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Co-founder of FUNDECOIPA, Ernesto Vargas, was born on a small island on the western bank of the Pastaza River in 1949. Ernesto became an orphan at the age of 5 and was raised by his mother and father in law in a traditional Shuar upbringing.
By the age of eighteen, Ernesto moved away from home and found a piece of land on the eastern bank of the Pastaza River. He also got married to his wife Juana and together they moved to the current location of the Arutam community, when road engineers started measuring for the current road between Puyo and Macas. Here they created a traditional life and managed to earn some money growing naranjillas and raising cattle. Later Ernesto took a second wife and together they created an extended family.
(Ernesto Vargas with his wife Juana and volunteers in the forest)
In 1994, Ernesto agrees that his property could become a protected forest following talks with Sebastian Moya who at that time was member of the Yawa Jee Foundation.
Having accepted the idea Ernesto began to make the necessary arrangements and on the 20th of January 1995 the Ministry of Environment (INEFAN) published the resolution No.013 declaring the property of Ernesto Vargas as protected forest - Bosque Protector Arutam.
With the Convention on Biological Diversity, Bosque Protector Arutam became part of a project called “Strengthening of Protected Areas in the Amazon region of Ecuador". The project was coordinated by the Yawa Jee Foundation and funded by GTZ (German Development Agency).
The project tasks were preparation of management plans, supporting the establishment of administrative structures for protected areas and professionalizing existing ecotourism activities. As part of this, the project created data on flora and fauna, human use and identifying zones in particular need of protection. In order to strengthening the administrative structures, organizational advice and consultation processes were established to create involvement of all community members.
Furthermore, at that time, Yawa Jee ran a small-scale ecotourism operation. These activities were expanded to Arútam community as well as workshops were conducted to train personnel and making the necessary investments in the different communities.
Unfortunately, the project became victim to corruption from the Ecuadorian partners Yawa Jee, and Ernesto withdraw from the project. However, Ernesto, his wives and children soon afterwards revived the tourism activities in small scale on their own hand in the Bosque Protector Arutam, and started to develop small sustainable projects as for community financial support.
In the development of such initiatives, the Shuar families frequently encountered difficulties, such as lack of economic resources that could enable them to improve care and service to tourists and visitors, as well as to operationalize their projects in an efficient manner. This led to a process of seeking support from public and private institutions, which were often denied as none provided funding to institutions not legally established as foundations or NGOs.
In 2002 the community Arútam manages to sign an agreement with a small German NGO called Schutzwald-ev. The agreement secured a number of volunteers from Germany in order to help develop the ideas for ecotourism and conservation further as well as to send an English teacher to the community.
In 2004 Soren Hoff Brondum, who was a volunteering on a neighboring project, visited the Bosque Protector Arutam in order to make a survey of mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). Soren became fascinated by the amount of intact forest and conservation minded villagers. Later an agreement was made build a website and develop the volunteer program further.
The volunteer program was a success in the following year, but village members started to analyze and reflect over their situation and dreams to improve services, attention to tourists and especially to generate self-sustaining projects that could improve their quality of life. Therefore, in July 2005 members of the Shuar family (father, wives, sons and daughters sons and daughters) and Soren decided to create FUNDECOIPA, which was then legally constituted on 9 November 2005 in Puyo with the Ministerial Agreement 403 DP-MBS-P.