Keely McCaskie has been working for EkoRural as the coordinator of EkoRural´s Northern Highlands Program, and is currently working on EkoRural’s Central Highlands Program. In this interview, Keely elaborates on the role she has within the organisation.
Q: How did you come to be involved in the work of EkoRural?
Keely: “I came to Ecuador in January 2014 on a U.S. Student Fulbright Grant having graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 with a BPhil in International Area Studies, BA Environmental Studies, BA Sociology, and Certificate in Women´s Studies.
I had long been involved in community organizing, education, and advocacy surrounding various social and environmental causes, for example: organizing around gender and reproductive justice, service workers´ rights, and regulations for gas-drilling in Pittsburgh; facilitating education around climate justice with native communities in the Navajo Nation and across the US; and conducting action-research in Ecuador in 2011 around sustainable development and a large-scale hydroelectric dam.
I came to love Ecuador and wanted to return on a Fulbright Grant to continue learning from the many extraordinary community leaders in this diverse landscape of cultures, issues, and locally-based solutions. I was fortunate to gain an affiliation with Fundación EkoRural, and ever since, I´ve only continued to fall more and more in love with the work and the people here.”
Q: What has been your role with EkoRural?
Keely: “My work began in the northern provinces of Imbabura and Carchi, where I served as Coordinator of EkoRural´s Northern Highlands Program. There I worked in collaboration with two promotores comunitarios to plan, implement and evaluate EkoRural´s programming in various farming communities, mainly focusing on a 5-month workshop series to highlight and promote traditional practices in healthy, locally-based consumption. In collaboration with community partners, I edited a book of local recipes that utilize healthy, disappearing crop varieties, and a facilitation manual, “Nutrition in the Northern Sierra: A guide for community facilitators,” in order to equip community leaders with tools to continue facilitating this learning and change in their own communities. I also worked to propose a new long-term strategy for the Northern Highlands Program, by gaining a comprehensive view of the current landscape of actors, challenges, and opportunities moving forward in the region.”
Most recently I have worked with the Central Highlands Program in the provinces of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, where I support in strengthening the internal capacities of the team and strategic planning of the program, and in coordinating and facilitating a week-long service-learning trip for North American donors.
Q: What have you learned and gained from the experience?
Keely: “This experience has only strengthened my conviction that sustainable, positive change is best achieved by just processes built on the knowledges, visions, and leadership of women, youth, elders, and others at the local level. It has been a true gift to learn and contribute as an integral part of an organization that successfully embodies this approach.
I´ve also affirmed that this work—and, for me, social justice in general —is simply about human relationships, and according people and environments the value they deserve. As part of EkoRural, I have been able to form truly satisfying and enriching human relationships across all of Ecuador. Without a doubt, my greatest sense of accomplishment comes from this—the day-to-day conversations, interactions, laughter, and bonds that I´ve shared this year. And so, to EkoRural, I am forever grateful.”