"one of my favourite things about my job is that it gives me the opportunity to bridge these communities that have become so close to my heart with people from around the world who want to be a part of the Onzole story too, even if from a distance."
For those who may not know you or are unfamiliar with the work you do, please share a bit about yourself.
My name is Carlos Vieira and for the past seven years I’ve lived here in Ecuador working as the director of the Onzole River Project (ORP), a project of the Navigators of Canada. I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, but grew up in Canada, just north of Toronto, and moved here to join the project shortly after graduating from Carleton University in Ottawa with a degree in Journalism and Political Science.
For well over a decade, the ORP has lived in and operated alongside the remote communities of the Onzole River in Ecuador’s north-west jungle province of Esmeraldas, just south of the Colombian border. These predominantly Afro-Ecuadorian communities, comprising around 3000 people, are still to this day only accessible by a three hour motorized canoe trip upriver and for generations have faced a dual level of marginalization from government authorities and other outsiders due to their geographic remoteness and the nefarious prevalence of systemic racism. They have largely been forgotten and abandoned and have been made to feel like their lives and their communities are of little value.
We at the ORP believe in the unalienable spiritual truth that a person’s place of birth and the colour of their skin have no bearing on their inherent value and should never be an impediment to accessing basic human rights like education, health care, and basic infrastructure. Over our many years of living among and serving these communities, we have worked together with them to ensure that future generations of the Onzole River are empowered, mentored, and equipped to keep leading their communities toward positive change. We want to be beside our friends, hand in hand with them, as they unlock the value, the hope, and the potential that has always been within them.
Through the construction of schools, libraries, computer labs, and carpentry workshops; through the training and professional development of local teachers and through cultural workshops rebuilding pillars of community pride; through facilitating access to health care and providing life-saving medicine and working to eradicate intra-familial violence, the ORP has stood with these communities, growing in commitment and relationship, encountering beauty together in the messiness of life.
How can the All Circles community learn more about the work you’re doing and perhaps even get personally involved?
I love and admire All Circles’ approach to building community and bringing people together! That’s precisely what we’ve always tried to do at the ORP, as well. We think that what we’re doing is pretty important, not because of us but because of the value of our friends upriver, and one of my favourite things about my job is that it gives me the opportunity to bridge these communities that have become so close to my heart with people from around the world who want to be a part of the Onzole story too, even if from a distance. We all become better, fuller, and richer human beings when we choose to live life together in community and relationship.
The best way to learn more about us and join our community is to visit our website: www.onzole.org, and then to get in touch with me personally if you want to talk more about anything you see by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Instagram by searching @uptheonzole.
Furthermore, if you want to support our work directly, you can follow the donate link on our website and become financial partners in our efforts towards positive change. We’ve been present in these communities for a long time and are committed to being present for a long time to come. Your support would allow that to happen!
On behalf of the ORP and the communities we support, I want to thank All Circles for their support and partnership, and for all of your readers and followers for sticking with me through this Q & A! I hope it’s been as meaningful for you as it has been for me.
With love and appreciation,