2009 News and Project Updates

November 6, 2009 - Leave a Response

Inter-American CASA

2009 News and Project Updates


Cotacachi, Ecuador

November 6, 2009

Dear Friends of Inter-American CASA,

As 2009 comes to a close I would like to start CASA’s 2009 Annual Report with a big shout-out to Wendy Coe and the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington, Vermont. Without them the very existence of everything you are about to read wouldn’t be possible. Thank you Wendy for all you do!

This 2009 Annual Report is designed to update the reader on CASA projects old and new but does not include detailed project histories. That is on our webpage! For detailed information on projects, community histories, volunteer opportunities and academic programs in the USA, Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Ecuador please visit: www.casainteram.org

Despite the “world economic crisis,” CASA continues to collaborate with rural communities throughout the Americas implementing integrated development projects that focus on sustainable development, economic justice, the empowerment of artistic expression, and food and water security and better health through agro-ecology and permaculture principles.

As a small non-profit organization working in rural Latin America, there are several things that set CASA apart:

  • We work using a “bottom-up” model. Instead of informing a community what it “needs to do” to improve living standards or better economic or health conditions, we listen and work together with elected committees to develop practical solutions to problems and sustainable development models that work.
  • CASA projects have a long term vision. So many development projects in Latin America ultimately fail because of insufficient training of community members, a lack of an efficient organizational structure, or insufficient long-term capital flow. We don’t take the quick fix approach but, instead, look realistically at the long-term factors that will optimize success.
  • CASA projects are designed to be duplicated. There are dozens of examples of successful community development projects here in Ecuador. The one thing they have in common is that they were all started with huge sums of money through large NGOs, the Inter-American Development Bank, USAID, etc. If a community is lucky enough to hook-up with such a project, good for them! But the other 99.9% of poor rural communities in Latin America need practical concepts that better the quality of life while requiring very few financial and material resources. That’s what we do: simple, low-tech strategies that improve people’s lives while serving as demonstration projects for other communities.

  • All donations go directly to community projects. We are 100% volunteer based. Apart from a $300 a month travel budget and the occasional local tradesperson who we employ at a living wage for carpentry or masonry services, nobody that works with CASA receives monetary compensation. This means that unlike a lot of NGOs where half (or more) of donations go to paying salaries, the entirety of your financial contributions are directly invested where you want it: supporting sustainable living alternatives on a small scale in rural communities.

To all of you have supported CASA in the past through donations small and large, it is nearly impossible to describe what your generosity means to our projects. Money goes a lot further hear in the South and with your continued help rural communities will be able to keep advancing toward their goals of a decent standard of living, a balanced human ecology, and sustainable economic development.

Please read on to learn about how your donations have been used and where further help is needed!


Pete Shear, Director


Inti Chakiñan Community Tourism Project Founded

CASA works with four rural campesino and Indigenous communities in the Northern Sierra of the Ecuadorian Andes: Yacuchimba, Pijál, Peribuela, and Pucará. Over the last several years we have been conceptualizing a collaborative responsible tourism project combining the unique cultural and ecological characteristics of these diverse communities. The result is Inti Chakiñan a multi-modal tourism opportunity that offers backpacking, hiking, volunteerism, intercultural education, and professional Spanish lessons from the glaciers of the high Andes to the sub-tropical cloud forests of the Intag River Valley. We feel that it is the best example of fair-wage, community-based tourism in Ecuador.

To learn more please visit our website: www.intichakinan.com


Community Visitor Guides Available Online

English Language Guides for each of the four communities participating in the Inti Chakiñan project will be available online in November on their respective pages at CASA´s website:





The volunteer-produced Guides all focus on the culture, history, ecology, and tourism activities of each community. Richard and Angela Berkfield wrote the Peribuela guide. The guides for La Chimba, Pijál and Pucará were written by Margot Johnson and Gabriel Lopez-Mobilia this past summer. They all include color maps and pictures and are excellent sources of information for anyone interested in learning more about the communities in which your donations are being invested.


Finca La Fe

Finca La Fe is a 10 hectare farm that I privately own in Pucará, Ecuador. It is named for my recently deceased mother, Faye Wingate. Although pronounced the same as Faye, “Fe” means Faith in Spanish. My mother always had unending faith in me and my crazy projects. By putting myself (and family) in debt to pursue my dream of operating a self-sustainable permaculture farm I, in turn, am following her example and keeping the faith.

Thanks Mom, for showing me the path. Finca La Fe is the monument I will build to honor your life.

On the western flank of the Andes at 2100 meters, the farm is located in the Alto Chocó cloud forest, one of the world´s ten most  bio-diverse ecosystems. The land is comprised of approximately 20% primary cloud forest, 20% secondary cloud forest, 30% agricultural land and orchards, and 30% grazing pasture. The farm is organized as a mixed economy venture: part private and part public. While organic produce will be sold for profit, the farm itself will also be home to a non-profit education center and demonstration permaculture project that will receive volunteers and students and host seminars.

Despite being virtually abandoned for most of a decade, Finca La Fe is already producing organic citrus, yucca, raspberries, pineapples, avocados, beans and corn at market levels. The farm is also a member of the Agro-Artesenal Coffee Association of the Intag River Valley (AACRI), a 400 member fair-trade, organic cooperative born as an economic alternative to a proposed open-pit copper mine in the region. Two thousand coffee trees will be producing beans by 2012 to add to AACRI’s exportcapacity to Japan, the EU, and the USA.

In July of 2009, the farm received four extraordinary volunteers from Harvard University’s School of Architecture: Holly Trick, William Choi, Stephanie Tam and Meghan Wright. They spent a month on site designing an amazing multi-modal Education Center designed to receive groups of up to thirty people and utilizing local materials and ecological design principles. The Center main construction material is bamboo and the entire bottom floor is housed by walls made up of rotating bamboo screens that allow the building to naturally “adjust” to temperature, wind, and precipitation changes.

CASA is now in the process of raising $40,000 for the Education Center’s construction. We are looking for eight donors who are willing to contribute $5000 or more. Donations are tax-deductible and donors will have life-long vacation privileges in an unbelievably beautiful setting. Anyone who completely funds the building will name the Education Center after whomever they choose.

Long term plans for the Finca include construction of an interpretive trail that identifies both cloud forest and agricultural plants, the installation of solar showers and composting toilets, the implementation of water storage tanks and a gravity-fed irrigation system, sample agriculture plots that will be used to test different organic and biodegradable pesticide and fungicide solutions, native species reforestation studies, and the implementation of an integrated permaculture design plan.


Yacuchimba, Cayambe, Ecuador

Transito Amaguaña to Live on through Centro de Resistencia Indigena

CASA has been working in Yacuchimba, or La Chimba, since 2004 developing community tourism and educational programs and reconstructing the huge, dilapidated hacienda that the community inherited through government land reforms in 1964. The goal is to convert the hacienda into a multi-modal facility housing community tourism offices, a community micro-credit lending service, a Museum of Kayambi History and Culture, a hostal, an Internet café, and a restaurant.

Transito Amaguaña was one of the most important Indigenous leaders in Latin American history. She organized the first uprisings against the indentured servitude of the hacienda system, sparking an Indigenous protest movement throughout Latin America in the 1950s. She organized the first labor strikes that cut-off food supplies to the cities and brought the land-owning oligarchy to the negotiating table (a technique copied with success throughout Latin America). She conceived and founded the first nation-wide Indigenous conference that eventually evolved into CONAIE (The National Ecuadorian Indigenous Confederation), arguably the world’s strongest Indigenous lobbying entity.

Mama Transito died in May of 2009 at the age of 99. Her funeral was attended by more than 20,000 people including the President of Ecuador, dignitaries from over fifty countries, and Indigenous leaders from throughout the Americas. Ecuador’s government has declared her tomb a National Historic Site and is implementing a $280,000 budget to realize our dream of a multi-modal facilty! It will be called the Transito Amaguaña Center of Kayambi Culture and Indigenous Resistance.

Ecuador is a corrupt country and that’s a lot of money to be managed by many levels of government bureaucrats, but the important thing is that this huge project that we have been dreaming about will now be realized in the short-term. The big challenge ahead is the design and implementation of an efficient and transparent management structure for the facility. Thank you Transito Amaguaña for illuminating a path of empowerment for millions of people.

To read an entire project history and learn about volunteer and community tourism opportunities in La Chimba  please visit: www.casainteram.org/lachimba


Cotacachi, Ecuador

Highflields Institute Partners with CASA and the City of Cotacachi

to Implement Municipal Composting Program

Tom Gilbert of The Highfields Institute www.highfieldsinstitute.org Hardwick, Vermont has been collaborating with CASA and the municipal government of Cotacachi, Ecuador to implement a large-scale composting program. A pilot program, launched in 2008 during a fact-finding visit by Tom, utilizes organic waste from the city’s produce market. 500 square meters of organic material is collected once a week and taken to the city’s landfill site where it is processed into compost and, then, utilized in the city’s parks, public gardens, and community reforestation efforts.

During his stay, Tom gave intensive workshops to municipal sanitation engineers on the management and processing of compost. With a new mayor recently elected, CASA is currently negotiating the amplification and further funding of the project. The next step is a public education campaign that will allow for the expansion of organic waste collection to the entire city of 10,000. Stay tuned!


San Alfonso, Retalhuleu, Guatemala

Saq’Jal Women’s Cooperative Implements Permaculture Plan

Since January 2009 Ronaldo Lec, a good friend and world-renowned permaculture educator, has been working with the Saq’Jal Women’s Cooperative in San Alfonso, Guatemala to implement a permaculture garden plan and food-security strategy at their Community Center built by CASA and the Oakland, California based organization, Building Community.  Ronaldo is a Kechikel Maya from San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala and the founder of IMAP, the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute. Also helping with the project is long-time CASA collaborator Rene Dionisio.

The construction of water captation and delivery systems and high-density gardens on the Community Center’s land are just the most recent steps in a community development process that CASA has worked on with the women of Saq’Jal since 2002. Saq’Jal was founded in this tropical lowland region of Guatemala in 2000 by returned Mam Maya war refugees whose land had been stolen by the army and mining interests while they lived for fifteen years in Mexico waiting out the war’s end.

To read an entire project history and learn about volunteer and community tourism opportunities with Saq’Jal please visit: www.casainteram.org/saqjal


Intag River Valley, Ecuador

Ronaldo Lec offers Permaculture Seminars for Family Farmers

In November of 2009 Ronaldo will be in Ecuador to help Finca La Fe with a long-term permaculture strategy and teach a 9-day permaculture design and skills class to thirty farmers from the Intag River Valley. The course is designed to teach small-scale farmers agricultural techniques that boost productivity while eliminating the use of chemicals and working in harmony with nature instead of against it. The hope is that these ideas will then trickle down through all the communities of the Intag Region.


Peribuela, Cotacachi, Ecuador

Carbon Offsetting Partnership with CanopyCo Reforests Buffer Zone Around Community Forest

CASA has been working with the community of Peribuela since 2005 helping with the establishment of a community forest housing one of the world’s last examples of ancient High Altitude Andean Forest. We have also developed a community tourism program, remodeled the old hacienda house into a first rate hostal, established a native species tree nursery and reforestation plan, and built an orchid house.

Since 2008 we have been collaborating with CanopyCo, a small carbon offsetting operation here in Ecuador, to reforest a buffer area on community lands around the forest. CASA also works with CanopyCo to offset the carbon emission of volunteer delegations through the planting of native and non-invasive trees. In the last year we have planted over 2000 trees. Peribuela is realizing that its forest is a seed bank for rare, native tree species and the community tree nursery could be a lucrative micro-business opportunity. With the state government funding massive reforestation programs we see a niche-market for our native trees that nobody else has!

To read an entire project history and learn about volunteer and community tourism opportunities in Peribuela please visit: www.casainteram.org/peribuela


Pijál, Otavalo, Ecuador

Community Tourism Infrastructure and

Trout Nursery Reach Completion

As I write, the Eco-Cabins in Pijál are nearing completion. CASA delegations and student groups have been slowly chipping away at this project for the last few years with material donations and volunteer work. The tourism facilities at the base of towering cliffs high in the Andes now include: four triple rooms, composting toilets, solar showers, on-site organic produce in the open air and green houses, a full service kitchen and restaurant, and a reconstructed community-owned trout nursery.

The trout project will eventually produce up to 20,000 three-pound fish a year and create four permanent jobs. Profits will be divided between infrastructure investment and community projects. CASA is currently seeking $3000 in donations to serve as start-up capital for the project. Needs include: solar water oxigenators, fry stock, food, and water quality testing kits.

To read an entire project history and learn about volunteer and community tourism opportunities in Pijál please visit: www.casainteram.org/pijal


Pucará, Cotacachi, Ecuador

Intag Spanish School Inaugurated

The Intag Spanish School was inaugurated with fanfare on January 5, 2009. The school was designed as an economic development and intercultural education project. Six young people from Pucará were trained and licensed as Spanish Teachers through the Raices Spanish School in Baños, Ecuador. Now, recognized by the Ministry of Education, these young professors form the first of what we hope will be three groups of teachers to be trained as the school´s clientele grows.

In a rural, subsistence agriculture context like Pucará, most young people leave to seek work in the capital, the USA, and Spain. The Intag Spanish School was conceived with three pre-requisites in mind:

  • That it would provide meaningful employment so that young parents can “stay put” and give a decent standard of living to their families.
  • That the project could be set-up and launched in less than a year.
  • That the project could be launched with minimal capital input.

CASA spent $3500 on constructing a building with a reception area and four classrooms, another $1000 equipping the school with furniture, dry erase boards, plumbing, etc., and $1800 training the teachers. All this was made possible through your donations. Thanks!

Already we have had over fifty students, an average of six a month! Not bad for a town of 200 in the middle of nowhere. To learn more about the Intag Spanish School and its programs please visit: www.intichakinan.com


Eco-Pueblo Model Continues to Evolve

The Eco-Pueblo Project in Pucará keeps gaining momentum. In 2009 several volunteer delegations helped fund and complete a large kitchen connected to the Community Center, the construction of a dressing room for theater performers, dancers, and musicians, the establishment of a medicinal plant garden and “green farmacy,” the inauguration of a community solar shower and seedling greenhouse structure, and most importantly, the arrival of tubed water to the eight families living in the Eco-Pueblo.

To read an entire project history, read the Plan Eco-Pueblo in Spanish, and learn about volunteer and community tourism opportunities in Pucará please visit: www.casainteram.org/pucara


Volunteers, Student Groups and Delegations

CASA would be nothing without the hundreds of volunteers who have collaborated with us over the years. Just in the last two years, the following groups and organizations have volunteered their skills, spirit, and hard work to further CASA’s goals:

  • Betsey Miller, an agronomy graduate student from Colorado, lived in Pucará for three months helping establish community organic gardens below the Eco-Pueblo.
  • Greg Larson, an architect from Pennsylvania designed solar hot water systems that were later constructed in Pijál and Pucará.
  • The School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont has a semester abroad here in Ecuador. Every year CASA has the pleasure to work with several SIT students on studies and internships. Recently the following students have collaborated:

Erik Dooley-Feldman developed a solid waste management and recycling plan for Pucará and then implemented it through a public education campaign.

Thea Gudonis then took Eric´s plan and implemented it in Peribuela!

Emily Jenkins collected medicinal plants from the cloud forest and established a green farmacy in Pucará’s community park.

Nathaniel Markman designed experiments to test factability of using the juice of the Penko plant as the base as an organic pesticide. His recipes are currently being tested in several rose production facilities and we hope to develop this product into a value-added community enterprise.

Katherine Lindholm designed and helped build bamboo-hoop greenhouses in Pijál and La Chimba. These portable, low-cost greenhouses are used to grow warm weather crops in cold areas.

Matt Woods designed and built an interpretive trail at Finca La Fe.

  • Alsion Spery, from Jackson Hole, Wyoming helped Matt with the trail and completed the parts that he wasn’t able to get to.

  • Claire Nasby from Guilford College and Kevin Fischer from Stanford University helped out with lots of construction and agriculture projects in Pucará and established a Futbol (soccer) Camp for the local kids.
  • Margot Johnson and Gabriel Lopez-Mobilia wrote the Interpretive Guides for La Chimba, Pijál, and Pucará. They did an amazing job!
  • German Henri Mueller lived in Pucará for four months avoiding his post-high school year of mandatory military service and was a jack of all trades super-volunteer.
  • Max Kufner, a recent University of Vermont economics graduate, helped organize the orchid house associated with the Peribuela Community Tourism Project.
  • The University of Vermont sent a study abroad class for the fifth consecutive year. I teach the course, The Politics of Land Use in Ecuador through the Geography Department http://www.casainteram.org/politicsoflanduse. The UVM students are a great help in assessing the different projects and always bring a fiscal contribution to the projects.
  • Harvard architecture Holly Trick, William Choi, Stephanie Tam and Meghan Wright, students designed a beautiful Education Center for Finca La Fe (see article above).
  • Tom Gilbert, a composting expert from the Highfields Institute designed and implemented a large-scale composting plan for the City of Cotacachi, Ecuador.
  • Last, but not least, CASA would like to thank volunteer work delegations from the following institutions whose hands and financial help make it all possible:

Juniata College, Hundingdon, Pennsylvania

The Lovett School, Atlanta, Georgia

Head Royce School, Oakland, California

Eldersgate Methodist Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Global Works, Boulder, Colorado

CASA Interamericana

November 6, 2009 - Leave a Response