Work Continues with the Tsachila

This week we continued our volunteering in the Tsachila village, which currently hosts us. We have been helping to improve the community sports facilities and spent some time clearing overgrown vegetation around the football pitch, but for the most part our work entailed walking into the jungle to cut down large Balsa trees which would then be made into benches for spectators to sit on.

This was strenuous at times, especially when Dylan and I nearly slipped on a fallen Banana tree while carrying the majority of a Balsa tree! We volunteers then had to split the tree in half, or in some cases, shave the top quarter off after which the tree would be slotted into two stands also made of the same material. It was tiring work, but the gratification of seeing the spectators of the next football game all use the benches made it all worth the effort. We also got to make two benches which would be placed right next to the hammocks, just metres from our bedroom.

Team pride at building our final bench!

Team pride at building our final bench!

Gardens, Recycling and Plantains!

On Tuesday the team split and we helped the community with a mix of different project tasks. Most of us went to work in one of the 25 gardens that had been already set up within the Tsachila community. Katya and I stayed with our hosts to add some finishing touches to the bins we had made previously with the aim of encouraging local people to dispose of their waste in an eco-friendly way, while Scarlett got creative painting a sign in Tsafiki (the Tsachilas´s first language) which was inscribed “Petse Ponun” which roughly translates to “garbage bin”. Dylan went into the jungle with Alejandro, our host, to harvest plantains. This apparently involves cutting down the entire tree to access the fruit, which yeilded the end product of 40 plantain bunches.

Petse Poto!

Petse Ponun!

Jungle Tour with Sandro

Wednesday took on a new theme as Sandro, the eldest son of the village Shaman Alejandro, took the group on a jungle tour where he explained to us the functions of various trees that the Tsachila use or used to use. This included rubber trees, mandarin trees and many, many more. We were shown a fruit which, when being exposed to the air after being cut open, turns a very dark blue. The Tsachila have traditionally used this as body paint, which some of us experimented with the week before, though this was our first time seeing the actual tree. We saw many cacao trees of which there are 2 types grown: nacional and la ramilla (which both contain a delicious flesh on each seed). Our day ended with a trip to Puerto Limon, the nearest town.

"Sandro explaining the purpose of one of the many tree species here - in this case, durable wood for construction"

“Sandro explaining the purpose of one of the many tree species here – in this case, durable wood for construction”

Cleaning the Cemetery

Thursday was tough work for half of us (Grace, Maxwell, Jemima and myself) who took a long walk with Alejandro to the community cemetary. The area was completely overgrown and most of the graves could not be seen without being stood upon. With machetes and spades we cleared the vegetation and moved it away from the grave area. The before and after transition was quite a contrast, we turned an overgrown hillside into the cemetary it once looked like.

The Garbage Problem

There is no real garbage disposal system in this Tsachila community, aside from burning it in a pit. As a result, much of the locals´ garbage ends up along the roadside where it is abandoned. We wanted to further emphasize the need to dispose of garbage, so Alejandro´s work plan for Friday involved walking to the community school and picking up all the trash along the way (which was a significant amount). After arriving at the school, we transplanted a fair amount of grass from the roadside to the childrens´ playground which was predominantly composed of loose dirt. We walked around the school, which has 92 students ranging from 2 and a half to 18. The school teaches its pupils in both Tsafiki and Spanish, which is a necesity considering increasing contact with outsiders.

Leaving the Tsachila Community

Alejandro rewarded us today with a bunch of bananas, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Aside from helping water some plants in Alejandro´s personal garden however, there was no more work to be done. This Saturday marks our last weekend with the Tsachila, as we leave on Monday morning. Our volunteer work here is over, so for now we relax in Puerto Limon.

Our leaving gift from the community - a bunch of bananas!

Our leaving gift from the community – a bunch of bananas!