By Julia Weimer
Edison (Eddy) Andrango belongs to the Kichwa Otavalo Indigenous group in the north of Ecuador, located in the Andes mountains, two hours north of the capital, Quito. There he is an impactful leader, serving as the president of seven Indigenous communities – a role that he has held since he was 22 years old. Now 28, Eddy joined Freshwater in August 2022 as an International Research and Exchange (IREX) Community Solutions Fellow looking to learn more about drinking water systems and improve the livelihood of the communities that rely on him. Eddy was one of 100 leaders chosen out of 8,000 IREX applicants to participate in the Community Solutions Fellow Program.
In Ecuador, Eddy is the chief coordinator of UNORINCA; an indigenous organization whose mission is to organize projects that provide basic services to improve the infrastructure and well-being of the seven Indigenous communities in the region. One of Eddy’s primary duties is to manage mingas, a way of community work that brings together all the members of the organization to work together on their current projects.
Eddy has witnessed firsthand the impacts of lack of access to quality water systems, caused by insufficient infrastructure and systemic damage, natural disasters, and industrial contamination. These experiences and an interest in learning English were the motivating factors for him to apply for the IREX Community Solutions Program. Eddy’s goal was to learn techniques to streamline UNORINCA’s water development efforts as well as to have a positive cultural exchange; experiences that connect well with his Bachelor’s degree in international relations.
“I think that around the world, and especially in the country I’m from, there are many social problems that the leaders in the past haven’t had a chance to solve. I don’t think it’s because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t have the experience or tools to make it possible. In this new era, we, as young leaders, have the chance to know more people and to take information from experiences around the world and try to apply it in our towns to change our realities.”
One UNORINCA project, underway since 2016 and spearheaded by Eddy, serves to bring spring water to more than 5,000 people. The first phase involved extensive work of locating freshwater sources, surveying the route for the 12-kilometer long pipeline, raising money from government offices and organizations, excavating, and installing the system – all of which community members have come together to achieve. Six years later, the project is approximately 60% complete. The second phase will involve installing a water treatment plant and administrative infrastructure.
Eddy’s water focus secured Freshwater as the host institution for his IREX fellowship. Here, he has attended workshops surrounding strategic planning, communication, and technology of water treatment systems and basic hydrogeology, visited ongoing Freshwater projects with Research and Policy Director Carrie Jennings where he learned with Carleton College students, and learned about Freshwater’s and the Environmental Protection Agency’s work with Minnesota tribal groups.
Eddy commented that he’s developed a great relationship with the Freshwater staff and that they’re really helping him to make connections between their work and his work in Ecuador. When asked what he has enjoyed about Minnesota, he answered with the changing of the seasons, adding, “I arrived here in August and could watch from the beginning of the fall to the end. I could see all of the colors in the forest and also in the city.” “You can see a lake wherever you go. It’s wonderful. It makes Minnesota the perfect place to learn about water and environmental issues.” He even experienced his first snowfall!
Upon his return home to Ecuador in December 2022, Eddy plans to apply his new knowledge and to pass it along to older and younger leaders to continue Otavalo’s momentum into the future. One of his principal hopes in all of this is to bring empowerment to the Kichwa people, whose perceptions have been scarred from colonization, so that they recognize that Indigenous people are tenacious and have the ability to solve complex problems. “These kinds of changes make it possible to have a better world each day.” says Eddy. Freshwater is deeply grateful to be a part of Eddy’s remarkable mission and personal journey.