Dean Jacobs visits with children of the Achuar village of Tiinkias, deep in the Amazon rain forest of Ecuador.
Remembering Time Spent With the Achuar
As my time on the MV Explorer was coming to an end, my mind drifted back to last spring when I was in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.
The elders of the Achuar village of Tiinkias had called an important meeting.
Sitting in a house with no walls and a thatched roof supported by large wooden poles, a large circle of people (consisting mostly of parents) conversed in the Achuar language.
It was the end of the day. The rays of the setting sun entered the house, illuminating the faces of those who had gathered. Off to the side, blue smoke curled up from a fire. It was heating water inside a large pot that was covered with black soot.
The voices of small children could be heard in the background, as an occasional chicken looking for dinner walked through our meeting space.
As the chatter ensued, the voices in my head were playing at full speed. “What am I getting myself into? Can I do this? I hope I can do this.”
Students in the Achuar village school of Tiinkias, deep in the Amazon rain forest of Ecuador, prepare for class.
Earlier in the day, I had asked the village teacher what supplies the school needed. Before I could fully realize what was happening, a village meeting had been called to discuss my question.
It seemed to me a logical idea. One way to help protect the Amazon Rainforest was to support the people who live in and love the forest, to empower the Achuar by supplying school materials for the education of their children.
To get these school materials to the village of Tiinkias is no small task. The materials had to arrive the same way I did. That included an hour flight in a small plane, followed by a two-hour canoe ride down the river and then an hour walk in the jungle.
“This is what we need,” said the teacher, as he handed me a written list of materials.
The entire circle of villagers sat quietly and listened to my guide, Cristina Serrano, read the list out loud.
It was written in Spanish, so Serrano translated the list into English for me: 100 grid notebooks, 50 lined notebooks, 30 drawing notebooks, 50 three-line notebooks, 200 pencils.
The list filled an entire page.
At the bottom, the list included some basic medical supplies like aspirin and an antifungal antibiotic.
The villagers awaited my response. “I promise to try to fulfill the list,” I replied.
I further explained about my relationship with educators across the United States, and my idea was to approach teachers and students for help with this project.
A parent in the circle smiled.
Another parent then said, “We don’t want a handout.”
The Achuar are a proud and dignified culture; they are a people who were never conquered by the Spanish.
The parent who said they did not want a handout added, “We must find a way to return the kindness. Maybe we can have our children write letters to the school children.”
Another parent replied, “How about we make bracelets for all the students?”
This part of the discussion went on for another 30 minutes.
One thing was clear; they were determined to return the kindness.
“It will take me time,” I said. “I won’t be back next month with the materials, but I will return.”
In the past nine months, I received several email messages from Serrano who had returned to the Amazon Rainforest to visit the Tiinkias village.
“The Achuar ask about you every time I return to the village. They want to know how Mr. Dean is doing and when will he return,” Serrano said. “Especially the little boy who called you his brother.”
As I stepped off the MV Explorer for the last time at the port of Manta, Ecuador, I was sad and excited at the same time.
I was sad to say goodbye to new friends I had made, and I was excited to be fulfilling a promise made nine months ago.
The pristine Amazon rain forest is the home for the Achuar people of Ecuador.