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Posted by Tim on Sep 6, 2005
A Place for Learning

The Andes roll down the center of Ecuador like a spine. To the east of them lies the massive Amazon basin, thousands and thousands of square kilometers of tropical rain forest. This is Ecuador's Oriente, a world of anacondas and tarantulas, of oil piplines and grimy boomtowns, and of small isolated villages unknown to the wider world until the past few decades.

We had always wanted to see the Amazon rain forest, and had originally planned to do so while we were in Bolivia. But then we had to skip over Bolivia, and ended up passing over the jungles of Peru as well. We eventually rather lost track of the idea of spending some time in the rain forest. Until we met Dan.

Dan Gellar was the travel agent who arranged our Galapagos cruise, a man we'd taken a liking to from the start. At one point during our several investigatory visits, after he'd answered all of our Galapagos questions, he asked us if we'd thought about visiting the jungle. And he told us about a place called Yachana.

Yachana (the name translates to "a place for learning") is unique among the jungle lodges that dot Ecuador's rain forest along the Rio Napo, in that it's run by FUNEDESIN, a non-profit organization. Some lodges exploit the local populations, using them as the main attraction in a three-ring circus that never shows them a penny. Yachana, on the other hand, is dedicated first to improving the lives of the villagers that live nearby, and educating its visitors as it does so.

When Dan described the clinic that had been built by FUNEDESIN, the first real medical treatment these people had seen in their lives, he started choking up. Over the course of our several visits to Dan on Galapagos-related matters, Yachana came up often, and just as often some aspect or another of the work they were doing would bring tears to his eyes.

We were hooked. We wanted to see for ourselves. And soon enough, we did.

The Yachana Lodge was one of the true high points of our trip, and it wasn't just because of the setting, or the wildlife, or our guide. The setting was spectacular, true, as was the wildlife, and our guide and friend Juan Kunchikuy was one of the most amazing and special people we've ever met. But what sets Yachana apart is the difference it's making in the lives of the people around it.

We visited a school that FUNEDESIN is building. Every village along the Rio Napo has its own school, Juan explained to us, but these are just elementary schools. If someone living in one of these villages wants to go to high school, they have to travel hundreds of kilometers, to the city of Puyo, where they'll need to rent an apartment. None of this is especially feasable in a place where the average income is $270/year. For a family of nine.

But now they'll have a school of their own, one that teaches agriculture and ecotourism as well as grammar and algebra. A self-sufficient place where the students themselves will tend the crops that will feed them. They'll attend classes for twenty days at a time, and then have twenty days off (replaced by another group of students) to go home and pass on what they've learned to their families. The response has been huge, and not just from the teenagers the school is aimed at: their parents, too, want a shot at the education they'd never before had the opportunity to acquire.

Yachana Lodge is a place where you can go to sleep at night knowing that every penny you're spending there is making a very real difference in somebody's life.

In future entries, we'll tell you more about the place, about the jungle and the creatures that inhabit it, and about Juan, who just might be the most remarkable man we've ever met. But first I just wanted to tell you about that part.

Because just like Dan, I tear up every time I think about it.

Koreen (Amie's sister)
September 6, 2005 at 4:42pm
Ha! I beat my sister:)

OMG--what beautiful children. It makes me so sad to know that there is such poverty, and so happy to know that people care enough to make a difference.

You two make my day every time you post!


September 6, 2005 at 8:45pm
If there are two people in the world who I knew would make a difference it's you Hedgehogs! While I'm sitting here on my arse you're out there doing something with your life. You have no idea how much I admire you two and how much I wish I could be like you. Take care of yourselves and enjoy each new learning experience that comes your way.
September 6, 2005 at 10:14pm
I remember hearing a little about this earlier in your travels, and I cannot wait to hear more. What a special learning place… it sounds like something I'd love.
Carried away
September 7, 2005 at 2:38am
What a wonderful initiative. Glad to hear about it and can't wait to hear more.
September 7, 2005 at 7:29am
Dont be sad Timmy
September 9, 2005 at 5:16am
OK. What does FUNEDESIN stand for?
Tim the hedgehog
September 9, 2005 at 5:58pm

OK. What does FUNEDESIN stand for?

It's the Spanish abbreviation for the Foundation for Integrated Education and Development. :)

Philosophical LesbianPoet
September 11, 2005 at 11:49pm
How do you get those happy face icons? All I can do is the standard 8 o ) or 8 o P Why does yours look so AOL-ish? Just wondering…
Tim the hedgehog
September 12, 2005 at 3:43am

How do you get those happy face icons? All I can do is the standard 8 o ) or 8 o P

Just use the standard smilies instead. I'll stick spaces into them to keep them from being converted into smilies here, but don't use spaces when you type them.

:) = : )
:( = : (
:D = : D
;) = ; )

Philosophical LesbianPoet
September 12, 2005 at 11:37pm
Thanks! 8o)
September 16, 2005 at 1:32pm
Hi Jess,
September 16, 2005 at 1:37pm
Sorry, need to get used to your page. Randy shared your site name with me before he left. The pictures are wonderful and you look so happy, so glad you got to do it. I will try to pop in and see where you have been lately and use it as my lunch escape… Hope you continue to have a great trip!

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