of living doesn’t really work well under a super individualistic form of life.

The truth...we have to separate ourselves from a capitalist system- one of accumulation, individualism in order to live fully with nature, our peers, ourselves even. But easier said than done. I wonder what can facilitate this transition.

I think that your path in school can maybe help with it.

Urban Planning?

Yeah! All your classes make connections between the built environment and nature. They’re about how to bring nature into the city and unite the people with their surrounding environment.

I do believe in design as a method to achieve coexistence with people and the planet. It’s not the only means to transform the way in which we live, but urban design and architecture can create different social connections.

(The path to Antisana mountain in Pintag)

Do you remember when you listened to bird calls, when you gave funerals for bees, when you drank honeysuckle nectar?

Yes, I remember.

That was all part of your journey. Your journey to find a different kind of living- one of balance and respect for humans and nature.

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