The text on this page is copyright by Jason Ricciardi.
In July, 2004, immediately after my college graduation, I found myself on a plane destined for Ecuador, South America. I was about to begin my time as a Health Program volunteer with the United States Peace Corps. Not knowing what to expect, I was excited and nervous about the possibilities that lay ahead. I had not heard much about South America and I had not known many travelers who had experienced life there. My time as a volunteer would be the perfect opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge while attempting to fulfill the requests of the host community.
After three months of training in a village called Guachala en la Mitad del Mundo, I was among a few volunteers who were headed for Quechua communities located deep in the Amazon Jungle in the Province of Napo. I had been told that in order to ensure a successful experience I would have to dedicate a large amount of time to studying the local language; and that only by a thorough demonstration of my appreciation for the dialect would the community begin to understand and trust my reasons for being there. The Quechua language is what sets the Quechua people apart from the rest of Ecuador's population. It identifies who they are and directly connects them to their ancient Incan ancestors. Several months after my arrival, it became obvious that Quechua was the overwhelmingly dominant language and that Spanish fit into their lives only as a way to participate in commerce and external activities away from their jungle haven. Being able to communicate only in Spanish, and then only with a few members of the community, limited my ability to understand the requests of the rest of the community and it prevented me from developing trusting relationships so critical to the success of a Peace Corps volunteer's work. A long history of persecution, oppression and disrespect from the European conquistadores has resulted in the Quechuan peoples' general disdain for the outside world and for those individuals who attempt to enter into their own. Sincere devotion to the understanding of their national identity through the acquisition and daily use of their language was the only option for me to consider if I was going to develop a long-lasting connection to the people and their way of life.
I immediately began searching for someone who would be interested in spending time with the new gringo. One person in particular, Holger Licuy, a local, young, adult man, had expressed a high amount of curiosity and was more than willing to help me integrate. In exchange for teaching him English, Holger began teaching me the local language. Due to a lack of resources dedicated specifically to this particular Quechua dialect, our one-on-one sessions were structured informally and as a direct translation from Spanish. This approach guaranteed the most area-specific documentation of the language and helped me to become highly knowledgeable in the tiny differences that make it unique to this area of the Amazon. Within one and a half years of continued dedication from both of us, I not only became fully conversational but also co-authored, with Holger, an area-specific Quechua grammar guide that the Peace Corps now uses in training new volunteers destined for Quechua communities. Holger had also secured a position with the Peace Corps teaching new trainees.
Towards the end of my service, I began to wonder how I would continue learning and practicing Quechua when I learned of a new computer program called Skype. Skype allows people to communicate over the Internet by video and voice. Holger now works in the provincial capital of Tena and has constant access to the Internet where I am able to connect with him directly during many hours of the day. We are able to continue our language exchanges — providing him with useful English instruction while actively participating in the preservation of the Quechua culture through regular Quechua instruction. We are constantly updating our Quechua grammar guide so that it portrays the most accurate description of its structure and of the culture that surrounds it. In today's world, modern technology and globalization definitely has a hand in creating more problems for the world's precious, ancient societies but in this case new technology is directly connected to the actual preservation of those same communities. Unfortunately, greater globalizing forces are threatening these cultures with extinction and hopefully a better understanding for the historical value of cultural ancestry will compel people to participate the same way Holger and I do on a daily basis. We are both living testimonies to how modern technology can actually help the preservation of ancient societies.
© 2010, Jason Ricciardi. All rights reserved.
Ricciardi, J. (2010), "Quechua and the Use of Modern Technology." The Peoples of the World Foundation. Retrieved
December 8, 2023,
from The Peoples of the World Foundation.
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