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Internship in Tena, Ecuador

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

In June and July 2019, I interned at a grassroots sustainable development NGO called Fundación Aliados in rural Ecuador. Nestled between the Andes and the Amazon, Tena has about 40,000 residents, with hundreds more in farming communities located on the outskirts of town. Aliados works with these indigenous farming communities on various agribusiness ventures that benefit both the farmers and the biodiversity of the jungle.

Top to bottom, left to right:

Members of the Tsawata farming community working in their nursery. Once large enough, these plantitas are transplanted to the jungle for eventual harvest or reforestation purposes.

The other interns and I pose in front of a waterfall outside of town. Tena has a plethora of waterfalls and swimming holes like these

Intern workspace at the Aliados office

One of the three bridges that crosses the Tena river in downtown

One of my primary responsibilities that summer was to act as a liaison between the Tsawata indigenous farming community and Aliados. To start, I completed a week-long homestay with various families at Tsawata to learn more about their history, ongoing projects (such as muru inchi cultivation -- see below), collective goals, and ways of life. This presented an interesting challenge as Spanish is not only a second language for me, but also for many members of the community whose first language is Kichwa.

Upon completion of the homestay, I wrote a social history of Tsawata's origins and fight for political autonomy, to be posted online at I also made subsequent day trips to Tsawata to relay information between community leaders and Aliados supervisors regarding agribusiness that the two parties were cooperating on. These ventures involved the sustainable sale of crops and lumber by Tsawata, marketed by Aliados, to help reforest the jungle and bring income to the community members.

Top to bottom, left to right:

Tsawata central meeting space

Me holding a fresh-picked mango in the Tsawata reforestation area

Taxis cross another of the three bridges in downtown Tena

Muru inchi jungle peanuts

My other primary responsibility was market research on the muru inchi jungle peanut (see above). Among other communities partnered with Aliados, Tsawata produces thousands of pounds of these peanuts annually. In fact, Tsatsayaku (another farming community) was considering putting muru inchi in their line of Amazonian chocolate bars. To gather data on the competition (species of peanut, price) I went to downtown Tena on multiple occasions to speak with vendors at various farmers markets, and the dueños of local grocery stores.


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