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Testimonie by Molly Fitzpatrick

May of 2015 marks the beginning of my year long dedication of volunteering in service to the health of humanity and the planet. Being at Sacha Warmi Center is providing me immense opportunities to enact my goals of education and healing. I will preface my experiences at Sacha Warmi Center with edited excerpts from the volunteer application I submitted to Didier Lacaze, founder of Sacha Warmi Center, in order to give an overview of my background as it relates to SWC….
I am interested in working with projects, groups and organizations committed to practicing ecologically sound agriculture, crafts and trades, and/or involved in nature based forms of healthcare and education. I believe the work Sacha Warmi Center is doing to empower local communities is a model I would like to support and learn from.
I am a healing arts practitioner from Portland, Oregon, USA, blending Chinese medicine with other traditional and modern nature based medicines. I am a licensed acupuncturist as well as a Zen shiatsu instructor and practitioner. I can teach basic stretching exercises, introduction to shiatsu classes and/or an intensive shiatsu certification course. I have received training in aromatherapy and flower essences and utilize these remedies in my healing practice.
I have experience gardening and taking care of pets (cats and dogs) and farm animals (chickens, rabbits, goats and bees). I have self-studied and practice organic and biodynamic gardening and farming. Currently I am enrolled in an online permaculture design certification course developing a project for inter-planting banana circles to create a tropical food forest.
I spent 2 months in Puyo and the Pastaza region of Ecuador in 2014 providing reforestation support on deforested rainforest land turned cattle pasture. I volunteered with Fundacion Fauna de la Amazonia near Mera and enjoyed the off-grid living in the jungle. I also spent time riding my bicycle along the highways leading to/from Puyo. I am a pretty rugged person and comfortable with rustic living in natural settings.
I would like to offer treatments at the Center including acupuncture and shiatsu. I am also willing to teach classes as I mentioned above if there is time, space and interest. I am interested in the Center’s programs involved with essential oil production as well as reforestation and rehabilitation of degraded landscapes.
I learned about Flora Sana herbal medicine shop last year from friends in Puyo. I visited the shop and met Didier and spoke with him briefly about Sacha Warmi Center which I read more about on the website http://centrosachawarmi.org/
With my volunteer application submitted and approved, and with space available for me to stay at the Casa de Voluntarios/Volunteer’s House, I looked forward to returning to Ecuador and spending time at SWC. I arrived at the center in early June happy to get involved with the ongoing projects. Many of my goals have already been attained and are continuing to progress as my time at the center unfolds. Beyond merely fulfilling goals I have been most grateful for the opportunity to cultivate relationships with individuals at the Center and from the surrounding communities.
Sacha Warmi Center is indeed an educational model for learning that excites and nourishes my appetite for learning and teaching. Planned as well as spontaneous peer-to-peer exchanges of information occur on a regular basis. Everyone I have met so far, from the curious young children upwards to the wise elders, have taught me something of value, whether it is how to care for banana plants in the chakra (the traditional tropical food forest that permaculture practices emulate), how to assemble and use essential oil distillation equipment, how to speak Ecuadorian Spanish, how to be more culturally aware, and so on. I am also quite pleased to have been able to impart some of the knowledge I have accumulated over the years. I thoroughly enjoy that life is the classroom and that the learning extends beyond the intellectual to incorporate reciprocal experiential lessons that weave a web of intercultural interconnectedness.
Here is a summary of the activities I have been engaging in the last 8 weeks while I have been residing at the Sacha Warmi Center.
There are a variety of organic gardens at SWC that are some of the classrooms I study in, learning about and putting into practice the cultivation of medicinal, edible, ornamental, ecological and economical plants in a tropical environment. I am learning to navigate the landscape amidst the effects of the intense equatorial sun and frequent heavy rains.
I spend a good amount of time in the Medicinal Garden that also encompasses the Plant House- a multifunctional space for teaching, learning, practicing, and gathering. In the Medicinal Garden we maintain beds full of Amazonian as well as non-native tropical plants grown for their healing properties. Regular weeding, mulching, composting, transplanting and harvesting activities occur here. I am pleased to be working with one of my all time favorite herbs Ginger Zingiber officinale as well as learning about others such as Yahuar Piri Piri Eleutherine bulbosa, Albahaca Ocimum micranthum, and Chanca Piedra Phyllanthus amarus.
Additionally, within the Medicinal Garden there are two greenhouses that provide shelter on rainy days for delicate plants and seedlings, for people working on garden projects, as well as providing a protected space for the compost bins. Preparing abono (Spanish for compost) is one of my favorite activities!
Long have I used work in the garden as a metaphor for the traversing the myriad aspects of life. Composting is a useful and practical way of encompassing the energy of transformation, an important facet of life that extends beyond the garden. A functional composting system diverts from landfills plant waste material along with animal manures turning them into bioavailable nutrients that nourish and sustain plants that nourish and sustain people and other animals. I find composting in the tropics extremely satisfying in that the turnaround time from start to finish is quick given the diverse microbial components that breakdown the materials along with the warm temperatures and high humidity. As I add layers to the compost heap mixing together the materials, aerating the pile to facilitate the decomposition, I meditate on the metaphor of personal transformations created from the blending of the layers of my life experiences.
The Spice Garden is adjacent to the Volunteer’s house and I have been occupying this little niche continually adding and tending to plants grown for their culinary aspects. These include Ajo de monte, a vining plant with garlic flavored leaves commonly used in soups, Aji Capsicum annuum the hot pepper often prepared with vinegar as a spicy condiment, as well as ginger, turmeric Curcuma longa, Culantro or mountain cilantro, basil, and hierba luisa/lemongrass Cymbopogon citratus amidst sweet potatoes, pineapple, and papaya and citrus trees.
Jardin Pedagogico is the teaching garden I have not done much work with yet. For the time being I enjoy meandering along its winding pathway that leads down to the lagoon, the stream and the beautiful vistas beyond.
In the previously mentioned Chakra I have spent time peeling away the outer layer of banana trees with a machete in order to expose and eliminate infestations of insect larvae that are contributing to decreased fruit production. This organic method of pest control, along with applying organic plant-based pesticides, liquid foliar compost sprays and mulch and compost at the base of the plants, will bring about increased food production in due time. Other plants in the Chakra include Papa China (an edible tuber which I love to prepare and consume), Pineapples (yum!), Pepper plants, and Achiote- whose seeds provide a reddish-orange dye that is traditionally used for temporary tattoos.
The Reforestation Zone is a demonstration site for cultivating trees and shrubs that have multiple purposes including timber for lumber, sources of medicine, food, and fiber as well as shady respite from the blazing sun. This zone is also a place I hope to spend more time in learning about the diverse variety of species growing there.
I visited a nearby chakra of a sacha warmi which in the indigenous language of the Kichwa people means woman of the forest. Following the lead of the Kichwa woman, another volunteer and I harvested the leaves of guayusa which are traditionally prepared as a stimulating and medicinal tea. In the following days this same volunteer and I also harvested the grassy leaves of the citronella plant for distillation into its essential oil and its hydrosol byproduct. The oil and floral water are used as an insects repellent, as a stimulant, for its antimicrobial action, as well support for the menstrual cycle. With other volunteers I harvested plants from the medicinal garden at SWC to be used in preparations such as soaps, shampoos and herbal remedies.
What a joy it is to have the opportunity to see patients at the Plant House located in the Medicinal Garden. The sounds of the jungle provides ambient background music during the acupuncture and shiatsu treatments I administer. The diversity of patients and the variety of their needs spans the spectrum of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual healing. Amidst the serene garden environment I offer treatments to neighbors, visitors, volunteers, students and residents of SWC with ages ranging from 9 years old to 79 years old!
Before school let out for summer vacation at the end of June I teamed up with Didier and the students and volunteers of SWC to engage in activities with three of the local elementary schools, their students, teachers, and a few of the parents. Some days the schools visited the center participating in various activities, while on other days we went to the schools bringing plants and compost to contribute to the creation of medicinal gardens the students carved out of heavy clay soils.
On a few occasions I returned to the schools on my own to lead the students in Makko-ho http://www.sohoshiatsu.com/Exercises.html, a movement based activity that stretches and optimizes the functions of the meridians used in Zen shiatsu. The students mentioned they wanted to learn English. Instead, I taught them a few Chinese and Japanese words during my introductory lesson on the theory of Chinese medicine and shiatsu meridians. These words included Qi that I described as la fuerza de vida or the life force, Yang which originally meant sunny side of the mountain and its complement Yin meaning shady side of the mountain, Shiatsu which means finger pressure, Hara which is the energetic as well as physical location of the abdomen in which movements of the body originate, and Seiza which is the kneeling position used with shiatsu. The Makko-ho stretches culminated with a brief meditation sitting in seiza with eyes closed focusing on the breath. After the meditation I looked around the group of students at their tranquil expressions and asked them how they felt... “Relaje” which means relaxed. Si! Yo tambien! Yes! Me, too! Good times!
In addition to teaching about Chinese medicine I have been sharing my recently acquired knowledge of medicinal plants of the rainforest. Last year in Puyo at Flora Sana herb shop I bought a copy of Didier’s pocket sized illustrated guide to medicinal plants of the region. The book entitled Cultivar Plantas Medicinales en Pastaza (Ecuador)- Manual Practico para la Salud de la Familia en la Amazonia Ecuatoriana- Serie 1: Hierbas translates into English as To Cultivate Medicinal Plants in Pastaza, Ecuador- A Practical Manual for Family Health in the Equatorial Amazon- Series 1: Herbs. It is a compact and complete guide for working with the plants growing in the medicinal garden of Sacha Warmi Center. These plants are available for use by residents, visitors, students, volunteers and patients.
In my travels outside of the center I have showed this handy resource to folks I encounter as an easy way to show people what I am learning about and the plants I am working with. I have had lovely encounters with many people this way, be it the guy on the bus next to me commenting on the transplants I was bringing to share with friends, the elderly gentleman waiting to catch a ride out of the jungle back into town with me at the side of the dirt road, or the children, teachers and parents from the nearby schools. Besides showing the little book to others, it has been helpful for me as a reference for self-care when I developed a cold or to make recommendations to patients that visit the center.
I am enjoying sharing the living quarters of the Volunteer House with other volunteers and students enrolled in the classes at Sacha Warmi. During the month of June the second of three modules took place in which two women from nearby Kichwa communities lived, studied and implemented the lessons of the coursework offered at SWC. It was a pleasure meeting Lise and Melida and sharing meals, stories, hopes, and dreams. I was able to sit in on some of their classes as well as work with them in the chakra and medicinal garden. Perhaps I will see them during module three!
During my time thus far two other volunteers from abroad have stayed for varying lengths of time. I was happy to meet Carrie when we both arrived on the same day. With both of us being from the United States, it helped to ease the culture shock that living in a foreign country and speaking a foreign language inevitably creates. I hope to meet up with her again after she finishes her undergraduate research project in another town in Ecuador before she returns to school in the US in the fall.
Soon after Carrie’s departure I met Victoria, an ethnobotanist from Columbia, who shared with me gifts of her travels in Mexico, spoke Spanish slowly and clearly for my level of comprehension, and showed me her beautiful publication of a children’s book focusing on the traditional plants for food and medicine that grow in her region of Columbia. I hope to be able to accept her offer to visit her either in her home in Columbia or in Mexico where she is headed next to continue her studies in ethnobotany. Nos vemos! We shall see!
In addition to learning about medicinal plants through first hand experience I also have made good use of the extensive library that is housed in the office at the Volunteer’s house. Other resources available for volunteers include a filing cabinet of articles related to health and ecology, DVDs of pertinent documentaries and movies, maps, charts and a computer that contains documents chronicling activities, course curriculum and inventories of gardens at SWC.
This process comes in many forms with periods of intense activity punctuated by times of reflection and restoration. When I first arrived at the center I found siestas/naps to be quite helpful after lunch during the intense midday heat. Days of heavy rains also created times for indoor activities I find to be soothing and restorative including cleaning, organizing, reading, and writing. In my time at the center I have also been keeping up with my personal blog “Bee the Love” https://beethelove.wordpress.com/ in order to share with others my endeavors in my travels. Also, an aspect of Ecuadorian life I find endearing is making time for conversation. I have had many wonderful conversations both in English and Spanish that have allowed me further insight and inspiration.
Most importantly, practicing self-care has been foundational for maximizing my capacity to participate in all these activities. In order to maintain my well-being I regularly practice yoga, pilates and meditation. Knowing that food is medicine I prepare and share meals of local and whole foods. I craft herbal formulas for myself and sip tea throughout the day (after my morning coffee!). Getting adequate sleep is important not only for recharging my batteries, it also brings me into the dreamtime which has been a lifelong source of guidance. Self-treating with acupuncture has helped me to deal with some minor injuries I have sustained during my travels. Taking time to immerse myself in nature is also important: observing weather patterns (I LOVE THE CLOUDS OF AMAZONIA!), bird and bug watching, walking the trails at the center, sitting by the stream that cascades down a waterfall at the mirador/outlook, star-gazing on clear nights soaking in the pleasant songs of frogs, crickets, night birds and other jungle creature. I appreciate the peaceful natural environment at Sacha Warmi Center.
As I plan to stay at SWC for an indefinite period of time I have set for myself additional goals including but not limited to establishing beehives, starting seeds for plant cultivation, learning more about the trees in the Reforestation zone as well as the plants of the Teaching Garden. I desire to deepen my relationship with the plant medicines of the Amazon. Along those lines I would like to create flower essences with Amazonian angiosperms and explore their healing properties. Additionally, I would like to further my connection with the surrounding communities and the individuals that comprise it.
In Closing
I am sincerely grateful to Didier for manifesting his vision of the Sacha Warmi Center, thus giving me and many others the opportunity to embrace a new paradigm of living and learning, caring and sharing.
I would like to express my gratitude to my parents, who instilled in me a strong work ethic and a love of learning, who raised me and my siblings with a whole foods diet I believe to be foundational for the good health I am blessed with, and who have provided me with countless resources to draw upon.
I would like to honor my ancestors, whose pioneering spirits prompted them to emigrate from Ireland to the United States. I have been feeling their energetic support over the course of my life as I too have traveled far from Boston, Massachusetts, the place of my birth, exploring new horizons and embracing diverse opportunities.
To my numerous teachers, the best way I can show my appreciation for all that you have taught me is to share with others what I have learned.
I am thankful for the support from friends and family, patients and colleagues, and members of communities I am involved with both in person and online. Without the contributions of this diverse network of folks providing information and resources, as well as financial, emotional, and moral support, I would not be well-positioned as I currently am to actualize my goal of spending a year in service to humanity and the planet.
I am blessed to be able to live my dreams and to the “be the change I want to see in this world”. This Gandhian sentiment is the driving force behind the year of service work I am committed to persevering in. My blog “Bee the Love” plays on words of that sentiment encompassing the concept of living the life of love as the best way I can be in order to contribute to world and inner peace. Additionally, I look to the bees as an example of the collective process of co-creating a world of abundance, a process that human culture would do well to model itself after.
If you would like to learn more about my year of service, including how you can support my efforts, please read more here https://beethelove.wordpress.com/bee-the-love-campaign-for-whole-earth-health/
Finally I would like to encourage each of you reading this to look within your heart at what you love, at what your gifts are, at what drives you forward in life and reflect back out to the world in ways in which you can share with your families, communities and the world at large all that it is that you love. Thank you.

Testimonie from Rani Findlay de Junio 2015

Less than 3 years ago, I went to Puyo to meet Didier. A friend of a friend of a friend recommended I meet him if I wanted to meet an “excellent” man doing amazing things. I was visiting Ecuador for the first time and had no idea what to expect. His was the only name I had, so I set off to the jungle and into the unknown.

Didier picked me up and drove me to his “vision”, to the land of Sacha Warmi. We walked and walked throughout the property as Didier pointed and shared enthusiastically his ideas for this initiative. Land, Didier and ideas, that was it. Beautiful land, inspiring ideas, loads of imagination and indefatigable passion and determination.

It’s rare to meet someone completely grounded in and committed to a purpose. As best as I could understand, he was determined to address the severe health crisis of the indigenous people, to offer remedies and provide education.

In his vision, the land was planted with medicinal and edible plants, sections of the land were allotted for different purposes, there were carefully planned out trails so visitors could be immersed in the pure vibration of the plants and experience their uplifting presence. There was an education center where local and visiting indigenous students could study and then return to their communities to share their knowledge. There was accommodation for students and volunteers. A facility existed in this vision, to cultivate and extract the essences of these plants to transform them into healing products.

Wow, I thought. This is extraordinary, meaningful and most worthy…but doable? I wondered how many years it would take to turn this land from predominately pastureland for cows into the reality of a fully functioning innovative educational center with the potential to solve the health crisis of the indigenous people of the Amazon.

Last month, just 2 ½ years after my first visit, I was blown away! This excellent man, many volunteers, local community members, determination, intention and donations have contributed to the manifestation of the vision of Sacha Warmi. The pathways are established to navigate the way through the medical garden, the educational garden, the mythical tree garden to the Education Center, the greenhouses, the volunteer accommodation, the sacred ceremonial dwelling, the distillation facility and the water catchment area.

In the week I was there, everyday something remarkable unfolded. I met Lise and Melida, two women from indigenous communities at Sacha Warmi to participate in their third module in a year-long educational program. At the finale of their visit, they presented their findings to a gathering of their community members. I met Molly. She’s there volunteering for a few months and also teaching and providing healing services on behalf of Sacha Warmi to the local schools and community members. Adrianna was there to contribute to the educational program with her knowledge and hands-on practice of Ayurveda. Victoria arrived. She’s an ethnobotanist from Columbia. A group of young adults, organic farmers from Chile visited to learn the practices being implemented at SWC.

With every single person, Didier enthusiastically guides his guests along the pathways, highlighting the practical implementation of his vision and sharing those aspects yet to be manifested. (Didier you could insert specifics here.)

It was a tremendous gift to have the opportunity to participate in all the activities of SWC and a great honor to witness the unfolding of the mission of SWC. I recommend and encourage you to engage in any way you can to this beneficial initiative.

Testimonie from Genevieve Cartiller (Bélgica), volunteer at Centro Sacha Warmi from January 15 to March 15 2015.

Volunteering at the Sacha Warmi Centre means a lot more than spending two months getting your hands dirty in the medicinal garden, making endless inventories and working with school kids. The experience makes you reflect, question and wonder about your own assumptions and pre-conceived ideas about indigenous cultures, who they are, and what life they lead. But most of all it makes you reflect on your own society, and the systems of thought we have put in place to explain the world to ourselves. Science, rationality and objectivity lose a great deal of sense when looking at the impact they have had on people’s lives here. It becomes difficult to see bureaucratic organisations and Western institutions as agents of “progress” and social change. Well, change? Certainly. But improvement…? Open to discussion.
As a social anthropology student these issues and questions were not new to me. However reading about them in a book and discussing them in a seminar room in a UK university is not the same as attempting to teach children who were at first very hesitant to look at me in the eye, and watching people work themselves to exhaustion for an amount of money that others would spend in a minute.
When seeing the result of Western society’s influence on indigenous people’s sense of identity, pride and self-confidence, including the effects of so-called “development” projects from non-profits and the state, always filled with good intentions and patronising assumptions, I question what kind of message I am leaving here myself. I always give a purpose to my job as an English teacher by telling myself it is an internationally spoken language that will improve their opportunities in life to study, work, travel and extend their social networks. Being able to communicate in that language will give them access to a world-wide community from which they would otherwise be excluded. But is that really what I’m teaching them? Or is it that English, this foreign language coming from “outside”, and representative of the “gringo” society, has more value than Kichwa, their own language which many of them are quickly forgetting, as no-one is encouraging them to speak it the way they do with English, including their parents and teachers. My English class did take over the hour usually reserved for Kichwa, after all. They are constantly told by their teachers, and through my classes, that speaking English is a crucial tool to navigate today’s society and that it is a key to success, and therefore we should spend a lot of time and energy learning it. We must speak the “gringo’s” language, but they have no obligation or interest in learning ours, and neither do we, as it is of no use. So am I actually playing a part in spreading the idea that their language, and culture are less valuable than mine and that they have no reason to keep it alive and be proud of it?
Most “development” projects here when trying to address the economic and health issues faced by indigenous communities are only treating the symptoms of the loss of cultural pride and identity, while at the same time unintentionally contributing to its removal. But not Sacha Warmi. Didier has a lot to teach about his fight for interculturality and for a better understanding and respect between cultures, and I am very happy to have taken a part in it, and had an opportunity to learn from him. Although it is time to act and do something about the situation, we should never stop questioning what we do. Too many mistakes have been made in the past due to overconfidence and the belief that good intentions are enough.
I have met wonderful people here whom I admire very much for the lives they lead and for the fights they take over. Most of all thank you to Didier, for his kindness and generosity, and for everything he has attempted (sometimes unsuccessfully) to teach me.

Jiyun Uyunkar (Achuar-Ecuador)
September 2014

I heard about the Sacha Warmi Center through a friend, and I am very pleased to have spent some time here as a volunteer. It’s been a great opportunity for me to know this place, because for me the vision of Sacha Warmi Center is a connection, a link with our culture.

We know that today the culture is slowly disappearing in different ways. The traditions, the ways of life and the apprenticeships, especially of our medicine, are slowly being lost. I have to admit though that some families still practice. It would be marvelous if we all did practice, not just a few families. This way we could demonstrate, make the young people and the world understand and open their eyes.

We Indigenous cultures have something important to give and teach them about what is natural. It is about sharing the best of different cultures, the indigenous and the mestizo cultures. In my opinion, we have as much to learn from each other’s. We have different ways to learn and to know, and this would be very useful for the people of today and for the future generations.

Having known Sacha Warmi Center has moved my heart. It is a great opportunity and a good beginning to make the young people feel and understand that we do not need to leave our communities to work for the culture and the ancestral medicines, because in our surroundings we have it all. Now all we need is to awaken, so we can talk with and listen to our elders, because they are our archives, documents and wisdom…our living knowledge.

After the two weeks that I spent here, I now feel that I need to learn more, to go more deeply into the knowledge, and I want to do it again, stay longer and participate in the training program for intercultural health leaders that Sacha Warmi Center is offering.

Lynda Carré (California/USA)?
May 6, 2014

One only has to be fully present at Sacha Warmi Center to benefit from the interconnectedness of the natural order of life here. The day begins at sunrise and ends shortly after sunset. A typical day might begin with a view of two Ecuadorian volcanoes in the distance seen from Sacha Warmi Center’s vista point over the lush jungle, followed in waves by thunderstorms, rainbows, sunshine filtering through the many leaves, and then ending with a sunset coloring the misty clouds flowing over the mountain ridges. It is rich in color, sound, smells, textures, and tastes. The rhythm of life at Sacha Warmi Center harmonizes with the flow of the weather and the interests of the community as it continuously evolves according to the visionary plan.??Daily, Sacha Warmi Center grows into becoming a vital resource center available to the local indigenous community and beyond. I am happy to be here. People often drop by to visit, explore the progress, ask questions, bring ideas and news, and patiently help me with my Spanish. Reflecting on my three weeks here so far, highlights include simply being on this land and staying in the Volunteer House; working with Didier, Kirsten Kairos, and Dominik Scheu to complete important projects; meeting the people of the community; learning my way around Sacha Warmi Center and Puyo; thoroughly relishing Dominik’s cooking mastery; experiencing a trip to the beautiful local Puyo River that included a very natural river rock mud spa treatment; creating artwork; and enjoying rich, meaningful dreams.

Dominik Scheu?(Switzerland)
February 2014.

I stayed and worked at Sacha Warmi Center during 3 weeks in January and February. I mostly accompanied SWC’s Manolo Santa Maria (Kichwa) as we composted plants in the reforestation area, continued maintenance of the paths in the gardens, and completed some small construction work around the buildings.??I was most amazed by the changes I could see in the plants every day, even in this short time. They were growing and flowering fast, and I could feel these changes happening inside of me, as well.??I thank Manolo for showing me his skills, and sharing his knowledge with his friendly and quiet way.??I hope many other people can have a similar, nature-connecting experience at the Sacha Warmi Center. We all could be more conscious about Nature, and help to conserve it the best we can.??I am looking forward to my next stay at SWC.

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