Webster University students are visiting the indigenous Sápara community this spring. Some students, however, worry about bringing COVID-19 to the indigenous community.
From roaming the halls of Webster University to walking the Amazon rainforest, a group of Webster students is preparing to embark on a trip to Ecuador this spring. This trip, proposed by professor Dana Hill, will give students the opportunity to live amongst an indigenous community called the Sápara in the Amazon for one week to study indigenous rights.
Webster student Kamryn Moore is just one of the individuals who will be in attendance. Moore has described this trip as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that she couldn’t pass up.
The Sáparas are facing cultural extinction and this may be the only chance students will ever have to interact and learn from them. What was once a population of 200,000 individuals is now down to the hundreds. They graciously opened their doors to Webster students to share their culture and traditions while they are still around.
“I think that all study abroad trips have elements that are once in a lifetime,” Moore said, “but when will I ever get the chance to learn about indigenous rights from an actual indigenous tribe and live with them for a week in the Amazon rainforest?”
Students will fly into Quito, the capital of Ecuador, where they must test negative for COVID-19. From there, they will be meeting with Hill and a group of indigenous and environmental activists who will provide them with necessary background information before heading into the Amazon.
This trip is now several years in the making and was previously put on hold due to COVID-19 concerns.
Moore said she first heard about the opportunity in spring 2020 before the pandemic started. Despite a lengthy list of precautions, Moore still fears introducing COVID-19 to the isolated indigenous people.
“As with all trips abroad during the pandemic, there is the increased exposure, but this trip has an additional layer on living with an indigenous tribe that is not exposed to COVID in their everyday life, nor are they vaccinated,” Moore said. “We do not want to be the ones bringing COVID into this community.”
Moore is not the only student attending this trip who has concerns surrounding travel during the pandemic. Human rights major Jenna Dietl shared that she is taking extra measures to ensure she will not contract COVID-19 before her departure.
“I am personally making sure I am not attending any indoor or outdoor events that I know could cause an increased risk for COVID,” Dietl said.
Everyone going on the trip must be vaccinated and will be tested for COVID-19 before and after their flight.
“I literally worry all the time if I’m going to introduce COVID to a secluded group because who wants to be the white person who brings a deadly virus to this population,” Dietl said. “However, I wouldn’t be going if the indigenous community themselves didn’t want us to come.”
She said the Sápara Nation has already prepared their sleeping arrangements and built several structures for their week-long stay. Dietl said it gives her peace of mind knowing that they are just as excited about their arrival.
“I am going and have wanted to go because this is field research [that is a] once in a lifetime opportunity,” Dietl said. “I would never go into a place with the mindset of knowing more than others and I am going to learn from indigenous communities and once we come back, introduce the people around me to what I learned.”
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Abby Frye (she/her) was the managing editor (Spring 2022) and lifestyle editor (Fall 2020) for The Journal. She writes news and lifestyle stories and works outside of Webster, but enjoys her cats and getting tattoos.