Minga Lodge and Bellavista

July 18
Minga lodge and Bellavista

Our routine for the rest of the week is a wonderful breakfast, including some familiar and local foods, then a motorized canoe ride to the community of Bella Vista for a few hours of construction, a return to the Minga Lodge for lunch, an afternoon activity, and then some time to relax and enjoy the sunset and the view before 6:30 dinner.

Breakfast today included tasty cooked and then smashed plantains (Teva mistook them for scrambled eggs) with a yoghurt sauce.

After breakfast, we were treated to a casual historical discussion (from one of the staff at the lodge who made relevant history very interesting) regarding the hacienda system in Ecuador. We learned about the forced taxes paid by the indigenous people to the Spanish and then eventually the forced labour indentured over time in order to avoid retribution by the land-, justice-, and church-controlling Spanish. The information was essential to our understanding of the context of the relationship of Free the Children with the local rainforest communities. We need to treat community members as people and not subjects for photographs. We need to get to know them, while helping with buildings projects. We will not provide any handouts. We need to be part of the solution, building relationships, and leaving the people with skills to continue further projects on their own in the future. At the end of the day, he specifically commented how meaningful our questions and engagement had been for him as well.

Bellavista is a tiny village upstream from Minga Lodge. A Minga is actually a local custom whereby local leaders will call together villagers to complete a community project. Free the Children has committed to their five pillars in adopting a village, and education is the first pillar completed always. But most important is community involvement and engagement in each project. So, the community must provide ten percent of the building supplies for the project and thus value the project.

Our role will be working on the library and computer room for the school. Five classrooms have already been completed and were in use this past school year. Working with the government, twelve teachers are here for the 120 students. The washrooms for the school are almost ready and will be ready for the next school year.

Although today our time at work was a brief introduction, we each did various jobs to cut, bend, or tie in place rebar for the foundation. Others moved rocks into position. It was certainly hot, even doing finesse work. Everyone is excited to get back to work tomorrow, especially now that we have started to get a feel for some of our tasks.

After lunch and a short break (to dry out or cool off), we hiked into the rainforest with Miguel as our guide. The kids all went with Sandra, following close behind. As we climbed to the top of the hill behind the lodge to a magnificent vista over the river, we listened to Miguel share his words of wisdom about the land and politics, the rainforest and the world. He is enthusiastic and engaging and a ton of fun. One very thin tall tree, smothered by a few different vines and elephant leaf plants, was an excellent example of symbiotic relationships. It highlighted the concept of love, sharing and understanding, where a plant operates for the greater good even in a relationship which would certainly eventually lead to self-destruction. If we all hold these three principles true, the world will be a great place for everyone.

We also learned about primary and secondary forest from Miguel. The primary forest is undisturbed and should stay that way. Secondary forest is naturally or unnaturally disturbed. The area we hiked was a coffee plantation until twenty years ago. The farmers were given land from the haciendas, but they were required to produce from the land. Once proven and deeds granted, the farmers farmed smaller sections of the forest plots, allowing the forest to regenerate. To us, the land was clearly forest, without evidence of the coffee farming, as twenty years was enough time for plenty of seeding from the primary forest. As well, some plants only grow in basic soil and convert the soil to a more neutral medium for the regrowth of the forest. After about eighty years, it can be considered primary forest again.

The trick is to sustainably use the secondary forest to allow more oxygenation of our world. Unlike in Brazil, where the forest is being clear cut to grow corn for profitable biofuels and thus ironically releasing fifty percent of the world’s carbon dioxide.

One amazing plant was the walking palm. The soil is only about 15 cm deep, above clay, gravel, and then millions of years of old limestone. Some of the palm have appendage-like roots that actually migrate over a few years towards light and away from cliffs.

Sandra engaged all of the kids in an art project based on their observations from the hike. The result was an art installation for dinner. She is also a wealth of knowledge and fun, even initiating a cake for Miguel’s birthday, and almost getting it in his face as he took the traditional first bite (not first cut).

Everyone is getting to know one another, the seven kids are all having fun, and we hope there will be a lot of impact on everyone from this experience. Certainly the tradition of everyone discussing a highlight of the day is a beautiful way of gauging day by day impact on each person. Some most enjoyed the boat ride and spending time with family, but we found it hard to pick between the historical talk, the volunteering, and the hike.

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