Lessons from the Amazon

By Lisa Hayes

Why Aliados?

Before coming to Ecuador, I was passionate about environmental issues, yet I wondered how to incorporate this into my career in social work and development. Aliados combined all of that, social and economic development (my concentration within my Social Work Master’s program) are primarily achieved through an environmental lens.

What have I learned so far?

In my short time here, there are a couple of moments that stand out to me.

In a recent conversation with a visiting PhD student, he commented how the Kichwa see the environment as a part of their family. For example, a poisonous plant is a “bad brother” and a medicinal plant is a good one. The indigenous are interwoven with their environment, the Amazon, where an intervention for one will undoubtedly influence the other. I’m grateful to see this link.

In going to a “forest feast” with other travelers, local farmer Don Clemente demonstrated this connection. He showed us his large “farm” which to me looked like a huge forest. He knew each plant and tree inside - many diverse species with various purposes: medicine, fruit, timber. Then he came to a very small tree, explaining that he planted this for his children, and that he would not harvest it. For some reason, I was moved.. That this was a tradition for his family, to keep this farm, but moreover, I felt that it was a metaphor for life, that we should be planting things and working towards goals that we won’t harvest, or see the completion of, yet that it holds value and purpose for others. I appreciate learning that lesson from Clemente - the indengeous have much to teach us.

Another moment was in a meeting with co-workers when I saw a seed of a Cedar tree. It weighed barely a thing and could easily be mistaken as a piece of a leaf. But they said that in just 15 years, it can provide sturdy wood for a home and capture significant CO2 emissions as well. This small seed has a very important role to play in the world. I reflected on how easy it is in our modern world to be removed from nature’s process... and how it can teach us life lessons: Don’t doubt small beginnings. The patience we need to give something or someone, and let it reach its full potential.

“Thank you Amazon for these lessons!”

To be continued…