In 2013, Off the Mat Into the World (OTM) chose, for its annual Seva Challenge, raising awareness about the environmental threats facing the Amazon. Zeroing in on Ecuador, OTM founders Seane Corn and Suzanne Sterling, and challengers who raised $20,000 each, are traveling through the country to better understand the environmental impact of oil exploration in the region. The Bare Witness Tour has brought them to villages and communities where the oil production has polluted waterways and wreaked tremendous environmental damage and real suffering to the people there.
On this day where we remember the damage caused 25 years ago when oil tanker the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef and dumped more than 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska, YJ salutes Off the Mat for raising awareness of this imperative issue and for continuing to inspire yogis to care.
Ecuador has one of the highest rates of biological diversity in the world, as well as one of the highest rates of deforestation. This small South American country, located south of Colombia and north of Peru, boasts more than 25,000 species of plants, 3,500 animal species, and 16 distinct indigenous tribes.
Although rich in biological diversity, the Amazon region has one of the highest poverty rates in the country due to limited access to healthcare, lack of roads, and poor education. The average family living in the rainforest survives on less than $2/day. Historically, most families survive on hunting, fishing, and agriculture. Yet today, many of the animals have been hunted, fish have all but disappeared from the waterways, and crops have been polluted, largely due to toxic contamination from nearby oil exploration. In addition, studies have found a high correlation between incidents of cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and other illness in local indigenous communities and their proximity to an oil production area.
The Texaco-Chevron Case
In 2011, oil and gas giant Texaco-Chevron was found guilty of dumping millions of gallons of toxic waste directly into rivers and streams near Lago Agrio ("Sour Lake"), in the northern Amazon. The Ecuadorian Supreme Court ordered the company to pay an unprecedented $18 billion in damages for environmental cleanup and human health care costs. Texaco-Chevron has yet to pay a dime and be held accountable.
Call to Action
It is more important than ever that the international community stands by the Ecuadorian people to help them protect the Amazon rainforest, the "lungs of the Earth," and defend the rights of its people. Find out more here.
The ClearWater program installs water catchment systems throughout Amazon villages, and teaches residents how to maintain them. This program is unique because the tribes are the ones in control of all aspects of it, from deciding in what order the families get these systems to managing the money to building them to cleaning and maintaining them.
"How do we save the Amazon? How can I help people understand the importance of it?Do people connect to the heartbreak and devastation that has happen in Ecuador over the past 30 years? The complicated, overwhelming, enormous nature of the problems facing Ecuador and the rainforest makes me want to weep and hide and disconnect. But I can't. So I educate myself about the encouraging actions being taken. The united, powerful movements that have been created by the various indigenous groups. The referendum in Ecuador to prevent the government from drilling in the Yasuni National Park. The work of Amazon Watch and other groups working tirelessly to hold Chevron accountable for their actions. So here I am. Contributing what I can. Finding my voice. I am here."
— Bear Witness Tour participant and Global Seva Challenge fundraiser Tamara McGuire