For the last six months, I’ve been living in Estero de Plátano, a village of 500 people on the Ecuadorian coast. When I first arrived, I was struck by Estero’s simplicity and authenticity. Estero is simple in that life still revolves around meeting basic needs. And it is authentic, or raw insofar, as it is one of the few places I’ve visited that is so unaccustomed to meeting visitors’ and newcomers’ expectations that it is nearly devoid of pretense.
But Estero is changing. With the newly paved road now connecting Estero to more developed tourist destinations and the secret of Estero’s beautiful stretch of untouched sand out in the open, visitors are finding their way to Estero in droves. At first, my inclination was to shelter Estero to preserve it as a relic of a simpler, more self-sufficient past. But rather than deny the inevitable, Shelby Cutter (the other Minerva Fellow here) and I have decided to empower Estero residents by preparing them to take the lead in directing future changes.
We’ve undertaken projects to unite the community, such as building a playground, starting an Estero website, and developing the ‘‘Estero in 2020’’ initiative which aims to refine individual dreams into community goals. We’ve also focused on the future leaders of Estero, supplementing the tutoring we offer to high school students with classes in sexual health, public speaking, literature and English.
We are living through a turning point in Estero’s history. In the Estero of tomorrow, knowing how to catch shrimp or octopus may be less important than knowing how to read or write. And so my college degree, which on the surface seemed of limited use for daily life in Estero, may be worth quite a lot after all.