Touch the Jungle is a rain forest wildlife and habitat protection project focusing on the Chocó Bio-region of Ecuador, South America. The main interests of this project are:
• Protect threatened rainforest habitats
• Protect, rescue, and rehabilitate native animals.
• Empower local people to preserve the rainforest and protect its wildlife.
These goals are interdependent. Wildlife cannot survive without habitat. The habitat cannot survive if the local people don’t protect it. The local people cannot survive without wildlife and the forest. Yet extreme poverty and lack of jobs cause many communities to accept the offers of loggers and miners just to provide their families with the necessities of life. Touch The Jungle supports community projects such as health care and education, and assisting them in developing environmentally-friendly sources of income such as ecotourism.
Earthways began supporting projects in Ecuador in 1996. The first was Permacultura America Latina, (PAL) which was working to introduce the principals of permaculture (organic agriculture) in northwest Ecuador, one of the country’s poorest regions. In the same area (San Lorenzo), Earthways funded a women’s poultry cooperative. Then, the project moved deeper into the Chocó rainforest to the Afro-Ecuadorian community of Playa de Oro and became known as “Touch The Jungle” or “TTJ”. From 1997 to 2008, we provided multiple forms of assistance to the community to enable it to develop and operate a low-impact jungle lodge, which in turn would not only give the community a small sustainable income, but would permit it to protect the 10,500 hectatres of near-virgin rainforest to which it held title. In 2009, the European Union began providing support to Playa de Oro in exchange for protection of its forest (by that time the only rainforest along Río Santiago that had not been clearcut!).
In 2007, TTJ began to work in the Intag Valley because local people, mostly indigenous Quecha, have fought valiantly to keep multi-national copper mines from destroying this magnificent Andean valley. Their non-violent resistance contributed to a change in Ecuadorian laws related to the rights of the environment. With very little outside help, Intag residents, who are scattered on small farms and tiny villages up and down the valley, initiated projects aimed at creating sustainable sources of income to counter the false promises of mining wealth. They formed a community conservation organization called DECOIN (Defensa Ecologica y Conservacion de Intag). Through DECOIN, communities set up an organic coffee-growing cooperative, built a community-managed eco-lodge, organized a women’s crafts co-op, and are buying acreage cooperatively with the intention of getting those lands designated as “community forests” where mining is not permitted. Touch The Jungle began supporting DECOIN in these various efforts to keep copper mining out of the Intag region.
Ongoing Efforts in the Intag Valley of Ecuador:
In 2010, TTJ partnered with DECOIN on the completion of a “distance learning center” near the village of Junin, where teens and young adults, who were unable to attend regular school due to having to help their family on the farm, could go on weekends to attain a high school education. TTJ continues to support environmental educational classes by DECOIN in many elementary schools in the region, and any other environmental issues that arise.
In 2011, TTJ was made aware of the need for a high school in the Apuela region for teens and young adults. TTJ agreed to take on the school project to help provide an education to locals, which ultimately helps them continue to fight against mining and provide them with better jobs in the future. Earthways donors provided the majority of the $50,000 school construction cost, with the rest of the funding raised in donations by TTJ volunteers and the local students. The school, named “Sienta la Selva” by the locals, opened for the 2014 fall semester with 104 students enrolled for the first semester. The school is not merely a place where they can earn a high school diploma but is also a center for environmental education, with classes in organic agriculture, animal husbandry, artisan crafts, watershed management, and wildlife rehabilitation.
In addition to the school project, Touch the Jungle maintains a small wildlife rescue project. When complaints of “nuisance animals” at local farms come in, trained staff traps the animals and relocates them to a wilder area where they are less likely to be shot. The facility is also set up to rehabilitate injured animals before releasing them back into the wild.
TTJ also provides several eco-tour groups each year to help support community-owned eco-lodges and other locally owned facilities in Intag and other regions of Ecuador. The tours provide donors with a way to see the projects they have been supporting while visiting this extraordinarily beautiful valley high in the Andes.
Project Director: Tracy Wilson