Legend has it that late one night the Tsa'chila shaman prayed to the gods for a remedy to ward off the death-dealing illnesses spread by the Spanish invaders. And the next morning, when the shaman awoke, the sun was shining down on a single achiote bush. The Tsa'chila's covered themselves in the red juices of its seed pods, and slowly, the smallpox started to dispel.
Today, most Ecuadorians consider the shamans of the Tsa'chila the secretholders of the rainforest and of healing powers that would step in where western medicine had failed. But deforestation, land-grubbing and the introduction of a cash-based economy are threatening the livelihood of these tribes and many like them around the world.
Join one of the programs and you'll be helping tribes to regain pride in their heritage and launch projects in tourism and farming that allow these communities to maintain their way of life in a sustainable fashion. Get it right, and maybe you'll be initiated into the tribe yourself.