To my own astonishment, I haven’t posted a blog in more than two weeks! How did that happen? What have I been doing? What kind of mystic Ecuamonster gobbled up time? The evidence on my camera’s SD-card suggests that I have been doing stuff, so let’s just follow those clues…
I went to Salinas de Guaranda! Look:
There is sooo much I can say about that place, I don’t even know where to begin. Salinas is a little mountain town in the Bolivar province where they have created a system of cooperatives that together form the “economía solidaria” that moves this incredible community forward. I was amazed beyond belief by all they had accomplished and how different the attitude of the people was here than elsewhere. Some history:
Salinas de Guaranda, in the central part of the Ecuadorian Andes, was one of the various communities of poor mountaineers whose only means of support was salt extraction from a mine owned by a big landowner of Colombian descent. The people of Salinas lived in poor conditions in a life of servitude and hard labor. In 1970 a group of Salesian priests arrived. They helped develop the region and taught the people to improve and develop their agricultural resources such as milk and cheese, which, till then had been used as self-sustenance. Through a system of micro credits they developed a great variety of small businesses that radically changed the history of these people. The economy in Salinas de Guaranda is based on the national and international selling of all sorts of high quality products, varyting from cheese, to sweaters, dried mushrooms, chocolate, essential oils and spicy sausages.
All of these businesses are run through cooperatives, that together form the “economy of solidarity” that characterizes this mountain town. All the products are sold under the fair trade brand “El Salinerito”, whose earnings flow back to the communities involved and help develop new initiatives and sustain those in need. Thanks to the hard work of the people and their community spirit, the salaries in Salinas are twice the national standard in all the communities spread around the mountains and the valley. There are schools and medical facilities that were built from their own savings, without support from the Ecuadorian government.
So we went there with about twenty members of the various guayusa producing communities that Runa works with to witness and learn from the forty years of experience Salinas has, working with cooperatives and helping their people forward. I could go on about this place forever, but I guess I’ll just leave it at this. Feel free to ask questions if you want to know more about this place and if you ever have the chance, I definitely recommend everyone to go have a look for themselves! More pictures of the area, the salisian priest that still lives there and the businesses of Salinas can be found here.
In the same week as the Salinas trip I had a couple of days of workshops with the artisans in the Cotundo area. They were very interesting, very intense days that taught me a bunch about their craft and maybe more about the dynamics within these groups and between them. I got to know all the ladies individually, their families and their life stories. It was intense, it was tiring, it was fun and useful.
I visited the communities numerous times after the workshops, which I think is mainly what has been eating away at my time. All though I love visiting the artisans the biggest challenge over the last week or so has been dealing with the accounting. I have been highly frustrated with their envy towards eachother and petty issues that seem to get in the way of useful progress at times. Their is a lot of gossip and some old grudges that are hard nuts for me to crack. Luckily there are lots of moment of fun, laughter and generosity that make all the hard work worthwhile. It is a pity it wasn’t this group of people that made the trip to Salinas, though. The lessons of working together, learning from passed mistakes and keeping an open mind were so visible there and would truly be an eye opener for these women. I hope they get the chance to make this trip someday and see the value of truly working together and how it can help an entire community forward.