Shared from the 3/22/2020 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin eEdition

Strong family committed to higher education, changing lives


Photo courtesy Clark Colahan

David Cachimuel with his mother at home near Otavalo, Ecuador.


When their youngest son, David, was 5, the Cachimuel family moved to the Cotama indigenous community just outside of Otavalo.

He played baseball and soccer with friends and swam in the nearby river. The river, at that time crystal clear but now seriously polluted by a factory, flows out of San Pablo Lake and cascades over the spectacular ritual falls at the famous craft village of Peguchi.

He attended a Catholic elementary school in Otavalo, learning from excellent secular teachers and attending mass on Sundays. There was tension in the family, but shared affection remained strong. It was a happy childhood and a firm foundation for a thoughtful life, one centered on learning how to teach others to deal with the circumstances into which they are born.

Now 28, he has just completed a job in social work, counseling young people to continue their schooling. Now he is looking for another job, working in a human resources department for a town or an indigenous community.

As David tells you more about his three decades already lived, it becomes evident he nearly turned away from the path for which he had a heart. While attending public high school, classes were huge, it was hard to learn, he lost interest, skipped days and eventually failed his junior year.

At this critical point, his parents came up with the money for him to attend a private high school, where classes were small, and his desire to learn came back strong. In addition to studying he has helped his family conduct a business with an outlet in the famous Plaza de Ponchos, selling the craft products they make themselves.

His role, which continues to this day, is adding leather and feathers to a popular item known worldwide as “dream catchers.” But he wants to study more, having forseen correctly that Otavaleño merchants are facing increasing competition and reduced income.

Initially he was attracted to the nomadic commercial trading that has marked Otavalo society since before the arrival of the Incas and later the Spaniards. But his link to family led him to accept a job instead as a night watchman at a hotel where his mother worked as a maid.

Before long, a girlfriend convinced him to try out university life. Soon he applied to the University of Otavalo, thinking he would major in tourism, but the school closed that major, so he briefly considered business or international commerce. At that point one of his teachers made a suggestion that resonated with who he really was. He wanted to help others, and so he elected to major in social work and community development.

The thesis topic he chose was pertinent: Why were only 8% of university students indigenous? He was able to identify a number of contributing factors. The first was the cost; government scholarships at a person’s hometown university depended on college board numbers, and indigenous young people often scored too low to get them. As a result, they could be admitted only at a branch in another city, and the costs of sending a son or daughter out of town for four years was beyond the family’s means.

Second, many of those young people had no clear career objectives and so preferred to do the traditional thing, marry young and begin large families. That often precluded any future education and better jobs. David has found the percentage of college students who are indigenous is up, standing at 23% in 2015, but that is far below what it might be.

David met and become friends with Anna Taft during his time as a night watchman, as she often housed groups of volunteers in the Posada del Quinde, where he and his mother worked.

He participated in the foundation’s outreach projects, and also in similar university projects bringing assistance in the form of clinics to isolated communities in the mountains. He saw the urgent need to inform young people about sexual realities and family planning that can keep a person’s future open.

For these reasons, when he could no longer combine working with attending college, he applied to Tandana and won a full-time scholarship. When those funds became scarce, and he could only be awarded a half-time one, his family came through for him to pay the difference.

His next long-term goal is to earn a master’s degree in his field, and possibly a doctorate, all in order to do more effective work in struggling communities. His teamworking experience within his family, the encouragement of his teachers and the support of Tandana have all strengthened that confident early view of himself, and of his meaningful connections to others, which experts consistently report is the basis of a happy and constructive life.

Now he is ready to use his knowledge to improve the lives of other young people like himself.

Barbara Coddington is a former director of Sheehan Art Gallery at Whitman College and former curator of the Museum of Art at WSU. She worked for 10 years to bring about the first exhibit of pieces by Native American women artists from the inland Northwest. Clark Colahan is a retired professor of Spanish and former Anderson Professor of Humanities at Whitman College.

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