This month, Ecuador Program Manager Sam Schlesinger ventured to Awá territory along the Colombia-Ecuador border, scouting sites for a potential PV solar project. He hiked through mountainous terrain with prospective local partners and indigenous leaders who hope to bring light to schools in six Awá communities. Basic services are limited in this area, in fact, the nearest highway is over 40 kilometers away for most communities, a distance that local residents cover on foot or horseback to make even basic purchases.
Over the last 50 years, 7.6 million people across Colombia have been displaced by internal armed conflict between the Colombian army, paramilitaries and armed rebel groups. Despite the recent peace accord with the FARC, violence continues to displace and threaten indigenous communities like the Awá, whose isolation and lack of political and economic integration make their territory a prime target for exploitation by armed actors. As opportunities to lead a healthy, safe, and productive life disappear in their ancestral lands, the Awá are forced seek work in urban areas, putting their traditional way of life at risk of extinction.
Green Empowerment is already working with Awá communities in Ecuador and Colombia on PV solar and improved cookstove projects in partnership with ALTROPICO. By bringing these resources to additional communities in Colombia, we have a chance to expand our efforts and explore new partnerships in the region. Partnership and collaboration – with local nonprofits, indigenous government, community members and others – will be key to this project’s success.
Sam was reminded of this during his visit, when he observed information and communications technology (ICT) equipment that local schools had received in the past. Due to a lack of steady electricity, damage sustained during transportation and threats of violence by armed groups that are worried by the potential for greater connection between the communities and the outside world, the equipment was either damaged or abandoned. While the need for additional resources, like ICT and PV solar, is profound in this region, it is key that communities have ownership over new projects and a pathway to successfully sustain them. Partnership and participation in projects – from planning to implementation to institutionalization and beyond – gives both projects and the people who benefit from them a real chance to thrive.
That is why Green Empowerment requires buy-in from local and regional stakeholders, in this case, communities, the Ministry of Education and the Awá indigenous government. If PV solar is successfully brought to these schools, technology operation will be integrated into school curriculum, increasing chances of long-term sustainability and impact.
We are excited and energized by this new opportunity to work with indigenous communities along the Colombia-Ecuador border, and hope that we are able to bring light to these communities and the challenges they face.