An Ecuadorian friend recently summed up his country in two words for me: Buen vivir. Buen vivir means “good living” in Spanish, and originally comes from the Quechua words sumac kawsay. Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in Ecuador, and the belief systems of the Quechuan people continue to influence Ecuador’s social, political, and cultural philosophies.
Buen vivir describes a way of living that is community-centric, ecologically balanced and culturally-sensitive. The philosophy has been powerful enough to inspire cultural movements across South America and is even included in the Ecuadorian Constitution! The Constitution reads, “Se reconoce el derecho de la población a vivir en un ambiente sano y ecológicamente equilibrado, que garantice la sostenibilidad y el buen vivir, sumak kawsay.” In English this means, “Ecuador recognizes the right of the population to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment that guarantees sustainability and the good way of living (sumak kawsay).” Ecuador is the first country in the world to have acknowledged the connection of people to the environment in its Constitution!
The principle of buen vivir will guide my service in Ecuador. When I met with a friend who started a nonprofit while applying for Lumos, her advice to me was to talk to community members in my host country to listen and acknowledge what they wanted. Since Ecuadorians have shared to me that buen vivir is important to them, I will model it in my philosophy toward community development. In the context of community development, buen vivir includes the well-being of the individual in harmony with his or her community and natural environment.
Buen vivir is viewed as new way of developing nations because it places a decreased emphasis on economic development and an increased emphasis on relationships with natural surroundings, human development, and the enrichment of core values, spirituality, and ethics. It’s a far cry from the Western worldview model of never-ending development, capitalism, consumption, and commodification. Although it will take some time to become assimilated into the Quechuan belief systems that many people live by in Ecuador, I can adopt buen vivir by connecting the Ecuadorian children and communities I work with to their natural environments. My partner organization, the Manna Project, periodically sponsors outdoor recreation trips for the children and teens in the host community. I think that a combination of exercise and education about sustainability would be wonderful for the community. At the library I will work in, I intend to incorporate nature and environmental themes into my book selections for the children, arts and craft programs, and educational workshops. The Ecuadorians I have spoken to are very proud of the beautiful natural environment in their country, and rightfully so. I hope to bond with Ecuadorian children and teens by sharing my love of the natural environment in my projects and adopting my own sense of buen vivir in my teaching and community development philosophies.