Rehearsing Change: Empowering Locally, Educating Globally is a community-based, international education program in the Ecuadorian Amazon created and operated by the Pachaysana Institute (a non-profit, Ecuadorian education organization founded in 2013), in partnership with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (an accredited, top-tier Ecuadorian University founded in 1988).
Using arts-based methodologies, study abroad students and local Ecuadorian student counterparts are led by academics, development specialists, artists, and educators to address real-life conflicts as in a rehearsal room, providing the time to reimagine development and experiment with process: first, the identification of conflicts; then, the planning, implementation and evaluation of creative projects that address those conflicts (part of this step is sharing the projects with the entire community); then, a dialogue among program participants, facilitators, and the community-at-large to determine how they might want to apply the “rehearsal” to real life.
In each class, we ask the cohort to confront global challenges at the local level. We work together on issues such as global climate change, the planet’s disappearing natural resources, our quickly changing collective identities, chronic poverty, violence, a reduction in bio-diversity, water contamination, the endless cycle of consumption and waste, not to mention war, ethnic tension, and the effects of accelerated globalization.
Over the course of a semester, the cohort learns first-hand about one of the harshest realities on our planet: the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest and its effect on the lives of those who live there as well as on the lives of our entire international community.
Students take four courses plus an optional independent study project. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.
Content Based Courses:
- Identity and Place: This course asks students and community counterparts to examine who they are as related to the ever-changing environment in which they live. For this course, environment is approached broadly. While it most often refers to the immediate world around us, this course asks students to see the interconnections between one’s present surroundings and a global ecology. We challenge students to rethink who we are with regards to our collective identity (or identities), examining our globalized society as interconnected communities. The Amazon Rainforest, home to our host community and natural resource to the global community, serves as the inspiring force in our continuous dialogue that seeks the reconstruction of our identity as related to the concept of place. Both local counterparts and international students participate in the course discussions. This course carries 3 credits.
- Design and Evaluation of Sustainable Community Projects: Our many courses, and the resulting projects, must be carried out according to well-studied and effectively practiced methodologies in design and evaluation. This course takes students through the different phases necessary for effective design and evaluation of a development project. Topics are chosen by students and their counterparts based on conflicts or needs existing within our host community. Together they identify the problem/need, develop an idea and create a proposal with goals, objectives, plans, budget, etc. Projects can be related to any community issue and might fall within such areas as public health, education, housing, basic amenities, agriculture, small business, etc. This course carries 3 credits.
- Theater for Social Action and Innovation: This course is designed to lead international students and their counterparts through the process of creating social change, with particular focus on the identification and transformation of conflicts that are pertinent to their own lives. Using exercises and activities that pull from the areas of Theatre of the Oppressed, Participatory Theatre, Performance activism and Theatre for Community Development, we engage challenging concepts, such as structural & symbolic oppression, as well as socially charged topics like social/cultural identity, racism, privilege, power and “machismo.” (Specific themes vary per semester and are identified through preliminary work that the Pachaysana Institute conducts with the community at large.) International students work closely with local counterparts to create small-scale projects to be presented to the community as a whole. This course carries 3 credits.
- Storytelling: Language and Movement: It can easily be argued that the greatest human quality is our ability, and need, to tell stories. Every day, we communicate through stories, yet rarely do we study how to tell a story or learn how to become empowered through our stories. This course takes students through a process that seeks to unleash the power of stories, but most especially we attempt to harness such a power in 6 the creation and presentation of our own stories. Based on the realities present in our host community, students work with their counterparts, combining theory with practice, to create and tell stories to the community at large. Since stories are both spoken and performed, we aim to engage the “telling” through both language and movement, thus transcending the limits of each. Beginning with the elements of storytelling, students and counterparts practice the structuring of stories, focusing on both the traditions within the community and the influence of the modern world, and then the multiple forms of expressing those stories. The cohort is required to work with other local community members, first interviewing and collecting data, and later using our creativity to construct and present the stories back to them, placing special focus on the conflicts that inhibit our development in a globalized world. Readings include short stories and written materials on oral and corporal expression.
Independent Study (Optional)
- 1-3 credits: Students are welcome to add on an independent study as a fifth course. The independent study can be carried out as an internship or personal research project. Depending on our host community, there are numerous options available for internships, including working in primary education, English instruction, public health, agriculture, and social entrepreneurship, among others. In all cases, we require that the student petition one of our team members to serve as advisor and academic evaluator. At this time, unless under exceptional circumstances, we do not allow research that involves the study of human subjects; however, students can research topics related to environmental studies, biology, entrepreneurship, education, health, etc. We encourage students to propose research projects that have potential for direct or indirect practical application in the host community. All independent study projects need to go through approval processes with both the Pachaysana Academic Council and a host community leadership council.
After orientation and the first excursion, students are immersed into community life, living with host families and engaging in daily activities with locals. Rehearsing Change seeks to create a rich balance between providing experiential education opportunities and assuring student health
and safety. Regarding the educational potential of our community-based living model we focus on three primary areas of student learning:
- Cultural Exchange – By immersing ourselves in community life, living with local families and creating projects with community counterparts, students are treated as temporary residents as opposed to visitors.
- Personal Growth – Without a doubt, the joys and challenges of community-based life guarantee that students will learn deeply about themselves.
- Experiential and Creative Learning – Residential life is inherently linked to the projects and studies we carry out with community counterparts, meaning that our life in the community becomes part of our program of study.
Families live in humble homes usually made by bricks, cement and blocks, although others are constructed with wood. The homes usually have a kitchen, dining/living room, bedrooms and a bathroom. Most families have just one bathroom either inside or outside the house. International
students sleep in private rooms, which have a bed with mosquito net and enough space to store clothing, shoes, and other belongings.
Host families prepare 3 meals a day. All reasonable accommodations are made for special diets, including vegetarian, lactose-free, etc. Surprisingly, although not part of the local culture, families are very understanding of such needs, as we have led practice experiences with short-term international volunteers. Students can choose to hand wash their clothes at family homes or send them to a nearby town where they are washed and dried for a fee. Rehearsing Change assists in the logistics for sending clothes out to be washed.
Students can participate in any number of community-based activities (sports, assist with primary school instruction, farming, etc) and are encouraged to create and lead activities, jointly with community counterparts in benefit of the entire community. In community workshops with Pachaysana facilitators, the community has expressed interest in forming youth groups, after-school programs, evening enrichment groups for all community members (such as film screenings, music nights, storytelling, arts & crafts, English tutoring, etc). The community actively engages in such evening activities when they are offered.
Embedded in every semester program are a number of local visits and several longer educational excursions. Locally, students may visit the many nearby sites that offer different perspectives or experiences related to our themes. For example, in our pilot community of Mariscal, students can visit the animal rescue center and ecological reserve of Zanja Arajuno, the indigenous community Sawata (a Kichwa population that fought against unwanted mining intervention), the capital city of Puyo where many Indigenous Nations have their headquarters, bi-lingual schools, nearby rivers and waterfalls, public health clinics, family farms, local primary and secondary schools, and/or family homes to partake in traditional practices.
The first official excursion is the visit to Tiputini Biodiversity Research Station. As mentioned, this excursion doubles as the ideal site where our international students and local counterparts meet and form a single cohort. Referred to by National Geographic as the “most bio-diverse spot
on Earth,” this site is truly magical. Deeply embedded in primary rain forest, Tiputini is USFQ’s tropical research station. In addition to housing long-term researchers, the station also conducts environmental education with international students and locals.
Immediately following Tiputini, our first excursion continues with a Toxic Tour. Led by our friends from the Association of the Affected Peoples by Texaco, we learn about past and present issues related to the extraction of natural resources in the Amazon. In addition to visiting cesspools, contaminated streams and affected villages, we speak with community members in the area and hear from both activists and representatives of the government and/or the oil industry.
Our second excursion takes us to the Ecuadorian highlands, where we visit community development projects and different indigenous villages in the provinces of Bolivar and Chimborazo. In Bolivar we exchange experiences with the inhabitants of Salinas, a town known for its cheese and chocolate cooperatives. In Chimborazo, we spend time in several communities with varied experiences in community based tourism.
Our final excursion is to the Ecuadorian coast, where we spend time at an organic permaculture farm in the province of Manabi before heading to an Afro-Ecuadorian community in the province of Esmeraldas, where we share cultural performances with locals. Of course, there is also ample relaxation time on the beach.