Meet the Ecuador Project Team

Emergildo Criollo

Founder and Nationalities Coordinator

Emergildo Criollo
Born along the banks of the Aguarico river, only years before the arrival of the American oil-company Texaco, Emergildo Criollo has witnessed the poisoning of his rivers, the degradation of his peoples ancestral territory, and has suffered the loss of two children as the result of oil contamination. He has fought for decades demanding that Chevron (formerly Texaco) carry out an environmental remediation of his rainforest homeland, and now, as the Nationalities Coordinator for ClearWater, he is leading the movement for clean water and cultural survival in Ecuador’s northern Amazon.
Without clean water, we can't survive.
Over the last years, Emergildo has worked tirelessly to install hundreds of rainwater systems across the region, bringing together five indigenous nationalities in the process. His vision for an indigenous-led movement for clean water in the Amazon has inspired people around the world. Emergildo knows there are many people in the world that have supported his people in the fight against Chevron. Today he is asking the world to join them in providing clean water to affected communities now. Only with clean water will their children grow up healthy. Only with clean water will they have the strength to keep fighting for justice.

Gonzalo Criollo

Local Coordinator and Community Technician – Cofán Dureno – Cofán

Gonzalo Criollo
Gonzálo Criollo is the son of renowned Cofán shaman Rufino Criollo, and brother of Cofán musicians Silverio and Claus Criollo. Culture and arts run in his family, but Gonzalo has chosen another path: working with his hands. As a senior technician, Gonzálo brings tremendous support to ClearWater. He is strong, dedicated and a perfectionist. Seeing Gonzálo at work is like seeing two men at work. He is a rising leader. He has received formal training in construction and has worked in several community projects to date. Today, Gonzálo also works with the community’s potable water system which he manages from his home.
I want to give my people what we need, so I’m always looking for ways to support my family and community.
Gonzálo is very concerned about the future of Cofán shamanism, a tradition that runs strong through the Criollo lineage. Gonzalo still remembers the Cofán stories told by the elders and is always present during Yagé drinking ceremonies. But Gonzálo fears that this central part of Cofán culture is disappearing with his generation. Every year, Gonzálo, Rufino and other Cofán shamans travel to Colombia to participate in seminars to share the art of shamanism with others in an attempt to keep the traditions alive.

Marcelo Piaguaje

Local Coordinator – San Pablo, Siecoya Remolino – Secoya

Marcelo Piaguaje
Marcelo is the ClearWater coordinator for the Secoya nationality. Marcelo and his wife Rosa have four children — Rosibel, Jon, Jigson Su’ra, and Paola — and three grandchildren. Marcelo was elected coordinator in a general assembly because of his consistent participation in community meetings and his dedication to his people and to the project. Marcelo can be seen riding on his motorcycle with his wife between their home and their garden, where he raises pigs and chickens, greeting neighbors and friends as he goes past.
We Secoya have been working hard to build rainwater systems, and it's all going well so we're going to keep on working.
Marcelo also loves to paint, perhaps inspired by his uncle, the famous Secoya painter Ramon Piaguaje. In his paintings Marcelo reflects on the rainforest and on Secoya history and stories that he heard from his father and grandfather while growing up. He says he wants to pass these stories on to the younger generation and is concerned about the possibility of them disappearing. Growing up along the Aguarico River in the community of San Pablo, Marcelo has seen many changes in his lifetime: the Secoya’s territory has shrunk, the rivers are no longer full of fish, and the center of San Pablo now has electricity. Yet some things remain. When asked to pose for a picture his ClearWater profile, Marcelo asked that it be taken of him in his traditional tunic, along with his family in front of their home.

Fabian Umenda

Local Coordinator – Sinangüe – Cofán

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Fabian Umenda grew up in the Cofán community of Sinangüe, on the banks of the Aguarico River in the lush green foothills of the Andes Mountains. He is married and has three young daughters. He spends his time working in his garden— growing yucca and plantains— hunting, and fishing. In his free time, Fabian likes to fish in the Aguarico River with harpoon guns that he makes himself. He says he became inspired to make the guns when he met some Colombian fishermen that used harpoon guns to fish. He really liked the idea and decided to make one himself. He found that he could replicate and even improve upon the design. Now, Cofán men from his community and others buy harpoon guns from Fabian.
Having clean water is the most important thing for our people. Without clean water, we cannot live well.
As ClearWater coordinator for Sinangüe, Fabian was present for every stage in the installation of rain catchment systems in his community; helping to transport materials by canoe to houses along the river and informing the Nationalities Coordinator if materials or tools were missing. Thanks to Fabian’s hard work, the installation of 24 rainwater systems was a smooth process. Now, every family in Sinangüe has access to clean drinking water. Fabian says he was proud to work as coordinator for his community.

Hugo Payaguaje

Local Coordinator – Aboquehuira, Bi'aña, Orauëaya – Siona

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Hugo lives in the Siona community of Aboquehuira, close to his aging parents and two of his brothers. He and his wife Flor have six children. 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. 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. Upon graduating, he began working as a teacher in his community.
This project is important because we are doing it ourselves. We, the Siona, are the ones building clean water systems.
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 working on a thesis project that aims to record and preserve Siona chamanic practices with the goal of educating Siona youth. He is also 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 has worked 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.

Celio Piaguaje

Local Coordinator and Community Technician – Sotosiaya – Siona

Celio Piaguaje
Celio Piaguaje is a Siona technician from the community Sototsiayá. At age 40, Celio stands as one of the most experienced workers in the group. Dedicated to agriculture his entire life, Celio knows the meaning of hard work. Every day during construction, Celio took a 45 minute ride on his dugout canoe to be a part of the ClearWater project. On the job, Celio was always willing to lend a hand. In addition to leading installations in his community, Celio worked with the Cofan and Secoya technicians to install rainwater systems in Cofán Dureno and San Pablo.
I’m here to represent the Siona nationality, working to improve our quality of life and live in better conditions.
All his life, Celio has made a living as a small scale farmer, cultivating caco, coffee, yucca and plantains. He remembers when the oil companies arrived to the Siona territory, resulting in contamination, deforestation, and the loss plants and animals. Today he says he is fortunate for what he has and achieves; he is able to produce good quality crops. Celio hopes that all Siona will have clean water and a healthy land in the future.

Moipa Nihua

Local Coordinator – Yawepare, Nampo Eno – Waorani

Moipa Nihua
Moipa is a young and strong leader of the Waorani people in the province of Orellana. He is the grandson of a legendary Waorani warrior, Nihua, who defended a large rainforest territory to the south of the Napo River in the 1950s and 60s from the invasion of the cowodi, the Waorani word for “others”, including colonists, oil workers, soldiers, and other indigenous groups. His father, Ocata, is one of the most respected Waorani elders and is considered one of the best hunters among the Waorani people.
The Waorani will keep building rainwater systems with the support of our international friends.
Moipa lives in the community of Yawepare to the east of the Via Auca, in an oil block operated by the Chinese company Andes Petro, at the frontier of the Yasuní wilderness, with his wife Ana and his three beautiful children. As the leader of ONWO, Moipa is working to defend Waorani territory from colonist settlement and legalize the global territory of the Waorani people, protect the uncontacted tribes in Yasuní National Park, and improve healthcare and education for all Waorani people. As the Waorani coordinator for the ClearWater project, he organizes workshops and trainings for local technicians as well as the local workers who build the systems, and ensures that all workers are well fed on wild peccary and other jungle meat during the weeks of installation.

Lydia Aguinda

Local Coordinator – Rumipamba – Kichwa

Lydia Aguinda
Lydia Aguinda is from the Kichua community of Rumipamba, which is located along the Via Auca, an area that has been impacted heavily by decades of industrial oil operations. Her mother is Maria Aguinda, the lead-plaintiff in the historic environmental lawsuit against Chevron (formerly Texaco).
We've been living amongst pollution for decades, and now, finally, we have access to clean water.
For the last several years Lydia has been employed by the state oil company, PetroEcuador, to carry out an environmental remediation of a decades-old Texaco oil spill in her backyard. Lydia is a caring mother and a strong advocate for her people. She says she is proud to be the local coordinator of the ClearWater project in Rumipamba.