The Power of Community

“Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don’t talk about it; they are the ones who make a community live.”
— Jean Vanier, Community and Growth

Napo Wildlife Center which we visited on an Amazon tributary in Ecuador is run by a Community. The Kichwa Anañgu Community began the center in cooperation with the Ecuadoran equivalent of the departments of interior and tourism. Then a few years down the road the community took over the resort alone. It is located on national park land, accessible only by one hour’s paddling on canoe or one hour’s walk through jungle paths from the area where the community’s families live.

The members of the Community do most of the jobs that keep the center working every day. They are the manager, the housekeepers, the guides, the cooking and wait staff. They provide cultural demonstrations for guests, and they do the work of paddling up and down the tiny river which connects them to the outside world. They do most of the visible jobs and I expect they manage most of the behind the scenes work which is invisible to the visitor. Some non-community people are also hired as needs arise but clearly the Community in charge.

This is the Napo Main Lodge, a tall building built on a rise. Photo by G. Emmons

This is the Napo Main Lodge, a tall building built on a rise. Photo by G. Emmons

The resort was constructed by the Community using only canoes to bring in furniture, appliances, pipes, soft goods, and electronics – everything that is there now. That is a great deal of rowing! (I hope they waited for high water. On most of our trips up or down the small river our canoe scraped over fallen limbs in the low water.)

Constructing the resort in the jungle makes quite a story but both my husband and I were impressed by the way the community members treated each other all the time. It was clear that there is a pervasive respect for each other and willingness “to do what needs to be done” as Garrison Keillor says. When the food delivery arrives all the men go to the dock to carry the supplies up. We never saw disagreement or slacking off. Whenever members met each other there were greetings and handshakes all around. I realize that not seeing disagreement does not mean that they never disagree. But not seeing it does mean that they all know to “keep it in the back of the house” and not display it for the guests.

Our guide Daniel was also 50% of our canoe propulsion everywhere we went. Photo by G. Emmons

Our guide Daniel was also 50% of our canoe propulsion everywhere we went. Photo by G. Emmons

Imagine what other groups could accomplish if they had 100% commitment of all members, if everyone were pulling in the same direction all day every day. I cannot remember ever being part of such a group but it is inspiring to see one in action. We felt very well cared-for. In travel lingo, the guests’ experience is part of the Product. It was clear that everyone, from the bartenders to the canoe paddlers, wanted us to have a great visit and we did!

Why are such communities so rare? Are the stakes not high enough in our workaday lives, to remind us that this project (whatever we do together) must succeed?

Or is it that we never take the time, effort, and intentionality to build the community spirit and commitment, to get everyone aligned to the group Vision? I expect the Anañgu community could become frayed at the edges if they were in the middle of a city with alternatives at every turn. Their isolation might help to shore up their unity. But it might be that all who are on site have made a conscious decision to do all they can to make this work.

It really does work as an excellent Eco lodge and education center. We learned a lot about the wildlife but we both noticed a wonderful human dynamic in action too! (And I’d be happy to send you there to see it all in action.)

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

11 February 2016

About Travel Unites

A travel agent since 1994, I want people to get together for greater understanding across boundaries.
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