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 Our voluntary service in Otavalo –  A little insight into the Kichwa culture

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Katharina Ressmann and Birte Petersen:

For a total of six months we –  Kathi and Birte –  live in Ecuador, where we do a voluntary service. More precisely in the province of Imbambura, in the Andes. There we are mainly working in a bio-construction project. Here we are involved in the construction of a house with natural materials (such as wood, straw and earth). Our time here in Ecuador is a very special one for us for many reasons. We want to go into a little more detail about one of those reasons….

Our project is located in Kotama, a small comunidad within Otavalo. Otavalo is a city that is known worldwide and is a popular destination for tourists in Ecuador. Especially on Saturdays, many people are attracted to Otavalo, flocking to the Plaza de los Ponchos. This is because the largest market in Ecuador can be found here, where especially handmade jewelry, art and clothing are sold. These things are mainly made by the Indígenas, who make up the majority of Otavalo’s inhabitants. The group of Indígenas in Ecuador is very diverse, officially there are 13 different indigenous groups. The Indígenas from Otavalo, the Otavaleños, belong to the group of the Kichwas

In addition to our work in the project, we also get an insight into the life and culture of the Kichwa in Otavalo. Conversations with the neighbor who owns the cornfield next to the construction site, an invitation from the fruit and vegetable seller at the weekly market, an evening at the Pawkar Raymi festival and a visit to a traditional Kichwa funeral, all these are experiences that are very exciting for us and make up a special aspect of our volunteer service. 

The Kichwa from Otavalo are considered one of the most open-minded indigenous groups in Ecuador, which has been confirmed in our experiences. The people here are very proud of their culture and also willing to share it with us foreigners. For example, we had the opportunity to taste different things of the traditional cuisine, such as Chicha (a fermented corn drink) or Morocho (a warm corn drink that tastes like liquid rice pudding). We also picked up a few words in Kichwa over the past few weeks, such as «Yupaychani», which means thank you. 

However, since we have only gotten a small glimpse into Kichwa culture so far and there are certainly still many things we don’t know, we are looking forward to the next few months where we will hopefully learn much more about the traditions, history and way of life of the Otavaleños. One opportunity will be the Inti Raymi festival at the end of June, the harvest festival of the Kichwas, which we are already very excited about.

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