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|Alpaca! They have about 100 in the community and sell and make things from their wool!|
Morochos is a small indigenous village located west of Cotacachi and only a few kilometers from the lagoon Cuicocha, which is a part of La Reserva Ecologica Cotacachi Cayapas. Morochos lies in the enchanting northern highlands of the province of Imbabura and is one of the 43 indigenous communities that surrounds the Cotacachi region. Like all the indigenous communities in the area Morochos is a magical place where traditions hold strong and the people still strongly believe in the elements of Mother Earth.
|Laura with her two sons!|
It is interesting because Morochos is not that old, although when visiting you might think differently. It is only about 70 years old, however, the traditions and customs of the people date back to the time of the Incas. Morochos was officially founded in 1938 in the high forested lands that rest upon the skirts of volcano Cotacachi. The name Morochos is the name for a white corn that is native to the Andes in the native language of Kichwa. This is the language that you will most often hear when strolling through the dirt roads of Morochos. It is a place of tranquility and peace. During the day you will find women working hard in the fields, tending to their children, cleaning their homes, or cooking lunch. The men may be off working in the fields, tending to their livestock, or off working in other places such as Cotacachi, Quiroga, or Otavalo. The majority of young men migrate out of Morochos, which you can clearly see when visiting since the majority of the population on a daily basis is made up on women and children. The majority of people in the community are farmers and although they do sell some of their food, the majority is grown for their own consumption. In the fields you will find corn, corn, and more corn. However, you can also find habas, beans, potatoes, quinoa, squashes, and personal gardens that hold many vegetables and medicinal plants. The community highly believes in natural remedies when you are sick and in personal gardens you can find many herbs that will be made into teas. Livestock is also a big part of the community and is wonderful to see cows, pigs, sheep, goats, alpacas, donkeys, and horses grazing in the fields or alongside the roads. The majority of these animals are raised for personal consumption, although the donkeys and horses are used for transportation throughout the community. In many of the houses you will also find rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens, which are also an important part of their diet. There are roads throughout the community but several of them are inaccessible by car due to heavy rains that wash away the roads. There is one principal road, however, and a bus comes daily about 5 times a day to bring people down the mountain to Quiroga. It is a peaceful place where the people work hard to preserve their culture and feed their families.
|Elena's youngest daughter!|
I started working in this community about three weeks or so after coming to Cotacachi. I was brought to the community one day with my counterpart from the Reserve and met with members from the community as well as a man who owns an NGO here in Ecuador, and happens to be from Vermont. The community wanted to start a reforestation project in the community because they have begun to to see the results of heavy deforestation on their watershed. They want to build a vivero, which is a tree nursery, where they would grow trees until the appropriate age, and then plant them in their community. However, they needed some help to start this project and this is where the man named Peter and the Reserve come into play. Peter's NGO wants to fund this project as well as support it. The Reserve also wants to support this project by providing technical assistance, which is where I come in. The Reserve doesn't really have the personal to provide the technical assistance on a daily basis that could really help this project, but having me gives them that option. I also can help out Peter, who has many other projects and also can't be there on a daily basis. I was extremely excited because this was just the kind of project I was looking for. I wanted to work with the indigenous communities and learn about their culture, as well as help with projects that coincide with the goals of the reserve. Building a vivero in the community will help the community by providing some economic support when selling the trees as well as help them reforest their land to protect their watershed. I couldn't wait to get started.
I have now been working in the community for about a month or so and things have been going great. I have learned so much already and no there is so much more for me to learn. I am working with two women named Elena and Laura from the community. These two women were voted by the community to be the ones to work with Peter for a year. They are getting paid by Peter's NGO for the first year with the goal of after a year the vivero becoming sustainable and providing their income. They are truly wonderful people and I have begun developing relationships with both of them. It was hard in the beginning because the indigenous culture is reserved and people tend to be much more shy. However, with time I have broken through and we spend our days laughing and talking about all sorts of things. The other challenging thing is that they speak mostly Kichwa, although they can speak Spanish. However, I have noticed that throughout my month working with them they speak more in Spanish in order to include me in their conversations. I am excited to learn Kichwa from them as time goes on. We have collected and mixed soil, put this soil into bags, created beds for the beds, collected seeds and sticks of the tree Aliso, planted these, and many other things. Things move slow here, but with each week I gain more and more patience and appreciate my time in the community and what we accomplish each day.
|Laura placing the bags we filled with soil to get ready for planting seedlings of the native tree Aliso!|
I love working in the community and feel that there is so much potential here. Next to where we are constructing the vivero is land which they call a finca integral or integral farm. It was a project that was started by a group of volunteers many years ago, however, when the volunteers left the project fell apart. Now, this is not unusual in third world countries in all parts of the world. I have learned that when forget to involve the community, and you forget to include them and ask them what their needs and wants are the project most likely will never be sustainable. Now, for me, sustainability is my goal. I want to work and help in areas that the community wants, needs, and has enthusiasm for. Without enthusiasm a project will never go anywhere. So at the moment I struggle with what more I can do for this community, what else is it that they want to improve and grow in? Luckily, a part of my Peace Corps work includes doing Community Assessment Tools, which are interviews that are to be give to a community in order to find out the trends, needs, wants, strengths, weaknesses, etc. of the community. I have not started these but hope to do so soon. However, I do have some ideas already to present. One is to get this finca integral up and running again. There is so much potential in this project alone. For example, organic agriculture practices, compost, vermiculture, bees, bioel, companion planting, and so much more. There is also a per-school near this area and it would be so wonderful to get them involved. There is definitely malnutrition among the children and teaching them how yummy things in the garden are could be a first step. There is also potential for community and Eco-tourism in Morochos that is somewhat established but could use some work. How wonderful for tourists to come to this area, visit Cotacachi, Otavalo, and Cuicocha, but instead of leaving staying in a community like Morochos. What a wonderful experience to learn first hand how the indigenous people cook, what they eat, and what they do on a daily basis! There is so much potential, and I don't where to begin.
|The Reinas of the community that I judged.|
Although it is challenging to meet the people of the community, with time I meet more and more. It was really wonderful a few weekends ago when Morochos celebrated the anniversary of their community. I was invited to attend the festivities. On the first night I accompanied Elena and her family to watch the Reina competition ( kind of like a pageant). I was all set to sit down and enjoy the competition when I was taken and asked to be one of the judges. It was a new experience but one that I enjoyed. After, I was taken to a room to eat and was given a mountain of food. This food included; corn, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, soup, alpaca, and cuy (guinea pig). Alpaca and guinea pig were very interesting and I was told that the best part of the cuy is the brain (I chose not to find out). It was wonderful to participate in an important event in the community and being a judge enabled the community to learn who I was and what I was doing there. It's hard to say where these projects will go or what else will come about, but I feel lucky to have this opportunity. When I am in the community I feel that I am truly in a different world and feel special that the two women have opened up to me and welcomed me to meet and share time with their families. I cherish the friendships I am making and hope that there will be more to come with time.
Love to all back home!