weltwärts volunteers

“We don’t need much money”

Schutzwaldverein is a small German non-governmental organisation that supports local communities in Ecuador in the management of natural resources. Daniel Schönig is the president of Schutzwaldverein, and he told Yannik Bessei, a volunteer, about the organisation’s work.
Installing a village’s new water tank. Schutzwald Installing a village’s new water tank.

What is Schutzwaldverein doing in Ecuador?
We are cooperating with local communities in the Gulf of Guayaquil on managing about 12,000 hectares of mangrove forest. About 2000 people are living in twelve villages. They are in charge of managing and protecting the area. The fisherfolk associations matter in particular. We lend them technical assistance, enabling them to manage the mangroves by themselves. The communities need clean drinking water, education, health care and so on. This is where we come in, cooperating with other organisations. Our main partner in Ecuador is Cerro Verde, a civil-society organisation. The main point is to support the process of building things rather than setting up some kind of infrastructure ourselves. The people want to know how to do things, and how to do the work together. We are outsiders. We cannot tell people how to fish, how to do this or that. What we can do is support learning and networking. Local networks that involve government agencies, municipal authorities, civil society organisations and local communities can make a difference. 

What exactly are you doing in the Gulf of Guayaquil?
Our organisation was launched in 2001, and a few years later we started supporting the communities in the Gulf of Guayaquil. Since then, we have been supporting education, for instance, by seconding volunteers who teach English in local school, organise environmental workshops and support basic medical training. People need to know about basic primary health care and first aid, given that they hardly have access to doctors. Only one village is served by a doctor, and he is only there three days a week. The idea was always to make sure local people can teach local people, which is actually happening now.

And what have you done about drinking water?
Well, it takes two hours in a motorised canoe to get to town from the villages. It is not feasible to procure enough water that way, so someone came up with the idea to install big water tanks. The size is 25 cubic meters, and they can be filled by ships. In two villages, local committees now order water from the town and sell it on to community members.

Schutzwald is based in Germany. How can you work effectively in a far-away country?
Well, we depend on our volunteers and our partners in Ecuador. Thanks to the weltwärts programme, we have five to seven volunteers in the Gulf of Guayaquil all year round. We are not building big infrastructure or anything expensive. We want to be in close contact with the local communities, understand the challenges they face and support measures to improve their situation. We cannot develop the area; only the people who live there can do so. Of course, we are also networking with the authorities and civil-society organisations in Ecuador.

How is Schutzwald funded?
We are not sponsored by private-sector companies, and we wouldn’t want to help them greenwash their public image. We mostly depend on small donations that amount to € 20 to € 40. Our 120 members are our most important donors. However, we get a considerable amount of money from Germany’s federal government, which basically pays our volunteers. We are planning to start online fundraising in order to mobilise money for specific projects. The good thing is that we do not need very much money because we are not involved in expensive projects.  


Daniel Schönig is the president of Schutzwaldverein.

Yannik Bessei is a weltwärts volunteer with Schutzwaldverein. Weltwärts is a volunteer programme funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and managed by Engagement Global on its behalf.


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