The Challenge

 Join Off the Mat, Into the World in 2013 as we journey deep into the heart of the Amazon. This year’s Global Seva Challenge will uncover and investigate the most profound challenges to protecting the Amazon rainforest and upholding the rights of its people, both of which are being threatened by deforestation and oil production. We will support partners in Ecuador who are strongly defending rainforest ecosystems, standing for environmental justice, and reclaiming indigenous rights.

As part of this year’s Seva Challenge, OTM will be spearheading a year-long campaign to educate and bring awareness to energy use in the US and our dependence on foreign oil. Participants who take the Seva Challenge will have up to one year to raise $20,000 through local outreach and community building. Seva Challenge participants will receive extensive leadership support and resources from OTM throughout the year.  In 2014, OTM will invite participants who have reached their $20,000 goal to join us on a Bare Witness Tour to the Amazon. The Bare Witness Tour is an opportunity for a deep immersion into the history and culture of Ecuador as well as an examination of the root causes of rainforest destruction and the violation of indigenous rights. We will also bear witness to innovative solutions being implemented on a local level that will create the foundation for a more just and sustainable future. In the last five years that Off the Mat has been leading these trips, we’ve found that they are especially profound and life-changing for the participants once they return home and establish projects of their own.

The Facts

Ecuador has one of the highest rates of biological diversity in the world, as well as one of the highest rates of deforestation. This small South American country, located south of Colombia and north of Peru, boasts more than 25,000 species of plants, 3,500 animal species, and 16 distinct indigenous tribes. The future existence and wellbeing of all creatures that inhabit the Amazon of Ecuador is intricately linked to the delicate ecosystems of the rainforest.

Although rich in biological diversity, the Amazon region has one of the highest poverty rates in the country due to limited access to healthcare, lack of roads, and poor education. The average family living in the rainforest survives on less than $2/day.  Historically, most families survive on hunting, fishing, and agriculture. Yet today, many of the animals have been hunted, fish have all but disappeared from the waterways, and crops have been polluted. All of this is due to toxic contamination from nearby oil exploration. In addition, studies have found a high correlation between incidents of cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and other illness in local indigenous communities and their proximity to an oil production area.

Oil production accounts for approximately half of Ecuador’s total export revenue each year. The Ecuadorian government should have every reason to cater to the oil industry, yet this small South American country has taken brave landmark steps to protect the integrity of its people and its environment by (1) becoming the first country in the world to give constitutional rights to the environment, and (2) issuing a guilty verdict on US oil and gas giant Texaco-Chevron for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon between 1964 and 1992. The guilty verdict was issued in 2011, demanding a historic $18.2 billion in environmental damages from the company; in the two years since, Texaco-Chevron has yet to issue a public acknowledgement, apology, or any payment in retribution.

The government is not alone in this fight to hold Texaco-Chevron accountable and send a clear message to the world that no company – no matter how big or powerful – has impunity from environmental justice. There are also non-profit organizations in Ecuador working hard to conserve the rainforest, demand environmental justice, and reclaim indigenous rights.

* Off the Mat is currently vetting local organizations and projects to support through our 2013 Global Seva Challenge. More detailed information on our Ecuadorian projects and partners will be released in early 2013.