By Maria Laura Minoli, Palma Real, Ecuador
Last May, three colleagues from Recrear went to deliver RecrearParticipate in a small fishing village on Ecuador’s border with Colombia, Palma Real. Kelli, Caitlin and I came back three months later to follow-up, checking how the participants had progressed on their projects and receiving feedback on the workshop.
We arrived in San Lorenzo! Fabiola Pérez, president of UCOPPANE, the fishermen’s organization that was to facilitate our work in Palma Real, received us and showed us around. Watching the sunset at the dock and a night with no light, only a candle and my camera, was the beginning of our adventure.
The next morning we woke up, went to have fish for breakfast and then met up with Diego, who would take us to Palma Real. We got on his lancha, or boat, and left San Lorenzo. We navigated through the mangroves to reach Palma Real.
Upon our arrival, Diego took us to Capucho’s house. This is one of the main houses in Palma Real and everybody knows it as the green house. We waited there until Melardo, another fisherman, came to show us around the village. We saw stilt houses closer to the water, while the constructions changed inland, resembling more traditional buildings. We also went to the “comedor popular”, or “popular canteen”, the private home of a woman who cooks for everybody in Palma Real and makes enough space to fit as many people as she can in her living room.
The workshop started In the afternoon. We had many young participants, of all ages. We introduced Recrear, ourselves, and the follow-up project. We organized many activities to get to know them more and to learn about the projects.
For the most part, we noticed that most projects had been stalled. This realization was essential for us to plan the next three days, developing activities to encourage them to start working on their projects again.
For the next days we worked with many teens and kids, for the most part, and then some adults attended as well. We came to the conclusion that the lack of leaders was affecting the process. There was nobody who was encouraging the rest to keep up the good work. We asked people to volunteer to become leaders, and there were some nominations. Three leaders were elected in total, one for each group.
The workshops were delivered in the afternoon, because the kids had to go to school and the adults had to work in the morning. During that time, Caitlin, Kelli and I went around Palma Real and got to know the community and the people better.
Walking around with our cameras trying to capture the beauty of Palma Real, we began to get a lot of attention, especially by kids that wanted to get their photo taken and posed for us while following us around.
Walking around we also got invited into people’s homes. People wanted to know what we were doing in the village. They offered us fruit such as the long and narrow guaba (see picture), mandarins and lemonade. We talked to really interesting people: a teacher, happy to see us back in town to follow-up on the previous workshop; a military officer, sitting on his porch, who told us about the importance of our presence and the intercultural exchanges we could have with the village’s youths.
Palma Real is an island situated in the delta of San Lorenzo and conchar is the village’s main activity. Kids start to pick conchas, a type of shellfish that grows in the mangroves, when they are only six years old. People – old and young – sell them in the streets every day, carrying them in colorful hand-woven baskets. Most teens in the workshop showed us the product of their daily fishing expeditions proudly. Fishing is also big in Palma Real. There are lanchas, canoe-like boats, everywhere. The fishermen never leave the motors behind and walk around with them everywhere.
Palma Real is full of colors. During the daytime, boats, clothes and houses stand out in the sunshine. And in the afternoon, the sunset makes most things turn orange, while the water goes pink. Palma Real’s colors become even more vivid at sunset.
The last day we organized interviews with some of the participants to receive feedback on the workshop delivered in May. It was stellar. Eager to share our experience with everyone and ready to deliver a new workshop in Timbiré, we got on the lancha back to San Lorenzo, and our next adventure began.