The starting point for the work of Yanapuma Foundation is the simple observation that globalization is happening to indigenous communities, like it or not. It is a process that forces them to become involved in economic activities, a role for which they are most often culturally unprepared and uneducated. The result is that they join the economic ladder at the bottom, and are ill-prepared to face the challenges that are forced upon them by a new set of rules. Up against the competing interests of loggers, colonists and mestizos, petrol and mining companies and speculators, who hold very different views on the value of their culture and environment, indigenous peoples struggle to maintain their traditional values and relationship to the environment.

The education system poses a further challenge to indigenous values, for it is a "universal" system, which means in practice that it is a city-based education system that teaches an alien set of values. It is an education that most often devalues their traditional culture, language, and knowledge, and promotes a modern economic and reductionist worldview that is most suited to life outside their culture. Thus I have heard complaints from elders in various indigenous groups that their young are strangers to their environment and culture.

For the elders, a particular tree for example, may be a source of various medicines or foods, host a variety of birds and insect life, offer clues as to the changing of the seasons, and have both a general and particular mythology and history that links it to the spirit world and the cultural history of the group. But a modern education system only teaches its economic value and use, and promotes its destruction as a source of income.

The economic and political power in Ecuador lies firmly within the hands of the mestizo population, which has led to a system of racism through which indigenous peoples are largely excluded from politics, the media, and middle class society in general. The term indigenous has become synonymous with poverty and lack of education, and to be indigenous is to be held to be a worthy but hopeless cause for the mestizo population. On the other hand, indigenous groups in Ecuador have been granted title to their lands and, at least in theory, their ancestral lands are protected.

The situation for many indigenous communities throughout Ecuador is that they are being forced into an alien form of development, without the tools, knowledge, background, education, connections, or understanding that they need to manage this transition well.

Thus there is a great deal to be done in the areas of education, health, sanitation, nutrition, environmental and cultural protection, as well as social and economic development.

The essential question that we pose at Yanapuma Foundation is, how can cultures that once lived sustainably within their resource base adapt successfully in a manner that both allows them to continue to live sustainably AND to enjoy the access to the advantages of modern life that they are equally entitled to. For they have as much right to use mobile phones and to travel as anyone else. But how to do this without destroying their environment to pay for it? Many indigenous communities are aware of what is at stake, and are actively seeking a way forward. Yanapuma strives to offer these communities the tools and the knowledge they need to live dignified and sustainable lives, preserving their culture and their environment for the future.

The solution that we pose is to take an integrated approach to working with communities, partnering with other organizations and NGOs to deliver all the necessary services and programs that are needed to make a community truly sustainable, socially, environmentally and economically.

We have observed how many organizations work in specific fields, delivering a particular program to a community. But all too often these efforts stand in isolation to the other pressing needs of the community. And although it is of benefit to receive running water, or a satellite phone, or educational materials, it would undoubtedly be better for services to be coordinated in order to create a synergistic effect on the development of the community.

Our vision is that each community should have appropriate services for its culture and environment in terms of water and sanitation, a sustainable agricultural system, a good educational system, sound environmental management, and maintain a keen sense of its culture and history. On this solid base it can develop "capstone" economic activities, such as craft production or other natural products, or community-based tourism as forms of extra income.

At Yanapuma we are just in the initial stages of developing and putting into practice this concept, and are happy to hear from would-be volunteers and possible partner organizations who are interested in helping us realize our plans.




Yanapuma Foundation
Our work is founded on the belief that the processes of globalization are inevitable. Without help indigenous cultures and communities most often end up losing control of or destroying their resource base. They lose their traditional cultural values and relationships to their environment. Thus they are drawn into a system in which they are ill-equipped to compete and are destined to remain at the bottom of the economic ladder, with under-developed infrastructure, and poor prospects for future generations. We believe that such communities have the right to maintain control of their resources and to live dignified and sustainable lives. With the right help they can develop suitable strategies and work towards a fulfilling future. But their responses need to be coordinated across all axes in order to achieve truly sustainable lives. Thus we believe it is important to support sustainable practices on multiple levels in order to present viable and holistic options.