I spent two and a half weeks in Malingua Pamba in early 2015, and my entire visit was an incredibly formative and inspiring journey for me. Traveling and working seasonally on various ecological research projects throughout many different landscapes for the past 6 years has provided me with a lot of personal experience and insights into the interface between human and natural environments. I have become very motivated to focus more on applying the lessons that I have learned and sharing the messages of sustainability and mindfulness in our interactions with nature, the underlying source of all our resources and materials for survival and recreation. Coming to Malingua Pamba with this background, it was an immense pleasure to be able to live in the community here and to be a part of their way of life which is very based in subsistence farming and direct, immediate reliance on the environment. My understanding of "quality of life” has definitely been expanded as a result of my time here, and I am immensely grateful for everything that the people shared with me as well as their receptivity in allowing me to share myself and my passions with them. While the typical western creature comforts are rare, the smiles are big and plentiful, the laughs are hearty and genuine, the food is straight from the fields, and the sense of community is nourishing and strong.
My first week was spent preparing, organizing, and constructing three greenhouses (one each in Quinta Tunguiche, Malingua Pamba, and Guantugloma) with my two fellow volunteers, Alex and Nick. We began by giving presentations in each community, discussing the design and logistics of the project, exploring the different options for what might be feasible to grow in their respective climates, and brainstorming different ways to generate income and supplemental nutritional value for their communities. It was amazing to chat with all of the people who participated, to learn more about their farming techniques and their incredibly rich practical wisdom, and especially to see them in action building and problem solving on the fly. On a personal note, it was a very beneficial experience for me to give the second presentation mostly on my own in Guantugloma, and I am very thankful for Alex and his assistance in ensuring that everything went smoothly. I spent the next week and a half helping out in the classrooms, working on some daily chores with various people, doing some work on the composting toilet, and visiting the greenhouses and consulting each community as they planted their donated seeds from Lave Valley seed co. Each community had their own little personal touches and improvements that they made to their greenhouse, especially for keeping the pigs and chickens out once they had seeds in the ground. They also had their own strategy for how to sow their seeds and allow space for maintaining their plantings. Everyone was incredibly grateful for the seeds and they were very excited about their expanded potential for cultivation thanks to the contributions of La Pamelita and CELM towards making these greenhouses a reality.
I spent a few days teaching english and a little bit of science, both in the colegio and in the primary school. I took this opportunity to also talk about general health, culture, and other topics that I thought were important or that the kids were interested in. The kids were very excited about practicing their english, demonstrating their knowledge about plants and animals, singing and learning new songs, and teaching me some of the basics of Kichwa. I made some signs for the composting toilet to help ensure proper usage and to keep the kids from putting trash in the toilet, and I spent an afternoon with some kids to discuss how this environmentally friendly toilet works and why it is a beneficial thing for improving their soil and fields. I also built new stairs for the composting toilet with my friend Eli, who joined me for a week. We transplanted some new plants into there as the last ones had been neglected and removed. In addition, we walked with some of the students from the colegio up to the Malingua Yaku spring, talked about their water system, general monitoring, and we did some basic measurements and qualitative analyses of the water as it travelled downhill in the pipeline towards town. It was very interesting to get some insight into their comprehension of the water system and the scientific process, and I enjoyed being able to encourage and demonstrate the basics of experimentation and developing critical thinking processes.
There were so many highlights during my stay and many of these beautiful memories came in the simple every day occurrences. Sharing family dinners with Paulino, Elvia, Bolivar, Roberto, and Hugo was always a pleasure and involved much lively conversation. I have so many moments of simple joy that I will always carry with me; spending time in the fields helping to collect grass for some baby pigs, hauling pine trees to construct new animal enclosures, playing soccer and volleyball with the kids and adults, removing corn from the stalks with families, and separating beans from their pods with the kids around a fire were times of shared value and happiness. For me, the thing that stands out the most is the warmth and generosity of the embrace of all the people in this region. I was incredibly moved by how welcoming, friendly, and altruistic everyone was, from the children all the way to the elderly. Even the teenagers who were sometimes way too cool to openly express their friendliness would eventually come around and they couldn’t help but resort to their innate kindness and compassion. I will forever cherish these memories and I am eternally grateful to La Pamelita and everyone in this little slice of heaven on earth that is tucked in the clouds. I will be back very soon and I can’t wait to explore lots of exciting new opportunities in these communities and expand upon all of the amazing work that is being done here!
Lee Kaiser, Colorado, USA, 12 February 2015