Posted on March 31st, 2014 by Alex Newell Taylor
We are here on International Water Day. I invite you: take a moment to think about the role that clean water plays in your life. Think about how drastically your life would change if you did not have reliable access to clean water.
As the people of West Virginia recently discovered, it is much more than an inconvenience. Now imagine that this was a permanent problem, and that you couldn’t just run down to the grocery store to pick up some bottled water. Sadly, this is the reality that many people around the world deal with on a daily basis.
As we’ve been learning all week, the northern “Oriente” region of the Ecuadorian Amazon has been devastated by 50 years of oil drilling and other threats such as African palm plantations and illegal timber operations. One of the biggest consequences of this environmental degradation is that the waterways of the Amazon- which produces 20% of the world’s fresh water- are no longer suitable for local communities to use for drinking, cooking, or bathing.
Faced with no other option, these communities have experienced skyrocketing rates of cancers, skin rashes, miscarriages, and birth defects as a result of their contact with this contaminated water.
Enter ClearWater, our guides for today’s part of the “Bare Witness” tour. This organization, spearheaded by Mitch Anderson and Alex Goff, has been working tirelessly to develop a proactive solution to the current situation.
Over the last two and a half years, they have facilitated the construction and installation of over 500 rainwater catchment systems, utilized by over 4,000 people in five different indigenous communities. They ensure that these systems are solidly built, easy to maintain, and effective in providing reliable access to safe water.
But their work goes far beyond the hardware- the organization also trains representatives from the communities on the installation and maintenance of the systems.
Through this skillful and conscious process, ClearWater has not only made a real and immediate difference in the health of countless men, women, and children, but they have also empowered these local communities to be their own best advocates. Their goal is to provide clean water access to every indigenous family in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
A portion of the funds we raised through this year’s Seva Challenge were utilized by ClearWater for the construction of six new systems- and today we were privileged to travel deep into the jungle to visit two villages with such systems, to see how they work, and meet the people who benefit from them. We were accompanied by two members of the indigenous tribe we were going to be visiting, Emergildo and Marina.
After an hour in the bus and another hour by canoe, we arrived at the first village, Ukavati. There, we met the villagers of that community, as well as those from the neighboring community, Bavoroe. These are members of the Cofan, an indigenous tribe that was at one time 15,000 strong, now reduced to less than 2,000.
In a one-room school room, we were introduced to about 30 children, women, and young men. We did some yoga with them, sang, danced, made art, and played soccer. We discovered that many things transcend the language barrier- like play, music, and a genuine smile, We went for a guided trek into the rainforest itself, to learn about the various plants that are used for medicinal purposes. After departing that community, we continued down the river to another Cofan village, Cofan Dureno, for more laughter and connection.
The opportunity to connect with these communities and see this work up close was truly the definition of what this trip is all about- baring witness. While yesterday we bore witness to the destruction and suffering of the land, today we bare witness to the hope for repair. We bare witness to the power of the human spirit to persevere even in the face of incredible injustice. We bare witness to the magic of the people and the land that provide health to the entire world, whether we are paying attention or not. We bare witness to hope for the future.
Alex Newell Taylor lives with her husband and puppy, splitting her time between Los Angeles and Southwest Harbor, ME. She teaches adult and kids yoga, Pilates, and SUP yoga, and loves to spend all her free time enjoying the beauty of the planet. Alex successfully mobilized her community to raise significant funds for OTM’s 2013 Seva Challenge to support organizations in Ecuador working to protect the rainforest and uphold the rights of its people.
Note: The views expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not necessarily represented by OTM.