SIT Peru alumna named Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow

Publication Date: April 28, 2021
Publication Location: BRATTELBORO, Vt.
Contact: Kathryn Schoenberger  |  [email protected]

A young woman stands facing the camera with Machu Picchu in the background.
Emily Pugh

An SIT Study Abroad scholar will return to the Amazon this year to support workshops that will help indigenous communities learn about their land rights and how to protect themselves from illegal incursions. Emily Pugh will undertake this work as the newest Alice Rowan Swanson fellow.

Pugh originally planned to spend summer 2020 volunteering with a Kichwa ecotourism program in the Ecuadorian Amazon. While her plans were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pugh stayed in touch with her community liaison in Ecuador and learned that there had been an increase in illegal encroachment on indigenous land by mining and petroleum operations that were taking advantage of looser government oversight during the pandemic.

“This Ecuadorian community…also relies on ecotourism and agriculture, and particularly living off of the land,” Pugh says. “So, this is something that is crucial to their way of life and, economically, to their living.”

Local leaders had proposed a series of workshops to help raise awareness of land rights in their communities and offer an opportunity for members of local governments to learn about the issues their indigenous constituents are facing. Pugh applied for the Alice Rowan Swanson fellowship to contribute to their efforts.  

“These workshops are designed by the community to empower its members to know their human rights to land and safety,” she notes, adding, “families need to know what support they do have and how to access that support when need be.”

Now a senior at Claremont McKenna College in California, Pugh became interested in working with indigenous communities in Latin America while taking part in SIT Study Abroad’s Peru: Indigenous Peoples & Globalization program in 2019. Her SIT program, along with additional courses taken once she returned home, inspired her to look for ways to carry out participatory projects that would help support communities’ “goals of self-determination and authorship.” Pugh writes that she was drawn to the Alice Rowan Swanson fellowship because of its focus on collaborating with local communities and organizations.

“I want to support a project that was originally developed by the communities it is for,” she states.

To carry out this project, Pugh is partnering with two indigenous organizations in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Indigenous People of the Kichwa Nationality of the Santa Clara Canton and Yamaram Jintia Tayu Jee, as well as the Inti Samay dance group, online radio station La plena, and the NGO Omprakash. She will work with her partners on planning this spring, before arriving in Ecuador in May to support workshops that will be held over seven to eight weeks this summer.

The Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship was established in 2009 by the family of SIT Study Abroad Nicaragua 2006 alumna Alice Rowan Swanson as a living tribute to her life, her desire to bridge cultures and help others, and the role that SIT Study Abroad played in her life. A 2007 graduate of Amherst College, Alice was killed while riding her bicycle to work in 2008.

The program awards fellowships twice annually to SIT Study Abroad and IHP alumni to pursue human rights projects.