In 2001 the first expedition of indigenous women reached the summit of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world just shy of 20,000 feet. Four Andean women (Warmis) and two American women all joined together to climb in celebration of women worldwide. Dana Platin was one of the women on that expedition.
Photos from Dana’s Service
Dana Platin’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served almost 3 years as a Peace Corps volunteer, in a rural community located in the northern Andes of Ecuador, about 2 hours south of the Colombian border. Living above 9,000 feet elevation, I adapted and acclimated to the thin air and highland living. The first language in this community is Kichwa and 2nd language is Spanish. As a generalist I collaborated and worked with indigenous girls and women in leadership development, community health, education, and small business development. Living and working alongside the Warmis (women in Kichwa) I gained their love and respect as together we experienced moments of powerlessness and empowerment and learned how girls and women can address, overcome, motivate and achieve what we want when we put our minds to it.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
My top 3 greatest memories of my Peace Corps service:
- Mushuc Mullo (pronounced Moo-Shoo Moo-Yo) the New Seed in Kichwa. It was one of my hardest tasks to pitch the idea and help convince the parents to allow this to happen. The New Seed, by planting seeds now we may pave the way for this next generation of girls. I will never forget that moment when I realized that I had an audience right under my nose and that I was ignoring and not taking seriously, the girls. I always had this vision of my Peace Corps service working with the adults and helping them come together as a community to improve their quality of life and community development. I didn’t envision myself working with young girls, it just never came to me nor did Peace Corps request I do this, “yet” I had these little girls following me around since day 1, by my side, “wanting” to work with me but never actually being direct and telling me. In the culture I grew up in, things are much more obvious; people will let you know, it’s “in your face” and here I was just oblivious to the obvious. So, there it was, my moment of clarity, I had an audience, I had these shy, little Warmis, and potential leaders all lined up in front of me with their dusty old notebooks, broken pencils and their best attire ready willing and fired up to learn. I had the future in front of me and I was negligent. I had ignored them; I didn’t take them seriously until now, until I let them lead me…
- International Women’s Day- March 8, 1999: when we turned tragedy into community action. The girls and women guiding me, leading us to solutions for some of our communities’ greatest challenges. “Anita, my little sister leading, reading and translating women’s rights from Spanish to Kichwa alongside her mother Rosa Elena to the community. Not only did we stir the pot on raising awareness about women’s rights in a community that stayed silent for so long, we stirred the pot of quinoa soup that brought people together, brought strength and belief that change can happen when you take action and work at it. Our quinoa soup soothed the soul. Women, girls, men and boys gather to observe International Women’s Day to learn and discuss views around women’s rights. March 8, 1999.”
- Being a part of the first expedition of indigenous women to climb to the summit of Cotopaxi, the world’s highest most active volcano at 19,347 feet, located in Ecuador, South America. “We discovered how the power of belief, teamwork and solidarity, propelled a small group of women (WARMIS) up our mountain path, breaking trail, breaking barriers celebrating women worldwide. After touching snow for the first time in their lives and after reaching the top of the massive Cotopaxi, the Warmis returned to their communities to educate others on their experience and how the ascent had empowered and impacted their lives. They felt capable of accomplishing many things that they had never dreamed of. Six months after the ascent, both women strengthened their small businesses and increased their monthly sales. Women’s participation in the development of community and approach to problem solving was also strengthened, in which one of the women became the first female president of her community and she led that community like no president before! They attributed their new-found strength and leadership skills from their mountaineering experience. The fact that they were able to navigate through the darkness of the night on this beast of an Andean glacier, and found the physical and mental strength to climb at almost 20,000 feet gave them the strength to tackle many of their other challenges back in their communities. Their golden beaded necklaces glowed from 19,347 feet and later would become the symbol of The Warmi Project representing strength, wisdom, and the ability to expand our comfort zones. As I look back, that ascent impacted my life and showed me the power of women, self-belief, and teamwork. I learned about mental strength from some of the ‘toughest’ women on the planet and continue to apply those teachings to everyday life.”
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
The unfortunate abuse, domestic violence and discrimination that was considered normal.
“The women in my community have been raised to believe that they have no worth, that when bad things happen it is their fault, and that they do not have any rights. Ninety-eight percent of the women in my community suffered from domestic violence. The majority of the women were pulled from schools by the third grade to work the fields or were sent to work as maids in the big city with wealthier families. The Constitution has a code of women’s rights, it exists, but the women’s rights code hasn’t yet landed in our tiny little rural community.”
What kept me going? Or what was my WHY?
“I knew I had started this journey for many reasons; I wanted to volunteer, learn, grow, contribute, travel but I didn’t have one set thing to keep me going. I discovered that the issues that fired me up the most drove me to ‘act’ to implement and not stay tongue-tied and silent passively accepting the bullshit/ All the abuse, machismo, discrimination that I witnessed (especially with the girls and women) became that driving force for me; my ‘why’ and purpose to continue to serve. It was not going easy, but I knew I had others that wanted to see things change and that together we were stronger and could make impact. Now 20 years later, when I find myself in a challenging situation, I remember my why and push on.”
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
- Listen, learn, and let others lead you.
- Slowdown in order to speed up later on.
- Silence is ok and sometimes by speaking less you say more and give others a space to share.
- Work with those that show up, even if you were expecting a large group and only 1-2 show, go for it, they are the informal and future leaders, motivated people who have the ability to move mobilize others.
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying that you’d like to share?
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. African Proverb
Juntas vamos mas lejos…