Meet Hugo Payaguaje, ClearWater Coordinator for the Siona Nationality


Photo: Alex Goff

Hugo lives in the Siona community of Aboquehuira, close to his aging parents and two of his brothers. He and his wife Flor, of the Kichwa nationality, have six children. Two of their children live and study in Lago Agrio, at a school for youth of the five nationalities of the region. Hugo was a hard working student throughout elementary and high school, but like the majority of youth living in indigenous communities in the Amazon, he did not have the economic resources to attend university. The Ecuadorian state did not provide many scholarships for people in the Amazon. Hugo was determined to continue studying and earned a scholarship from the Catholic mission to study education. He spent the next six years studying while also working to support his growing family. It was a sacrifice and Hugo was often awake studying late into the night. Upon graduating, he began working as a teacher in his community. Hugo says that teaching Siona children is very rewarding and he wishes that all Siona youth had the opportunity to pursue higher education. While continuing to work as a teacher, Hugo is currently vice president for the Siona Nationality, and is earning a degree at a distance from the University of Cuenca. His thesis project aims to record and preserve Siona chamanic practices with the goal of educating Siona youth. In addition, Hugo is taking courses on mapping and land management. He hopes to map all of Siona territory to earn legal recognition for Siona land, currently under threat from deforestation, illegal colonist expansion, African palm, and oil extraction. As ClearWater coordinator for the Siona people, Hugo is working to ensure that all Siona households in the communities of Aboquehuira, Biaña, and Orawaya have access to clean water. This involves traveling up and down the Aguarico River to coordinate between communities, transport materials, and organize workshops, assemblies, and system installation. At the time of writing, Hugo was elected president of the Siona organization, ONSAE (Organización de la Nacionalidad Siona Amazónica del Ecuador), a job he will begin in 2014.