I am the President and co-founder of the Wichana Foundation. I live in Irvington, New York and spend as much time as possible in the beautiful Mojandita Curubi community near Otavalo, Ecuador.
Since retiring as a Senior Vice-President of Segal Consulting, I have much more time to devote to the causes and movements that have always been my passion. Social and economic inequality are my core concerns. As someone who loves rural Ecuador and the indigenous cultures and communities, the Wichana Foundation provides a vehicle for me to help strengthen the health, education and culture of those communities.
In my work with the Wichana Foundation, I am inspired and energized by the leadership and commitment of the local leaders of our partner projects. In addition to the more immediate deliverables of our projects, we are building community leadership capacity that makes our Foundation’s work sustainable.
In addition to my work with Wichana, I also am a Board member of Community Voices Heard, a multiracial social and economic justice organization led by low-income women of color in New York State. I am proud to contribute my skills to the Board of The Working Theater of New York City, an organization that creates theater specifically for, about and with everyday workers. Finally, as co-leader of Irvington Activists, I helped organize our local community to successfully achieve many goals and objectives in the areas of politics, support for vulnerable communities and environmental concerns.
While all of my current community work is rewarding, my most meaningful life accomplishments are being a good and loving father to my children Nathan and Ruby, and a devoted husband to my wife and fellow Wichana Board member, Sarah.
KAYA KANTI ALTA
I am an indigenous Kichwa woman, born and raised in the Santa Bárbara Community and I currently live in the El Coco neighborhood of Cotacachi.
I was awarded a full scholarship with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (as part of a program for indigenous students and for academic recognition), with which I was able to study at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador. The University and Foundation training allowed me to adapt to various fields of medicine. I currently work as an Expert for the Provision and Quality of Services of the District 10D03 Cotacachi-Health, which is in charge of the provision of services of the 14 Health Centers distributed throughout the Cotacachi County. In addition, I work as Coordinator of Social Activities of K'allam'p, managing the office and projects that are carried out in Ecuador.
In my personal life, a great achievement has been leading the K'allam'p projects in Ecuador and developing activities with my team of 3 volunteers and 12 midwives. I also consider it an accomplishment that I have the ease of communication with patients who speak exclusively Kichwa, which allows me to provide quality care with Kichwa-speaking patients. And, I am proud to share with Wichana Foundation and the group of women leaders of various projects and learn from their knowledge and skills.
I am a General Practitioner currently enrolled in a Master’s in Public Health from the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador. I am a member of the Imbabura Physicians Association. I work together with the midwives for the strengthening of their medical and cultural practices. I have given student scholarships to children from the Arrayanes community.
My greatest influence was my aunt Virginia Alta who is an independent professional, she was my impetus in my professional life. After finishing my undergraduate degree as a Doctor. My second inspiration has been Katharhy G. who as a mentor has helped me develop my abilities to help people through community work and social support.
What I like most about working with K'allam'p is the closeness with the midwives and the reflection of satisfaction in meeting the expectations they have of the work they do. I like working with Wichana because of the limited bureaucracy and the familiarity of the work team. Also because, being a new organization, we can grow together.
Wichana inspires me to continue fighting to defend and empower the work of indigenous peoples, women and health. These are the pillars of my development as a professional and as a member of Kallamp, which is why by meeting Wichana I have been able to work in a complementary way on the proposed projects. Wichana's impact on indigenous communities is profound.
I spend most of my time in Irvington, New York and some of my time in Otavalo.
I have been a museum interpreter for Historic Hudson Valley for two decades. I teach the history of slavery in the North to people of all ages. Based on my knowledge of New York state curriculum and student differentiated learning styles, I have created the age-appropriate hands-on-learning school programs currently in use at three of Historic Hudson’s museum sites. I consult with Lower Hudson Valley schools to re-tool Colonial Day and Immigration Day in keeping with emerging scholarship and to comply with diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments.
I have raised two children who have become progressive young adults with the passion to learn about and appreciate cultures apart from their own. They have a deep understanding of the work of grassroots community organizations and search for ways to be social and/or financial resources to them. I believe that by including my children at a very early age in my myriad volunteer work in my community and in Ecuador, they internalized the value of using their privilege to be compassionate and generous in their service to others.
I am the founder and Co-Chair of Commemorate, a group of community members dedicated to telling the story of the history of slavery in the Lower Hudson Valley through education and public art. We commissioned a bronze statue by a renowned Black artist to join the existing pantheon of Eurocentric monuments and public art on Main Street. This new piece challenges and elevates the storytelling in our village. Commemorate advocates for village policy changes that reflect the connection between the history of slavery and its lasting legacies in housing discrimination and “members-only” public spaces for recreational use.
There is much scholarship about the difference between simply “giving something” to an impoverished person(s)-something you think they might need, to actually providing funds to community organizations that intrinsically understand what a community needs.
Wichana Foundation is exactly that kind of community organization. The Board of Directors has empowered a leader group known as the Womens’ Advisory Committee to be the experts “on the ground.” These leaders communicate with the various program organizers and impacted communities to gain insights that are integral to the Wichana strategic prioritizing and planning goals.
Because of the professional and respectful working relationship between the Board of Directors, the Womens’ Advisory Committee, the program organizers, and impacted communities, Wichana was able to nimbly adapt to challenges posed by the pandemic. Resources were immediately reallocated to buy and distribute food and pandemic supplies.
I am honored to be a part of Wichana and look forward to watching it grow to accommodate even more amazing arts and culture, health services, and nourishment programs to serve the people of Ecuador.
URKU DEBORAH MAY
I lived most of my life in New York State and currently live in the indigenous community of Chimbaloma, a center of Kichwa runa culture in the canton of Otavalo. I have served as an officer on the Board of Directors of the Wichana Foundation since its inception. I am a lifelong educator and community activist who founded four grassroots nonprofit organizations committed to social and economic justice.
Upon retirement, I established a new home in the foreign country of Ecuador. For most of the last six years, I have lived with Otavalo Kichwa runa families in their rural territory in the Imbabura province. The people have generously welcomed me into their lives and often share their philosophy, politics, history, culture, spiritual practices and language with me.
Seeing the many urgent unmet needs of historically oppressed indigenous peoples in Cotacachi’s rural communities, I began devoting most of my time to supporting, publicizing and raising the funds that play an important role in the success of indigenous leaders’ plans and projects based on their self-identified priority needs.
My commitment to the Wichana Foundation is sustained by its inclusion and prioritization of indigenous leaders in assessing, planning and decision-making. Indigenous leaders know their own communities and the needs of those communities better than foreigners who are guests in their territories. I believe local indigenous leaders are fully capable of creating and managing their own culturally competent programs successfully..All these leaders lack is sufficient financial resources which is the direct result of centuries of colonialism including land theft, slavery, the hacienda system, segregation in every area of life and continued cultural imperialism.
My volunteer work with the foundation is ramak, the one who finds funding for projects that benefit communities. I love the Kichwa language called runashimi and support efforts to preserve and fortify their mother tongue. I teach introductory Kichwa to native English speakers. My life priority is to become fluent in Kichwa.
I am a daughter of the Kichwa cosmogony Warmi Runa of the La Calera community rooted in Andean agriculture. Being a Warmi Runa, I am aware of the reality of the dominant patriarchal system in which we live. I like my work because I am cultivating seeds of my own, planting critical thought in fertile land so that they will grow and bear strong fruit, becoming guardians of their own culture
As President of the Muyumi Kanki Cultural Center, I coordinate and host the public radio program on Radio Cotacachi called “Kaypimi Kanchik,” an intercultural vision program. Muyumi Kanki means, "You are seed.” We work on the revitalization of the Kichwa philosophy and language. We train Kichwa leaders as we work with girls, boys, adolescents and youth from different communities with a focus on ancestral and spiritual linguistic self-esteem.
I coordinated Muyumi Kanki’s response to the pandemic emergency food project carried out in the Andean area of the Cotacachi canton, securing, sorting and delivering thousands of food baskets to the forgotten and most vulnerable residents of these poor mountain communities.
I currently lead the Activation of the Family Economy project with groups of women in rural indigenous communities. We provide these groups with enough baby chicks, food and wire fencing to raise chicks to maturity as a source of food, income and more baby chicks from fertilized eggs.
I assist families within the most vulnerable communities of the Andean area of the Cotacachi canton. I am a Kichwa language teacher and a volunteer activist for the linguistic rights of the communities.
My great mentors are the wise grandmothers and grandfathers who have shared with me their wisdom to safeguard our mother tongue, our philosophy of the value of life and the necessity of reciprocity with our natural environment.
Wichana Foundation has become our fundamental pillar so that each project and each dream can become a reality. I like that Wichana was born together with our Muyumi Kanki Cultural Center with big dreams aimed at supporting the revitalization of the Kichwa culture and community programs.
Wichana Foundation inspires me knowing that our commitment and support is a natural essence coming from the heart, with love for the culture for which we share the same dream. We are beings who work thinking in terms of the plural Nukanchik (We) and in Minka (working together on projects that serve the community), so that from each of our seeds (projects) the best flowers and fruits will sprout and blossom.
KASHA YARINA ROJAS YAMBERLA
I have always lived in Quiroga in the canton of Cotacachi. As the youngest member of the Wichana Foundation Board of Directors, I advocate for Kichwa Otavalo youth as well as other populations. I empower myself through my Kichwa roots. I take pride in my culture in a society where inequality and discrimination still exists today and not only in our history. Step by step, little by little, we will resurface and clear our minds of so much chaos.
As a student I was the standard bearer of the National Pavillion for two local schools. I now study law at the Central University of Ecuador with a focus on human rights.
I hold the office of Secretary for the Cantonal Coordination of the Pachakutik Plurinational Movement and participate in the "Kawsayta Tarpuna Collective" I volunteer with the YUYAY Project for Kichwa youth audiovisual productions and also volunteer in environmental reforestation projects. I often coordinate and facilitate educational workshops in Cotacachi communities. Finally, I enjoy writing poetry and I frequently participate in Atuntaqui Guerrero as an amateur kickboxer.
In addition to my own family members, Kichwa heroes like Dolores Cacuango, Tránsito Amaguaña, Daquilema and Rumiñahui have been a great source of inspiration for me. It is only because of their struggle, courage and perseverance that today I am permitted to express my beliefs freely and have the opportunity as a woman to engage in rigorous physical training.
I make contributions through my work that strengthen and help vulnerable populations who have been forgotten by our governments as well as the majority population. There is so much we can do to help them improve their lives. It is not a requirement to have grand academic titles, but it is a fundamental requirement to have the will to work for good without expectation of reciprocity or special favors. Giving love and acting in solidarity in this globalized and materialistic world can never be obsolete. Together we can collectively achieve necessary change.
Wichana inspires me to provide help and to look for spaces that promote the improvement of our peoples’ lives and our communities. A critical aspect of Wichana's work is that it focuses not only on providing financial support for its partner projects, but it also seeks first to understand the communities and their needs. That is why the foundation is structured so that people from the communities who truly understand the reality of the Kichwa people can recommend remedies for the problems they identify. Wichana demonstrates a sincere interest in our people and has created an atmosphere in which our experiences, talents, ideas, opinions and values can be shared freely and with mutual respect.
Wichana is a versatile foundation. It is present in various locations with different projects that address the needs of individual communities. Each of its activities is inspiring. For example, caring for the health of people who do not have access to medical care, feeding elderly adults, the empowerment the Kichwa culture and language through youth training programs, and transmitting and preserving ancestral knowledge through the compilation of inspiring stories of the taytas and mamas of Cotacachi.
ALLI TOLBERT (STAFF)
I currently live in a rural Kichwa community in Cotacachi. I moved to Ecuador from the United States in 2014. In 2021, I became the Director of Program Development for the Wichana Foundation.
I have previously worked as a project coordinator, providing technical support and grant writing for local-led community projects and initiatives. I also worked as a Team Leader for Global Citizen Year, supporting and coaching diverse international youth during their immersion program in the Imbabura province.
I am passionate about reconnecting with animals and nature as a way to connect with one’s self and purpose. In 2021 I became certified in Horse Guided Empowerment®, a unique equine therapy method for motivating deep personal change in coaching and therapy sessions for groups, individuals and families. I am also a Youth & Adult Coach in the Cotacachi therapy center, Centro Sin Miedo.
I align with Wichana's model of providing technical and financial support for projects that are initiated and implemented by local leaders and communities. I firmly believe that local-led initiatives and ideas create sustained change and wellness rather than traditional top-down approaches. It is fundamentally important that local voices and actions are at the center of decision-making and project creation, and I hope that this can be replicated in the numerous foreign-led projects in the area. As Director of Program Development with the Wichana Foundation, I contribute through program & organizational development, and support in fundraising and grant writing. I also provide consulting support to each partner project in project management and implementation skills as needed.
I have a Bachelor degree in International Studies & Spanish. I am fluent in both English and Spanish. I enjoy writing poetry, singing and playing the charango. I do volunteer work with Proyecto Hanpuy, a wildlife rehabilitation and release project in southern Ecuador.