The Amazon Changers
“You can produce happiness with cooking and eating,” David Höner, the founder of the Swiss NGO, is convinced. “On this basis, bridges can be built to bring adversary groups back into dialogue.”
The floating school on the Rio Napo is the latest and probably most complex project of Cuisine sans frontières. For outsiders, the tensions in Ecuador’s Amazon are not immediately visible. But the difficulties are revealed in the pumping noise of rusty oil pipelines, in flames of flared methane, industrial plants in the middle of the jungle, fenced with barbed wire, as well as in alcoholism, disillusion and fights between different indigenous groups.
Höners vision is not only to empower indigenous communities for self determination, but also an economically and ecologically sustainable tourism region, which is managed by themselves. He is currently establishing a network of hotels, eco-logdes and companies to enable his best students to enter the labour market and to provide alternatives to oil jobs. In the main town El Coca he wants to set up a booking centre through which indigenous people can independently market their communal ecotourism projects along the Rio Napo – coupled with a market for local products.
“To a certain degree this will contribute to the `Disneylandisation` of the Amazon,” admits Höner. But he sees no better alternative: “Either the indigenous people will become part of globalisation through tourism, or they will be exterminated by it.”