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Mashpi’s Women’s Circle Garden

Between the green expanses of the Mashpi and Tayra reserves lies the San José de Mashpi community, located on the western foothills of the Andes northwest of Quito, surrounded by stunning landscapes and staggering biodiversity. Precisely because of its natural beauty, the community attracts many national and international visitors who, in our increasingly hectic world, seek out spaces of peace in nature. The inhabitants of San José de Mashpi believe that sustainable, community tourism represents the perfect way for them to combine care of the forests with recreation.

By Diana Troya

Contact with nature brings many benefits, including aiding physical and mental health1. San José de Mashpi aims to create sustainable livelihoods focused mainly on community and economically accessible tourism, as an engine for democratization and equal access to natural spaces. This community has become a focal point for activities in nature that minimize the impact on the natural world while creating incomes for the local people.

The Fundación Futuro has supported the consolidation of sustainable tourist projects in San José de Mashpi since 2019. Our work reflects locally-made decisions and the community’s needs, building on the work of other institutions in the area. We focus on strengthening the community’s social cohesion and productive capabilities with a comprehensive vision, one that articulates education, governance and sustainability. From this perspective, the Women’s Circle of Mashpi emerged in 2019: a space that promotes processes of self-growth, collective creation and empowerment of women as agents of change.

The Mashpi Women’s Circle has positioned itself as an important space for women in the community, where both individual and community work strengthens bonds. The women of the circle forge an individual and then collective commitment between them, which leads to women-led community activation2. The Women’s Circle provides a space and time to share feelings — joys, achievements, concerns, dreams, sorrows, etc. — that allow women to reflect on their lives and to support each other. Through sharing through the community collective, affective and effective ties are created, that bolster a stronger social structure and drive the making of their own future.

In 2020, when the health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic hit tourism deeply, Mashpi’s Women’s Circle was a key player in seeking ways to deal with the negative impacts. Women identified that the scarcity of healthy food during the pandemic put the community in a situation of vulnerability. The lack of locally-produced healthy food was apparent, threatening the food safety of the community during the months of confinement. Thus, from the community’s bonds of friendship and responsibility created by women, Mashpi’s Women’s Circle Garden was born, as a space for women who do not have farms to cultivate and thereby access fresh and healthy foods for their families’ consumption. Mashpi’s Women’s Circle proved that any crisis can become an opportunity to activate collective responses and generate the necessary changes, in order to attain a dignified life and harmony for all.

The garden became a reality over six months of working together. A true community spirit was born, full of commitments and learning. The women of the circle acquiered the land for the garden through community agreements and ensured funds for the construction of it through management with allied NGOs and their participation in the “Knowledge Factories Program” of the Imaymana Foundation. The construction of the garden and repairs to the road was carried out voluntarily by the women. Training was also fundamental in this process. The women of the circle learned to prepare organic fertilizers and shared experiences on the cultivation of unconventional plants. Finally, and as a way of consolidating this community governance exercise, by and for women, the group redacted the “Garden Use and Management Regulation” together. All these processes, in addition to promoting the entrepreneurship and independence of women in the community, enhance their capacity as agents of change in the restoration of ecological and social ecosystems.

Mashpi’s Women Circle became a cornerstone for the Fundación Futuro work in the region. We are convinced that by empowering and accompanying projects focused on guaranteeing the independence and dignified lives of women, we contribute to promoting virtuous relationships, strengthening social fabrics, and ensuring the equitable participation of all stakeholders in decision-making in the Andean Chocó region. In addition, we believe we influence the conservation and protection of forests, since women participate directly in the production, care and sustainability processes of life in all its aspects. 3,4

One of the Fundación’s most important lines of action in combating climate change is the intersection between environmental conservation and the strengthening of the social fabric of the communities that inhabit the areas surrounding the Mashpi and Tayra reserves. The Mashpi Women’s Circle, for example, guarantees access to healthy foods and improves the overall nutrition of the community. This in turn allows you to continue developing sustainable livelihoods, promoting a collective consciousness focused on the care, self-care and gratitude for living in a biodiverse territory.

 

The Mashpi Reserve is located in one of the world’s most biodiverse places, home to a stunning cloud forest and rare endemic species. This reserve, together with Fundacion Futuro, represents a sprawling beacon of conservation. The goal is to consolidate Mashpi reserve and build two ecological corridors to connect it to the north with the Cotacachi – Cayapas National Park and to the south with the Mindo – Nambillo Reserve and the spectacled bear corridor.

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/08/forest-bathing-japanese-practice-in-west-wellbeing
(2) Informe final 2020 “Empoderamiento desde el Autoconocimiento y Desarrollo Integral de la Mujer en las Comunidades de San José de Mashpi, Guayabillas y Pachijal. Fase IV”
(3) Logroño, M. J., Borja Naranjo, G. M., & Estrella Valdivieso, S. P. (2018). Mujeres rurales y asistencia técnica en el Ecuador.
(4) Informe de la FAO “Empoderar a las Mujeres Rurales para potenciar la agricultura”
http://www.fao.org/3/CA2678Es/ca2678es.pdf

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