To celebrate international women’s day, Rainforest Partnership would like to make a special mention to the inspirational women of Sani Isla.
Sani Isla is a community situated on the border of the Yasuní National Park and Cuyabeno Natural Reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. It also happens to be one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world and home to some 302 indigenous Kichwa families.
Rainforest Partnership first visited Sani Isla in 2009, amidst concerns that the community was being pressured to open their ancestral land up to oil prospectors. Before Rainforest Partnership’s involvement, Sani Isla had been making a small income by hosting visitors at their community owned lodge, but the money wasn’t enough to support all of the Kichwa families in the area.
The Sani Isla culture is deeply rooted in nature and they see themselves as custodians of the forest. They desperately didn’t want to give up their lands, but they needed an alternative income to survive. It was then that the women of Sani Isla expressed their desire to be involved in the process. In a culture where women defer to men, and rarely talk to outsiders this was no small thing.
Traditionally, the women’s role had been in the home: raising children, cooking meals, and tending the chakras (small patches of land used to grow food). The community lodge had been operated predominantly by men, and women didn’t have access to an income of their own.
As with all Rainforest Partnership projects, the approach was bottom up. The women of Sani
Isla were empowered to find their own solution, with Rainforest Partnership merely facilitating. During initial workshops women brainstormed ideas and a recurring theme that emerged was the desire to revive their traditional crafts. And so the Sani Warmi craft business was born.
An artisan craft studio was constructed, and a plant nursery was cultivated with more than 2000 species of native plants. The plants were used in craft production to avoid the overexploitation of natural resources. Workshops were provided to exchange skills and to provide the women with business mentorship. Over the years the women’s ompany has grown from strength to strength. They now sell their products both locally and internationally and make an income of over $25,000 a year.
The outcome has been twofold:
Firstly the women have reported an improved quality of life, with a sense of achievement and pride in their cultural heritage. The income the women brought in also earned them more respect from the men of Sani Isla who value their contribution to the community. Secondly, the income from the women’s crafts along with that of the eco lodge has allowed the communities of Sani Isla to resist the lure of oil companies, protecting over 50,000 acres of pristine rainforest in the process. Which just goes to show what can be achieved when women join forces and make a stand.
If you would like to make a contribution to International Women’s day and help Rainforest Partnership to continue supporting communities like Sani Isla please visit our donate page.
Read more about the Sani Isla women’s project here.