Working Together Across Ethnic Divisions

Working for a shared goal is a powerful way to come together despite our differences. As we approach Christmas and my one-year anniversary of working with Green Empowerment, I feel particularly grateful to be part of work that builds both peaceful solutions and collaboration.

Here in Ecuador, I have seen this in action in the communities of Río Cayapas. On my visits to this remote region, I have been heartened to see how well Indigenous Chachi organizers and Afro-Ecuadorian organizers work together. Historically these ethnically and culturally distinct groups have not always gotten along, and they often don’t speak the same language. Though both have lived in the region for generations, they have not often mixed: most communities are either 98% Chachi or 98% Afro-Ecuadorian. 

Recently Gustavo Huera Cuases, the Water and Sanitation Lead with our local partner ALTROPICO, shared a story that illustrates the power of collective projects: When we started working with leaders in Zapallo, the economic center of the region and one of the few local communities with a mix of Chachi and Afro-Ecuadorian residents, community members’ first question was “who will be the president of the water committee?” They said that if the president was Chachi, then the system would only be for the Chachis, and the opposite would be true if the president was Afro-Ecuadorian. 

So Gustavo worked with the community to build trust. He explained that the system had to be for everyone and worked with the community to help them elect a water committee with both Chachi and Afro-Ecuadorian representatives. As with all our water systems – all the families that wanted to receive water participated in system construction. Through serving on a committee together, digging trenches together, attending training sessions and ultimately building their water system, the community members grew to trust each other, at least as far as the water system is concerned. 

This year, Zapallo expanded their water system – adding an additional water source to improve service. Now, just a couple years into this collective project, it is considered a given that the water system is for everyone and that the water committee, which still has Chachi and Afro-Ecuadorian representatives, will serve everyone. As Gustavo shared with us on another occasion, speaking about communities in the Río Cayapas:

The immediate outcome of Green Empowerment projects is clean water and renewable energy, but the way in which we reach that outcome really matters. As they work together the community is not only building infrastructure, they are also building trust in each other and confidence in themselves as a group. This is why Green Empowerment and our partners focus on community-driven development and one of the many reasons that I am so proud to be part of this team. 


Sebastián holds a masters in Sustainable Development, Macquarie University, and a BA in Communications, Universidad Católica del Ecuador, he is focused on understanding people’s behavior in multiple contexts in order create systematic change.

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