Rosa and Dustin walking towards the meeting house.

Rosa’s two-year-old son, Dustin, sleeps cradled in her left arm while she works. She turns a palm leaf, stuffed with yucca and tilapia, that is roasting on the grill of the open fire pit. I watch as she multi-tasks, cooking lunch for the group, overseeing the crafts store, caring for her son, and discussing pricing strategies with me.

Marlene takes over the grill, as Rosa deftly takes a cotton blanket and attaches one side to a wooden beam and the other to a pole in the open room. She places Dustin in the hammock to nap.  Then she picks up a very large, very sharp machete.

She turns to me and says in Spanish, “Let’s go.  I want to show you our community.”

I’m visiting the community of Sani Isla today. I have been staying at the lodge for just over a week, and I’m curious to see where the Kichwa who own, manage and run the lodge live.

Rosa and her colleagues are part of a cooperative of 32 women artisans called the Sani Warmi. Six of the women are working in the community today. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with them and learning more about their craft, their families, their lives, and their hopes and dreams for their children.

I follow Rosa towards a pond. She brings a small bowl with her, made from the peel of a melon that has been dried and hardened in the sun. The bowl is filled with food for the turtles. The pond holds about 40 small turtles. When they are fully grown, they will be returned to the Napo River.  In another pond, tilapia thrash about. They provide food for the community.

The Sani Isla grow nearly everything they need. Rosa is eager to show me the women’s garden. Section by section, she points out herbs for the kitchen, a variety of plants grown for natural medicines, coca blanca for making chili, yucca plants, fruit trees, coffee beans, cacao beans, (for chocolate) and sugar cane.  Rosa cuts a stalk of cane and offers me a piece. It’s delicious.

Rosa Coguinche with her son Dustin in front of the community meeting house.

We pass the secondary school and the primary schools, in full swing this morning. About 35 students sit at desks, while young teachers instruct from the board. Further along, we come to the meeting center, where Rosa tells me the leaders of the community gather each month and make critical decisions about the lodge and other issues impacting the community.

Beyond the center lies an open, floored area where piles of coffee beans are drying in the sign under a tented mesh cover. Once they are ready, the coffee beans will be bagged and delivered by boat down the river to El Coca, to be packaged and sold. Coffee and chocolate are becoming important revenue sources for the Sani Isla.

Life in the community goes at an easy pace, but the work is organized, the people and their natural resources at an equilibrium. Yet, this balance under constant threat from outside forces. A rusting metal sign over the meeting center door reads “Oxy” – the name of an oil company with operations nearby. Money was donated by the company to construct the building some time ago.

But, today, the Sani Isla don’t want to rely on the oil company for their sustainability.  The community has created its own income and economic drivers, including the handmade, all-natural crafts of the Sani Warmi and the Sani Lodge.

I watch Dustin playing under the Oxy sign. I feel hopeful, as does his mother, of his future.



As part of our continuing work with the indigenous Amazonian community of Sani Isla in Ecuador, Deborah Tompkins is sharing a travelogue of her experiences as an American in the Amazon. Deb’s company, Sage Point, works with NGOs in Africa, Asia and now Latin America to develop and execute marketing and communication strategies. She is donating her time and expertise to support RP and the Sani Warmi community. We invite you to join Deb as she introduces you to the people, the community, their Amazon ecolodge, and their forest home.

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