The Casa Grande (Big House) of the Strathcona Lodge is a bustle of activity as dental brigade volunteers prepare for a clinic day in the 84-family remote Kichwa community of El Pilche. The group of 18 Canadian volunteers are the first guests of the Strathcona Lodge, located in the Ecuadorian Amazon and accessed only by boat. Looking out over the compound from beneath the thatched roof of the main building, a 2.5-hour trip down the Napo River from the town of Coca, it is hard to fathom that the lodge, the cabanas, the biodigesters, the grounds, all surrounded by a tangle of virgin primary forest and almost seamlessly integrated into the jungle landscape, were all just lines on a plan just one year ago.
Three years ago, we felt the intense energy in Edmonton’s Strathcona High School gymnasium during the launch of the fundraising initiative whose goal was to promote a sustainable venture and increase economic opportunities for local indigenous peoples in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador. Today, after much planning and community involvement, we feel the sense of pride of the Kichwa people as the Strathcona Lodge welcomes its first guests.
And while Strathcona High School supporters provided the funds, the El Pilche community provided the workforce. The floors, built from capirona trees growing on the shores of the Napo River, absolutely shine. The railings, artfully pieced together with tacarache root from jungle lagoons, radiate the pride that went into creating them. Each family harvested and donated the wood used in the construction, and community members worked together to carry timbers through the dense forest, to weave the straw roofs, and to haul stones from the river for the cabana floors.
Strathcona lodge is quite obviously a labour of love, but for the small community of El Pilche, it is before anything, a means to move forward.