Interview: Keely McCaskie, EkoRural Coordinator

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.”keely_collage

Women’s Farming Organization of Chitacaspi

About a month ago, I visited the community of ‘Chitacaspi’ in the province of Carchi, Northern Highlands of Ecuador, as part of my internship at EkoRural. I went with Priscilla Prado, who is the Program Coordinator in the area, to interview two woman who are part of the Women’s Farming Organization of Chitacaspi.

Chitacaspi is a rural community of about 40 families, centered around a community center and primary school.  The majority of these families spend most of their time cultivating potatoes and caring for their livestock on their own farmland.  Most of these families have to travel between thirty minutes and one hour to get to their plots, and, since not all of them own cars, they may have to travel by horse, donkey or foot. Members of the Chitacaspi community who do not tend their own farms often work for the owners of local haciendas (large farms).

The two woman filmed in the video below explain what their daily lives look like and what benefits they receive from being part of the Women’s Farming Organization of Chitacaspi.  At EkoRural we think it is very important to support  these pioneers who are making a difference in their communities – and want to spread the word about the kind of development that respects and utilizes locally-based knowledge and solutions.  If you would like to get more information about these initiatives, please contact us.

Euler Fueltala, an Inspiring Local Leader in the Highlands of Ecuador

P1040411Euler Fueltala lives with his wife and three children in the northern highlands of Ecuador in a small rural-community called San-Francisco de La Libertad. He  works as community promoter and field technician for Ekorural and has been involved in several other initiatives as well. This small story is an introduction to how local leaders like Euler make a change in the lives of local producers in rural-communities.

Euler grew up in San-Francisco de la Libertad where he met his wife Elena Fueltala at 21 years of age. In his youth Euler has had some disturbing years and did not enjoy an education. Because many of the youth living in rural-areas find it hard to see the benefit of living there, many of them migrate from rural to urban areas where they hope to find better opportunities in life (ECLAC/HABITAT, 2000). Luckily, Euler found a great example in his brother, who also remained in the community, and, when he married Elena, his vision of and mission in life really started to change for the better.

Some of the problems that small local producers such as Euler have to deal with is difficulty in getting access to well-paid markets and competition with large-scale farms  that are able to sell their products in bulk and at low prices.  Euler is not just concerned about the livelihood of small local producers, but also about the negative environmental impact of indutrial agriculture. By rescuing and investigating in traditional seeds, Euler is working to bring back the lost cultivars and seeds that once used to provide food and livelihood his community’s ancestors. As Euler explains, the hybrid seeds used this century require more chemical assistance to grow, which damages our health and the environment (Gibson, A; S.O.S: Save our Seeds, 2009).  Additionally, Euler would like to alleviate the market-access issue by strengthening the exchange and interaction between the producers and consumers from different communities in order to share knowledge and local products.  Someday, he hopes this does not just occur between highland communities, but also between communities in different ecological regions, such as the coast and the highlands.

Apart from his work with EkoRural, Euler is involved in a micro-credit group, which he helped found.   He also founded a Farmer Field School, in which the participants are experimenting with different types of grasses and learning to execute an Agro-Ecosystem Analysis.

Please take a moment to watch this video to learn more about Euler Fueltala and how he is helping to transform the agricultural systems in his community.

References

Anne Gibson. (2009). S.O.S=Save our Seeds. Why it’s so important to be Seed Savers & Plant Breeders. 26 (11), 26.

ECLAC/HABITAT. (2000). Based on CEPAL, División de Población – Centro Latinoamericano y Caribeño de Demografía (CELADE), América Latina: Proyecciones de población urbana y rural: 1970-2025 , Boletín demográfico, año 23, No 63 (LC/G.2052; LC/DEM/G.183), Santiago de Chile, enero de 1999.