Fundación SOMOS Ecuador (Kaya Responsible Travel) - Ecuador

Virtual Internship

Final Report: Fundación Somos Ecuador

I worked with Fundación Somos Ecuador (FSE), a housing advocacy nonprofit based in Quito, Ecuador, to review and update land management plans of provinces heavily affected by the 2016 earthquake. Fundación Somos Ecuador is part of a group of nonprofits that direct the project I was a part of, called, “Citizenship Rethinking the Post Earthquake Territory, ” which is divided into three goals: (1) Researching citizen participation methods to implement in the Plan for Reconstruction and Productive Reactivation laid out by the Gobierno Autonomo Decentralizado (Autonomous Decentralized Governments); (2) Consolidating spaces of dialogue between local civil society organizations and the government to include these methods in the process of reconstruction and economic reactivation; (3) Developing local participative mechanisms for resilient reconstruction with bamboo. FSE is responsible for Goal 2, which includes updating and improving the government’s Plan de Desarrollo y Ordenamiento Territorial (land management plan). While this project’s focus began as a way to improve the plan as a response to the earthquake in 2016, this is a particularly important project today as new Covid-19 related problems have arisen that also need to be addressed in the new round of plans.

Collaborating closely with FSE staff, I analyzed the existing land management plans of six different levels of government, from the larger provinces to city government. I also studied the agendas locales, or community surveys, which identified the problems from the community’s perspective and their proposed solutions. I developed two matrices to present this information to FSE. The first was to arrange the information from the plans into four categories: gender, interculturality, resilience, and human rights. These were key topics that the larger project is trying to address. Identifying where the information for each topic could be found in the plans makes it easier for FSE to highlight where the plans need improvement when presenting them to the government representatives. The second was to compare and contrast the problems and proposed projects from the land management plans with the results of the community surveys. This allows FSE to present community developed ideas that have not yet been considered in the plans to the government representatives. The goal of presenting this information to the government representatives is to incorporate the community solutions into the new land management plans being developed this year. This has been a particularly difficult process to complete during the Covid-19 pandemic because of the lack of access to computers and a stable internet connection to perform these presentations with all community leaders present, which is why I also helped take notes and synthesize information from meetings with the government representatives and community leaders so they could be made available to all who could not attend. I left feeling successful for completing the tasks assigned to me and most importantly, knowing that the work I produced is getting built upon and used for the continuation of this project.

The organization benefited from my internship as they can now move forward onto the next step in the project of working with the government to detail out new projects suggested by the communities. Additionally, they were able to advance in other areas of the project while I worked on this, a large benefit as they were falling behind on the timeline of the project because of Covid-19 interruptions. I am confident that I have made a lasting impact on the organization and the communities affected by these land management plans.

Carrying out a remote internship did not come without its obstacles. Being so disconnected from the office meant there were often last-minute meetings, delayed meetings, and slow feedback. I had to set my own deadlines and outline my own work schedule. Additionally, halfway through the project, I changed supervisors, which meant I had to get to know my supervisor’s work ethic, culture, and expectations of me all over again. However, these challenges created an opportunity to develop new skills such as good time and project management, virtual ways of communication such as emails and Zoom conferences, as well as flexibility and adaptability to new circumstances. In addition, I learned to take initiative in reaching out to my supervisor to ask for clarification or suggest new approaches, and I strengthened my ability to work independently.

In addition to the internship program, we had weekly cultural meetings and buddy chats. These provided the missing layer of getting to experience the culture of where we were working. The meetings consisted of two very enthusiastic tour guides that presented interesting facts about traditions, history, architecture, food, and the people of Ecuador. Then, the buddy chats allowed for a more relaxed setting to get to know the culture through Ecuadorian college students. This element of the program helped me develop my cross-cultural communication skills more in-depth.

While I was originally uncertain about my placement at FSE, fearing it would not compare to previous in-person experiences I have had in Ecuador, it turned out to be just what I needed to help me find clarity in my career path. I have always been interested in human and civil rights and architecture, but had not figured out how to connect them in a way that suited me best. I used to believe my calling was in affordable housing, but this internship made me realize I want to work more closely with the big picture. My second supervisor was an urban planner and had experience working in the United States and in Ecuador in development projects, so she became an enormous resource in helping me understand the profession. Now, I can confidently say that I am passionate about social and environmental justice and hope to continue my education into urban planning to engage in sustainable and accessible practices that help create a more fair society.

On Friday, June 26…

This week I presented my report on the Tonchigue land management plan to my supervisor. She gave me suggestions for the format of the report, but was overall happy with the content. I focused on editing the sections she asked me to and delivered the report back to her today.

My supervisor shared with me the Agendas Locales, documents that summarized the results of surveys Fundación Somos Ecuador has been making over the past year with the communities affected by the earthquake. These were really interesting to read through because they highlighted what the communities perceived to be the biggest issues and should receive the highest priority. I created a second scheme to analyze whether the proposals laid out by the community members lined up with the projects and budgets laid out in the land management plans.

I also participated in two meetings each with a representative from two levels of GAD (autonomous decentralized government). Getting to meet the leaders who put together the land management plans was very enriching. I got to see their passion to better the community around them and enthusiasm to participate in this project with Fundación Somos Ecuador so that the changes made in the plans actually come into fruition.

I also learned about how much Covid-19 is affecting these communities. Tonchigue is the Parroquia most heavily hit by covid in the county of Atacames. Not only has it been detrimental to the health and economy of the community, but not being able to have physical meetings put a stop to the process of the land management plans. Many community members do not have access to stable Internet connections, so if the government representatives met virtually to continue working, it would not allow for citizen participation. This project started off as a way to respond to the needs of the communities affected by the 2016 earthquake, but now it has to include solutions to emerging needs made clear by the pandemic.