History of Yachana Foundation
1991: Douglas McMeekin founded the Yachana foundation. From 1986 Douglas McMeekin worked for six years in the Amazon region of Ecuador as an environmental and cultural consultant for eight different oil companies. Looking for something more sustainable to help the people living in the Amazon region was the impetus behind the creation of the Foundation. His mission for the Foundation was to contribute to community-based solutions to poverty and environmental conservation in the rainforest through training to create opportunities of employment, health and entrepreneurism with a focus on social, economic and environmental sustainability.
1992: The new Foundation began to work in the upper Napo River area building six schools and training teachers in 27 communities. At that time, the only access to the area was three hours by motorized dugout canoe from the nearest road up river. The Foundation chose the small indigenous community of Mondaña for its base of operations.
1994: The Foundation started a 15-year process to buy rainforest to conserve it. Today this protected forest encompasses 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of primary and secondary rainforest. It is used for conservation, tourism and education. The same year, construction began on the Yachana Lodge.
1995: The Foundation opened Yachana Lodge, a world-class eco-tourism lodge on the banks of the Napo River to help generate funds to support the Foundation. This “window” into the lives of the people and the rainforest has proven an invaluable link for generating interest in the work of the Foundation and as a training opportunity for students studying hotel management.
1995: The Foundation formed the community organization Amanacer Campesino representing 27 communities. This organization started out working in health but several years later branched into cacao to help the farmers get a fair trade price for their crop.
1997: The Mondaña medical clinic was built by the Foundation and began to operate. This was the only clinic in the region serving a population of 8,000 people. In 2005 the clinic was turned over to the Ministry of Health to ensure its sustainability and continued operation. It is still in operation.
1998: The fall of coffee prices, the primary agricultural product in the region at that time, was a tremendous economic blow to the local farmers. As a result, the Foundation started a program to promote the cultivation of cacao as an alternative agricultural crop. The Foundation worked for several years in two provinces with 2,400 farmers and promoted the planting of approximately 3,400 hectares (8,500 acres) of cacao. Ten agricultural collection centers were built to ensure the farmers could get a fair trade price for their crops in the two provinces and a second farmer’s organization was created, Aroma Amazonica.
1999: Six schools and three medical clinics were built in the Shuar territory in the southern part of the Amazon.
2000: Five more schools and three community pharmacies were built in the province of Sucumbios.
2005: The Yachana Technical High School was started serving low-income youth from throughout the Amazon. This private boarding school operated for seven years with incredible results. Due to a number of factors beyond the control of the Foundation it was necessary to close the school but it has left a legacy of youth trained as leaders, concerned about the conservation of their environment and willing to serve their communities.
2010: A project was begun with the Inter-American Development Bank for the creation of the Yachana Training Center on Foundation land in the community of Agua Santa. This project replaced the work of the former high school.
2012: An opportunity presented itself so the Foundation sold the Lodge facilities to a Canadian foundation, Free The Children, but Yachana kept the name and began the construction of a new Yachana Lodge within the Foundation’s reserve. Through a generous donation from Free The Children, it has allowed Yachana to significantly advance the construction of the new training center and hotel that serves as a sustainable hotel training school for Yachana students.
2013: In October the Foundation opened the new Yachana Lodge within the reserve. The facilities are more beautiful than before and are located in a spectacular site overlooking the Napo River with the Andes Mountains in the distance. The new lodge has been built to serve as a Hotel School for the training center with an emphasis on sustainability.
2013: Two community micro-credit banks were created in the communities of Pacto Sumaco and Babahoyo. Yachana, with the Kaya Foundation, its partner organization in the US for this project, has begun a totally new concept of micro finance. It is called a “forest bank”. We are asking members of the communities to make a signed commitment to their other members to protect a portion of their rainforest in return to having access to credit. To date, there are 48 members in the two banks with 1,020 hectares (2,550 acres) of rainforest protected.
2014: In February the Yachana Training Center was opened providing short courses to help people get certifications to enable them to get better jobs and to provide supplemental instruction for high school students. By the end of 2014 over 300 day students attended distance learning classes at the Training Center and the first group of full-time boarding students started classes in September.
2015: The work of the Yachana Training Center continued with boarding students and an emphasis on developing various agricultural projects to help ensure the self-sustainability of the operation.
2016: On April 16 of this year there was a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on the coast of Ecuador. A tremendous amount of immediate help has been provided the victims, but Yachana was looking for a longer term solution to the needs of the people. As a result, and with the emphasis on training, the Foundation started courses in tradesman skills for young people from the coast who don’t have any prior experience in these different fields.
Today: Over these 25 years the Foundation has created many opportunities through its work in education, conservation, ecotourism and health care along with its countless community development initiatives.
Our success is measured in the number of people we have helped to improve their health, education, conservation, and incomes while at the same time providing tourists with a unique exposure to the Amazon rainforest. This has been done since the inception of the Foundation through projects in the communities and by using the facilities of Yachana as the base for project development.
Since 2012 Yachana has gone through a lot of changes. The sale of the previous Yachana Lodge, the construction of the new Yachana Training Center and Yachana Lodge within our 2,500-acre (1,000 hectare) reserve that was built more or less across the Napo River from the original Yachana Technical High School and original lodge. All of this activity has resulted in the development of a number of projects, some designed for conservation, self-sufficiency and energy saving and others built as educational learning examples to show students.
Within the campus of the Yachana Training Center we are advancing on a lot of fronts with innovation and education. New projects focus on agriculture, permaculture, incubator workshop for innovation and a composting toilet system.
In agriculture we are using the concepts of Permaculture that promotes efficient use of land to produce food using organic methods. Our students explore the effect of Permaculture using banana circles. In 11 square meters the same amount of produce is grown that would traditional take 120 square meters of space. It also incorporates composting with a hole dug in the middle of the circle where our students are putting all kinds of organic material from the leaves they rake up to kitchen waste. This “well” of composting material provides a source of nutrients for the roots of the bananas and other food plants planted within the parameter of the circle.
The word aquaponics is the combination of two words: aquaculture and hydroponics. This student built project uses a concentration of fish in a tank to provide richly fertilized water that feeds a series of plant systems.
The water in the fish tank goes to a series of raised beds filled with rocks that support plants. These plants convert the water that is high in ammoniated into nitrates and nitrites that are food for the plants. In these beds the concept of worm culture is introduced to provide additional fertilizer for the plants and where the worms help to clean up the water and dead roots.
The water from these beds then goes to a small pool or sump where the water is pumped back up to the fish tank where the process cycle starts over again. It is a completely closed system not requiring additional water except to replace what is lost from evaporation. This small pool is filled with floating duckweed that is harvested and dried to be used as chicken feed. The duckweed further purifies the water before it goes back to the fish tank and also helps reduce evaporation from the pool.
- Composting Toilet
Our students are exposed to cutting edge technology ways to do things; sometimes ways that are very simple like the composting toilet. This toilet uses a principal that was developed by the University of Washington in the US but with an important modification. The feces goes into a 1.5 meter pipe with an auger inside that slowly moves the material, plus some sawdust that is mixed with the feces after each use, to the end of the pipe. While within the pipe the decomposition begins. It then goes into a larger, perpendicular pipe to continue decomposition and that is designed to increase the temperature that sterilizes any pathogens within the feces. When it comes out the end of this second pipe it is collected and put in a composing pile to finish the process. At the Yachana Training Center we have built a toilet facility with four stalls each with these composting toilets and a urinal.
These are just some of the projects in our ongoing quest to develop new ideas that have recently been added to the training center campus. All of these will help us provide an experience of “learning by doing”; our philosophy.
- Forest Micro Credit Program
In the area of conservation, one of the most important programs started by the Foundation has been the Forest Micro Credit program. Yachana started a forest micro-credit program unlike any other in the world. The key aspect of this program is offering access to loans to local farmers in exchange for them agreeing to protect areas of rainforest.
*This project is unique in the world.
*Farmers commit to not cutting forestland in exchange for access to micro-credit loans.
*Micro-credit replaces income generated by logging.
*Farmers are self-governing.
*2 village banks opened March 2013 with 48 members.
*1,020 hectares of rainforest has been protected through two banks.
*Over 150 loans have been made with a 93% repayment rate.
Yachana Lodge visitor donations have increased capitalization in one bank by nearly 500%.
- Energy Conservation
In the area of energy saving we have designed a system for the Yachana Lodge that is unique. It is an example of how a little bit of energy can be saved. A ¾ inch plastic pipe that is the supply line for the hot water to the rooms is inside of a 2-inch PVC pipe that is the return line. Having this pipe inside of the other eliminates the need to insulate it and it helps to maintain the water in the return line hot.
- Thin-client Computers
The Foundation has 24 computers in its computer laboratory.
Applying the latest technology, instead of having 24 individual CPU’s or servers that is the conventional type of installation for a PC, we have just one terabyte server that is running all of the computers plus LED screens that results in a saving of around 3,500 watts per hour.
- Fish Farming
Three large ponds measuring around 10 x 20 meters each (30 x 60 feet) have been built.
Two of these will be for the production of a local fish called Cachama, the third will be used just to raise duckweed; the world’s smallest flowering plant.
This little, common plant reproduces in our tropical environment so fast that around ½ of the service area of the pond can be harvested every two days and used as the primary food for the fish.
This will virtually eliminate the need to buy fish food.
We have many productive projects, but the sundial is strictly an educational example.
It is designed to help open minds and get people to thinking about the movement of the earth and sun and how it can be used to tell the time of day and month of year.
This sundial is massive, measuring 4.8 m. wide (15 feet) x 6 meters long (18 feet) with a wall in the middle 3 m. high (9 feet).