By: Cam Brand
The distance to travel between Eugene, Oregon and the community we work with, Llaguepulli, in Southern Chile, is by no means a quick trip. And as the community members prepare themselves for colder months to come, we here in Oregon are anticipating the sunnier season. But being in different hemispheres hasn’t prevented us from forming a close connection over the past two years.
For a few weeks in December and February, I skipped out on Oregon’s cold, wet winter, to have a visit with the community and be a part of this connection that has been growing through our community finance project there. This project, now aptly named Apoyo Mutuo, just finished a successful pilot stage with initial members utilizing group savings to fund income-generating projects of their choice. Coming all the way from Eugene, I planned on staying with families throughout my visit, and I was excited to see how the cultural norms of the community and the Mapuche way of life were integrated and connected with the project.
The first noticeable presence of this connection has its traces back to the name of the project, Apoyo Mutuo. The translation of the project’s name is ‘mutual support,’ and this is a cultural tradition within the community that is deeply engrained in their way of life. For instance, many of the daily family meals I experienced are almost always joined by guests outside of the family, whether by invitation or spontaneous visit. And this community generosity carries over into the framework for their labor economy, where work, labor, and individual skills are often inter-exchanged and traded cooperatively. In one case, one community member might offer his help with someone’s wheat harvest, in return for some of the crop’s harvested grain. This interexchange and invitation culture common throughout the daily life in Llaguepulli is rooted in the ideals of reciprocity, where support is not only received, but given in return.
And this ideal of reciprocity not only exists between the community members, but also between themselves and the land. The Mapuche and the community we work with have such a deep connection with the land, both physically and spiritually. From the different foods they cultivate such as potatoes, wheat, and beans, to the natural medicinal practice of Lawen, the families rely on the earth and it’s resources not only as a source for sustenance and health, but also as a source of their identity. Mapuche, after all, means ‘people of the land.’ The community has many vibrant craft traditions that carry forward the Mapuche identity as well. The taller, a traditional weaving art, can be seen practiced by women many times of the week, whose traditional designs carry a significance related to the Mapuche cosmology. Further craft traditions can be found in the amazing food, such as the traditional Catuto bread that I was shown how to make. Craft traditions like these and their connection to the land, are important considerations in the continuing design of Apoyo Mutuo, because for the members of Llaguepulli, a financial tool that increases economic leverage is only as successful as it’s enduring ability to preserve the Mapuche culture.
When reflecting on my experiences living with different families and immersing myself in the Mapuche culture, I begin to understand that the project isn’t just designed in connection with different cultural traditions and values, it IS their culture. From the underlying framework to the daily operations to the expected lasting effects, Apoyo Mutuo is becoming a success because the people that it supports are leading its evolution. For MAPLE, as an organization that values cultural diversity, this is of the utmost importance in our collaborative efforts; that our projects, in being designed with and by the community, are a reflection of the culture they come from.
Being a part of this connection that we have created from Oregon to Llaguepulli puts the world in a different perspective for me. We have built a bridge between two different sides of the world and between two different cultures who are learning from one another. But we don’t want to create an exclusive means of exchange between MAPLE’s internal team and the communities we work with. You are just as important in these growing connections. We grow only as far as our roots will allow us. Our foundation for growth, our root system, is people like you who are passionate about our mission and our process for designing sustainable solutions throughout the world. Our organization and our projects are made up of people who work hard to keep this process going, and if you have an idea, a thought, or any questions about how to get more directly involved in what we are creating, don’t be shy to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org