• Social Innovation Fellowship

Award Year 

The Jewelry Project

Esperanza International is a Brown University student-run organization that works closely with indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon to address the negative social and environmental consequences of oil extraction. By working collaboratively with community members, Esperanza aims to improve education opportunities and engage in cultural conservation initiatives. This summer Pilar plans on further developing an initiative called “The Jewelry Project” in the Secoya community of Ecuador. Her goal is to work closely with the women of the Secoya community to form a jewelry cooperative, which would help create a sustainable framework to import and sell their jewelry in the U.S. This at once aims to provide women with an income independent of their husbands’ as well as help maintain the important tradition of jewelry making passed down from mother to daughter for generations. After helping to form the on-the-ground organization of a cooperative, she plans to return to the U.S. and find a sustainable way to market and sell the jewelry.

Personal Statement

This past summer, I interned with Esperanza International and had the opportunity to do on-site work in the Sucumbios region of the Ecuadorian Amazon. For eight weeks, I lived with the Secoya, an indigenous community of about four hundred people, in a small village called Sewaya. While there, I witnessed how the advent of oil extraction to the region had brought about massive environmental devastation while completely altering people’s traditional lifestyle. As an intern, I taught English daily for three hours in local elementary schools, formed relationships with community members, and helped spearhead The Jewelry Project. The Jewelry Project, which I plan on furthering this coming summer, is an effort to provide Secoya women not only with a source of income, but an incentive to keep making jewelry—a long process that involves the patient collecting of seeds and berries from the rainforest, and which is often a family tradition between mother and daughter. This project is especially significant to me because I had the opportunity to help build the tienda de artesanía in Sewaya. After being involved in its construction, I feel personally invested in helping it grow and flourish.

When I returned to Brown this fall, I became actively involved in creating an Esperanza International student group on campus. I organize and plan group meetings and am responsible for selling, and finding outlets to sell, the jewelry we bought during the summer. In order to continue our work and to find a way to make The Jewelry Project a sustainable initiative, I plan on returning to the Secoya community this summer. I hope to bring two students with me to engage in research and further develop the scope and self-sufficiency of The Jewelry Project through the formation of a women’s jewelry cooperative. Ultimately, my goal is to support the women of the Secoya community in their pursuit of economic independence.