Jacob and Joseph are volunteering for a nonprofit organization called Ecomundos in the native village of San Miguel de Marankiari.  As the world becomes ever more modern and ever more globalized, indigenous people are pressured to acculturate, becoming like everyone else.  Many move to the cities and change both the way they dress and the foods they eat.  Their native tongue is forgotten in favor of colonial languages such as Spanish, French and English.  Their children are ashamed to identify themselves as members of an indigenous group and the customs and traditions passed on from generation to generation quickly pass away.  The loss of native traditions brings with it a loss of culture, of diversity, of knowledge.  Indeed, part of our collective human understanding of what it means to live, love and thrive simply disappears.

The founders of Ecomundos are proud of their Asháninka heritage.  Over 25,000 people still speak the language of the Asháninkas, one of dozens of native nations that originated in the Amazon basin of what is now known as Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia.  The community leaders of San Miguel de Marankiari are particularly devoted to maintaining their distinct identity.  They teach the native language in their local primary school, live in traditional wood-and-bamboo houses and wear their cushmas (loose-fitting robes) during festivals and other events.  They hope to preserve their cultural heritage by receiving foreign visitors to their community.  Village leaders know that a sizable number of North American and European travelers are fascinated by native ways and have started an ecological and cultural tourism program to capitalize on this interest.

Jacob and Joe were invited by the leaders of Ecomundos to help the community prepare itself to receive foreign visitors who are ready for an adventure and want to learn more about native cultures.  The leaders realize that communicating with these visitors will require some knowledge of English, so they’ve asked the students to teach our native tongue in two settings.  Each morning Joe instructs the youngest children in the primary school while Jacob instructs the older ones.  The lessons are simple, focusing on basic vocabulary and learning activities like singing and drawing.  Each evening Joe and Jacob work together with a group of adults that have been selected by the community to host or serve as guides to foreign visitors.  These lessons are also fairly simple, but focus on higher-level understanding and specialized vocabulary.  Which English words do you need to know to lead a group of North Americans on a walking tour of the forests, orchards and farms that surrounds the village?

Last year a nonprofit organization donated 3,000 used books to the community.  The books have been sitting in boxes, waiting for someone to organize them.  Several weeks ago Joe and Jacob began opening up these boxes to discover the treasures within.  They have sorted the titles into categories and are bringing order to what will soon be the village library.  In the afternoons they open the doors to this recently-constructed building and invite children from the community to venture inside and crack open the covers of whatever interests them.  And at some point in the late afternoon, Jacob and Joe join the community soccer game happening a short distance from the library.  Joe’s kind, thoughtful presence is appreciated by the children and the members of his family.  Jacob’s warm, outgoing personality helps him connect with children and elders alike.  Together, their willingness to live among the Asháninka — sharing their time and talent as well as their appreciation for native ways — is a blessing to the community and will long be remembered.