During my seven months in Cañar, I spent much of my time working at a local organization called Mushuk Yuyay. Kichwa for “new way of thinking,” Mushuk Yuyay is an agricultural organization whose structure consists of two parts: the Coop and the Association. The Coop serves as a community bank, holding people’s money as well as providing microloans for local farmers and agricultural projects. The Association is a small business that buys Andean grains from local farmers, processes them, and sells them to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the region. The Association also owns a five-hectare farm where I lived and worked along with my host family. The farm’s main source of income is selling guinea pigs, a local delicacy.
Since I lived on the farm and my host mom, Mama Carmela, is in charge of it, that’s where I spent most of my time working. That mostly consisted of cutting grass for the guinea pigs and carrying it to their pens for them to eat. Given that there were over 700 guinea pigs, we had to cut several hundred pounds of grass per day which, when you cut the grass with a sickle, takes a while. At times, our days were also filled by planting or harvesting crops, sheering sheep, or slaughtering various animals, mostly guinea pigs. Needless to say, I learned a lot of valuable farming skills and got close to other community members as we worked the fields together.
Mushuk Yuyay was founded by a Cañari man named Nicolás Pichazaca, known in the community as “Taita Nico.” “Taita” means “father” in Kichwa and is a respectful way to refer to someone important or older. He founded it with the idea that despite all the oppression the Cañaris have faced, they can be educated and provide for their families while maintaining the lifestyle and traditions of their ancestors at the same time. Taita Nico is a living example of this line of thinking as he was one of the first Cañaris to go to college and has been all over the world yet still remains true to his roots and the community he lives in. He has set up Mushuk Yuyay, and the farm in particular, to serve as an example of what’s possible for the Cañaris if they educate themselves, work hard, and learn from their ancestors. I’d say that is an invaluable lesson to be learned for all of humanity.