The seeds for the new cottage in Ecuador were planted in 2016 when Big Ocean representatives attended Habitat III there. Vilma Sagebin saw Ana Carolina Gualinga Cuji (also called Anita) and her friend enter a Big Ocean Women presentation and offered to translate for them. When she sensed their uneasiness as the hour grew late, she inquired and discovered that they had no accommodations for the night. They had walked through the Amazon forest from their tiny indigenous villages to have a voice at the United Nations. The Big Ocean delegates and their hosts insisted they stay with them. Read about this fortuitous first meeting here.
Vilma stayed connected with Ana and recently assisted her in organizing the Ukuy Warmi Cottage, where she serves as president. Ana wrote describing their desperate circumstances since the COVID-19 pandemic began. They had run out of plantain and yuka root and were drinking herbal teas to alleviate the pains of starvation. Big Ocean was happy to help. They asked the local women to put together a plan to do the most good possible with the modest sum of money provided by Big Ocean donors.
Ana sent a letter expressing their gratitude. “We’d like to inform you that the beneficiaries of your help are 15 families which include single mothers, widows, elders, and mothers with families.” They provided food and, in some cases, medicine. The pictures and video say more than words could convey about the powerful impact of the solutions they created.
Ana sent Vilma another letter which includes impressive and courageous details of her history that led to creating the cottage. To summarize, she was born in a community “two days’ walk in the jungle from Sarayacu, Chuya.” Her parents separated when she was 2 and she lived with her grandmother until age 7. She moved to another community until she was 12. Even though her “main interest” was studying at school, her father did not allow her to attend for cultural reasons.
It was then that she and her friend, Gloria Ushigua, took a four-day journey by foot, through the jungle and river—and a two-hour ride in a dump truck—until they arrived in Puyo. They worked as housekeepers, but Anita was underage and had to elude police, making it difficult for her to stay employed. Finally, through the connections of an uncle, she lived with Evangelical missionaries and worked for a doctor’s wife for ten years while she completed elementary school and two years of high school courses.
She met her husband at age 18 and they had four sons and two daughters. When they separated, she became a tourism guide. She has also held positions as health leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), a delegate of the Sapara ethnic group in the Development Council of the Nationals and peoples of Ecuador (CODENPE), the Council Electoral of Pastaza, and a community school teacher. In addition to her work in the local cottage, she works as a tourist guide, craftswoman, and helps coordinate a women’s housing plan in Puyo.
She looks back on that that four-day walk through the jungle as a young girl, believing it was the catalyst that helped her achieve her goal to study and considers it well worth the sacrifice. She completed high school and two years of law school before her limited financial resources forced her to withdraw. She has goals to complete her law degree, own a tourism agency, and support artisans, single mothers, disabled, elderly, and other people in need.
In her letter Ana expressed a desire to sit down in her cottage with other sisters from Big Ocean Women to work toward that last goal.
Her story and the new cottage are living proof of the value of Big Ocean tenets. Our choices and goals have a powerful impact on our lives, our families, and our community. As women add their drops of goodness and service, they can create an ocean of change. Please take time to ponder how your choices—seeds you have planted through your influence and service–have made a powerful impact in the lives of others.