It’s that time of year again. 2018 has drawn to a close and we look ahead to what the new year could bring. We resolve to make changes, from improving our health to investing in our relationships, ditching the smartphones, engaging in community, and learning new skills. What if you could tackle all these resolutions in one?

We invite you to travel with us — a human rights organization. We’ll give you the opportunity to take a deep dive into the complexity of world issues, to tap into established local networks, to access insider knowledge, to learn a lot, to have a lot of fun and make new friends along the way.

So make 2019 the year you travel, and let us help make it the one where you return healthier, more connected, more knowledgeable, and more empowered. 

Here are four brand-new trips to kick-off the new year:

Vietnam: Beyond War’s Toxic Legacy

February 21 March 3, 2019

Explore the quaint and history packed streets of Old Hanoi, sampling the freshest and most complex flavors of Vietnamese cuisine along the way. Enjoy an overnight onboard a cruise in Halong Bay, visiting floating villages and small beaches while meeting with local villagers and enjoying fresh seafood. Explore the legacy of war, from trails and tunnels used decades ago to current projects addressing remaining cluster bombs and lingering health impacts of Agent Orange — and so much more! **This delegation is confirmed **

Bolivia: Indigenous Identity

February 22 – March 3, 2019

On this 10-day program from Santa Cruz to La Paz and amazing places in between, we will meet with Indigenous communities on the front-lines of the struggles against resource extraction, water privatization and climate migration. We will end our journey by taking part in the Anata Andino, an Indigenous carnival festival with over 100 rural communities participating in giving thanks to mother earth.

US/Mexico Border: Migration, Militarization & Human Rights

April 7 – 13, 2019

Participants will explore how US immigration policies and trade agreements have impacted immigration and migration. We’ll learn about the impacts of decisions made by the current US administration, meet with diverse groups, community organizations and individuals from both sides of the border to hear firsthand about the reality of the Southern Arizona borderlands.

Japan: Following Our Waters

May 8 – 14, 2019

Did you know that Crystal Geyser is taking spring water from Mt.Shasta, packaging it in plastic bottles and shipping it all the way to Japan? Join a group of Mt. Shasta environmental activists to see, firsthand, where our waters have gone while engaging with Japanese community leaders.

We hope you’ll join us in 2019 to celebrate 30 years of building a connected global civil society dedicated to a peaceful and just future for all!

Photo Credit: Shannon DeCelle

From environmental justice in Ecuador, to Indigenous rights in Mexico, and revolution and change in Cuba, this summer Global Exchange is offering several Reality Tours that will highlight important issues around the world.

Join us as we meet with local leaders and movements to learn about the innovative ways communities and individuals are organizing for social change. Return with a new understanding of the issues and, perhaps most importantly, new ways to engage and support these inspiring movements from home.

Cuba: Revolution and Change

May 18-27, 2018

Be a witness to a rapidly changing Cuba, while engaging in dialogue with local economists, historians, doctors and teachers. Learn about the Cuban revolution while traveling across the country. We’ll start our historical adventure in Santiago where the Cuban Revolution began with the 26th of July Movement. While in Santiago, learn more about the events leading up to the Cuban Revolution as well as celebrate Santiago’s annual Carnival! Continue on to the Sierra Maestra mountains, beautiful Camaguey, Santa Clara and then to Havana.

Haiti: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

June 2-11, 2018

Join us as we examine the impact that foreign actors, like NGOs and volunteers, have had on disaster relief and development in Haiti. Led by Rea Dol, a Haitian educator and grassroots activist, we will engage local organizations and individuals working to sustainably build education, health, and financial services in their communities.

Ecuador: Social & Environmental Justice from the Andes to the Amazon

July 13-21, 2018

This delegation takes a hard-hitting dive into local and international efforts to bring environmental and social justice to the Andes and the Amazon. You will visit Chevron/Texaco’s toxic waste pits and see, firsthand, the impacts of extractive industries on the environment and Indigenous communities. You’ll visit the Yasuni national park, a UNESCO declared world-biosphere reserve that is under renewed attack for its crude oil. And you will meet with a range of actors resisting in creative and powerful ways, including community run ecotourism programs that are local economic alternatives to natural resource extraction.

The Guelaguetza Festival: Indigenous Resilience in Oaxaca, Mexico

July 19-28, 2018

Explore Indigenous resilience through food, culture, and social movements in Oaxaca — home to one of the largest Indigenous populations in Mexico. During this 10 day trip, you will meet with community leaders, activists, artisans, artists, archaeologists, and experience resistance in different ways. Taste the region’s renowned gastronomic traditions rooted in farm-to-table cuisine and mezcal production. See the preservation of pre-Columbian artifacts and practices, including a visit to the Monte Alban ruins. Attend the Guelaguetza festival, a yearly celebration of the customs of Oaxaca’s Indigenous communities.

Peru: Ancient Civilizations and Modern Day Peru

July 6-17, 2018

Travel from Lima to the Sacred Valley and learn along the way about Peru’s ancient civilizations and contemporary social challenges, all while tasting the country’s world-famous cuisine. From Lima’s informal settlements to Andean villages, you will meet with Indigenous cooperatives, artisans, and NGOs working to empower women, practice fair trade, and preserve their traditions.

Chiapas: Indigenous Rights & Environmental Justice

August 3 – 11, 2018

From a base in the colonial town of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, our delegation will travel to surrounding Indigenous and campesino communities to learn about Chiapas’s long history of mass mobilization and collective resistance to the Mexican government’s repressive imposition of neoliberal agendas. We will see, firsthand, how popular movements like the Zapatistas organize for economic, environmental, and Indigenous justice while getting a unique look into their time-honored traditions.

Bolivia: Spanish Study & Cultural Immersion

August 6-21, 2018

Looking to pair language school with cultural immersion and social justice? During this trip, we will spend mornings in class learning (or brushing up on) Spanish while exploring social justice issues through guest lectures, debates, and group discussions. During our afternoons, we will explore Cochabamba via visits with activists, scientists, journalists, artists, and government officials. On weekends, we’ll head to the Bolivian countryside and learn about climate change, food justice and the coca industry. All the while, you will live with a Bolivian family, providing an intimate opportunity to practice Spanish in everyday situations and get a better feel for the rhythm of Bolivian life.


A new wave of oil drilling is moving deeper into the Amazon. Once again, Indigenous communities led by women have courageously stood up to the renewed attack on their lands, rights, and the environment. The international community must stand with them. Join us this summer on a delegation to the Ecuadorian highlands and Amazon basin where we will take a deep-dive into the current grassroots resistance to the exploitative, unsustainable, and toxic practices of extractive industries.

Here’s the scoop:

Ecuador’s state oil company brought in the new year with new oil wells. It began drilling the first of 97 of the planned wells inside a new field of the Yasuní national park, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. This is the second phase of the controversial Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) project (started in 2016) that creeps further into the national park.

Indigenous women organized in opposition to the drilling and recently secured a meeting with the country’s president, Lenin Moreno. They presented Moreno with a list of demands enshrined in the “Mandate of Amazonian Women” that calls on the government to end oil and mining projects on their ancestral lands as well as conduct official investigations into attacks against Indigenous leaders.

This delegation will meet with Indigenous women leaders from Sarayaku at the forefront of this effort. We will also meet with leading environmental NGOs including Acción Ecológica, currently under significant pressure from the Ecuadorian government to curb its activities.

Just a few weeks ago on March 13, Ecuador launched a new bidding round for foreign companies to develop oil and gas reserves in Ecuador’s eastern Amazon region as well as in the gulf of Guayaquil. In light of this development, our delegation will grapple with the legacy of multinational oil companies in the country, with special attention on Chevron — a Global Exchange Top 10 Corporate Criminal.

We will visit oil pits where Texaco, acquired by Chevron in 2001, drilled using obsolete technology and substandard environmental controls from 1964 to 1990. We will see the devastation that the subsequent dumping of 18.5 billion gallons of highly toxic waste sludge into streams and rivers caused – and causes – local people dependant on the water for drinking, bathing, and fishing. We will also be introduced to some of the most successful local and international efforts to bring environmental and social justice to the Andes and the Amazon.

Please consider how you might take action for the earth and Indigenous people, whether by joining a delegation, sending a message to President Moreno, or demanding multinationals cease funding the destruction of the Amazon and violation of indigenous rights.


The Following piece was written by Shannon Biggs of Global Exchange, and Osprey Orielle Lake. You can also find it on the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus news page.


‘When we speak of ecosystems as ‘resources’ — it is as if we are saying the Earth is in the business of liquidating itself.”
— Randy Kapashesit of the Cree Nation

The sacred fire was lit as over 100 primarily Indigenous peoples gathered—and hundreds more participated online—for the RIGHTS OF MOTHER EARTH: RESTORING INDIGENOUS LIFE WAYS OF RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT International Indigenous Conference APRIL 4 – 6, 2012 at Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence Kansas.

As Renee Gurneau of the Chippewa Nation explained, the fire is an important spiritual tradition acknowledging our relationship with the rest of creation in all things we do, and part of “getting into our ‘right Indigenous mind.’ As she said, “We must always give before we can take, and the fire reminds us of our Original Instructions and helps us wake up to our own knowledge.”

The Sacred Fire

Each day as we walked by the fire circle right outside the auditorium where the conference was held, we felt very grateful and honored to participate in this historic gathering to hold a discourse about Rights of Nature / Rights of Mother Earth with Indigenous leaders and activists from the Global North and South.

Conference organizers, Tom BK Goldtooth (Indigenous Environmental Network) and Dan Wildcat (Haskell University) stated, “This is the greatest challenge facing humanity in the 21st Century. How do we re-orientate the dominant industrialized societies so that they pursue human well-being in a manner that contributes to the health of our Mother Earth instead of undermining it? In other words – how do we live in harmony with Nature?”

Buen Vivir
In part, the gathering was a response to the Cochabamba World People’s Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth conference called forth by President Evo Morales of Bolivia who proposed that the United Nations adopt a declaration that recognizes that Nature or “Mother Earth” is an indivisible living community of interdependent beings with inherent rights, and that as human societies we have responsibilities to follow the true laws of nature, and to live within the carrying capacity of the planet.

Marlon Santi and Patricia Gualinga Montalvo of the Sarayaku Tribe with Shannon Biggs and Ben Price

In the Kichwa  language of the Indigenous people of Ecuador it is called “sumak kawsay,” in Spanish it is “Buen Vivir” — decolonial concepts that mean ‘living well’, as opposed to consumer-driven notions of living more.  But how do we get there? Starting from where we are now, can we really envisage a future other than that which has come from enslaving nature, and treating all other life as mere “resources” for exploitation?

The conference focused on a system of earth jurisprudence (rights of nature) that views the natural world, Mother Earth, not as property to be destroyed at will, but as a rights bearing entity with legal standing in a court of law. The intent of the gathering was to bring primarily Indigenous people together with some non-Indigenous allies to explore questions about how the rights of nature legal framework could re-direct the dominant industrialized society to one of living in respect of natural laws.

The Trail of Tears

The Trail of Tears, which refers to the forced resettlement of Native Americans from their homelands and spiritual sites to far-away encampments remains present in the stories of modern colonization, theft and destruction of lands throughout Indian country. It was quite humbling and heartbreaking to realize how little we learn in our conventional school systems about the history of Native American peoples, their brutal struggles, and their outstanding resilience to hundreds of years of ongoing assaults.

Modern stories of broken promises from government officials, corporations, speculators and lawyers have created a wariness among Native leaders to partner with outsiders, and for those of us “non-native allies” present, it was a constant learning of how to engage with love and humility in a space that was first and foremost—Indigenous. Tom Goldtooth spoke at the conference on the idea of Indigenous leaders partnering with non-native allies to promote Rights for Nature:

Although not everyone saw eye-to-eye throughout the 3-day event, it was clear to all in attendance that the basic tenants proposed by the rights of nature framework, while new to western legal systems, are actually based on”original instructions” — Indigenous worldviews and philosophies that uphold the essential interrelatedness of all life and our human responsibility to respect and protect the natural world that we are part and particle of. This basic unifying principle has the potential to create new alliances and protections for every community as we face the challenging years ahead.

Shannon Biggs and Clayton Thomas-Muller, Tar Sands Campaign Director for IEN enjoy some traditional eats

Almost all of the speakers at the conference were Indigenous—from as far away as Hawaii, Ecuador and Canada.  Shannon Biggs of Global Exchange (co-author of this blog) and Ben Price from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund had the honor and opportunity to present the work we do with communities confronted by unwanted and dangerous projects to write new laws to recognize legal rights for communities and ecosystems.

•    Watch a video of Shannon and Ben present on Community and Nature’s Rights.

•    For video and audio archive of the conference, go here.

Rights and Responsibilities to Future Generations

Representing Global Exchange and the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus as well as our shared collaboration with the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, we listened and learned a great deal from Indigenous leaders exploring concerns about rights of nature and how they might interface or interfere with existing Indian Native and First Nations laws.  We have much to learn about how Indigenous communities define responsibilities as much as rights, and that the rights of future generations—not just of human but all species—is critical to building a bridge toward common understanding in the shared work that we do.

Renee Gurneau at the Harvest Banquet  hosted by the Osage Nation

The call for environmental justice in Indigenous communities on the frontlines of uranium mining, tar sands extractions, water takings and more are all potential opportunities for rights of nature and community rights to come into action.

We look forward to further alliance building with Indigenous communities and offering all that we can as we look towards the Rio + 20 Earth Summit and beyond and how we can create broad support for the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and care for all of our communities and bioregions in a truly just and respectful manner. As Tom Goldtooth said at the conference,

“We cannot flourish breaking the laws of nature. Rights of Nature is a human recognition that we are part of a larger Earth community and if we want to continue we must recognize the laws of that community; the true system governing our own well being.”

Further resources/links

  • Hawaiian Rev. M. Kalani Souza, storyteller, songwriter, musician, poet, 
philosopher, priest, political satirist, and peacemaker joins a banjo playing friend impromptu 
for a song on the grass at Haskell College.
  • Shannon Biggs and Osprey Orielle Lake are offering  Rights of Nature Trainings through the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus and if interested, please contact Wyolah Garden ( Also if you are interested in hosting a Rights of Nature Training in your community please contact Wyolah Garden.


Shannon and Osprey at the conference

Shannon Biggs is the Director of the Community Rights program at Global Exchange. She recently co-authored a book, Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grass Roots  (PoliPoint Press). Her current work focuses on assisting communities confronted by corporate harms to enact binding laws that place the rights of communities and nature above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations.

Osprey Orielle Lake is a lifelong advocate of environmental justice and societal transformation. She is the Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus (WECC) and an International Advocate for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. Her book, Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature (White Cloud Press) is a 2011 Nautilus Book Award winner.


Paul Prew in the Sarayaku, Ecuador 2007

Reality Tours started offering delegations to Ecuador in the spring of 2002. Now we are celebrating ten years of  rich, educational programming that examines pressing social and ecological issues affecting Ecuadorians from the Andes to the Amazon. While there are many special aspects of our program in this culturally and biodiverse nation, it is the indigenous struggles to protect their cultures, ecosystems and Pachamama in the face of major petroleum and mining corporate interests that lay at the foundation behind each eco-tour. As I prepare for my fourth trip to the Ecuadorean Amazon, I feel honored to engage and learn once again from the wisdom, experiences and successes of  communities like the Sarayaku. To know that our journeys keep their promise to inform and inspire make all our hard work in San Francisco and in Quito worthwhile! Just read the insights of past participant Paul Prew:

Indigeneity and the Environment in Ecuador- A Past Participant Shares His Story by Paul Prew

I traveled to Ecuador in July of 2007 with Global Exchange.  While it has been a few years, the experience is with me to this very day.  While preparing a new course, I was reviewing a number of films on indigenous and environmental issues.  In the film Crude, I saw a number of the same people, organizations, and locations featured in the movie that I visited on the Global Exchange tour.  I was impressed with the ability of Global Exchange to plug us into a variety of social movements and organizations.  As an educator at a state university, I use the experience every term in a number of my courses.  In addition to my Indigeneity and Environment course, I use the Global Exchange tour for a number of my courses.  The Global Exchange tour was helpful in two specific ways.  First, the tour outlined the struggles faced by the people of Ecuador and others in similar nations.  Second, the tour also provided a number of concrete models of citizens tackling very difficult problems in their community.

Heather with Child in Salinas, Ecuador, 2007

The issue I have discussed often in my classes is the effects of oil exploration in Ecuador.  While on the Global Exchange tour, we visited Coca and participated in a “toxic tour” of the region.  As soon as we exited the plane, the smell of fuel oil was immediately present.  Our tour took us through towns with pipelines transecting them.  We visited a waste oil pit where oil was collected in a large pond with no lining to prevent it from seeping into the groundwater and surrounding ecosystem.  We also visited a waste oil pond that was cleaned up, but oil remained in the soil and in the shallow pond that replaced the waste oil pit.  We also stumbled upon workers fixing an underground pipeline that had been leaking.  As a result of the leak, we were able to film a home that was destroyed by an explosion resulting from built up gas.
Not all of the experiences regarding oil exploration focused on the problems people faced.  We also visited the indigenous community of Sarayaku where we saw people actively preventing environmental degradation.  In Sarayaku, the community members have successfully prevented oil companies from initiating oil exploration in their territory.  The Sarayaku have been able to attain this level of success through a number initiatives that have reorganized their society and reached out to the global community for support.  We learned about the changes in their governance structures, education, and environmental policies.  Their local model provides examples for other communities to follow.

Building Fish Ponds in the Sarayaku, Ecuador 2006 Image by Malia Everette

I think the lessons learned in the community of Sarayaku resonate with me the most.  In the United States, our privileges are dependent on resources we take from others around the world.  We tend to lack an awareness of our ecological boundaries.  The Sarayaku are acutely aware of their ecological relationships and attempt to proactively mediate their relationship with the surrounding environment.  While they have made many changes, one issue stands out.  Because of contamination and over-fishing outside of their territory, the Sarayaku have had to deal with declining fish populations.  To help supplement their fish catch, the Sarayaku, in conjunction with resource ecologists, have developed fish farms.  These fish farms are sustainable using plantain and termites for fish feed.  Because these fish farms were not a traditional means of meeting their needs, I asked the Sarayaku elder, Don Sabino Gualinga, how these fish farms fit with their notion of “balance.”  He replied that they must deal with the concentration of people, and there is hope that they will return to an equilibrium in the future. Now, they have other areas (nature preserves) where there is balance.  In this way, the Sarayaku are actively thinking about their relationship with nature and assessing how they can maintain their culture and also maintain their livelihood in the rainforest.  These ideas allow me to help students contemplate their own society and its relationship with nature.

Children and Blue Skies in Salinas, Ecuador 2007

The theme of struggle and success resonated throughout the tour.  We visited cooperatives in the mountain town of Salinas and also the community of Yungilla.  We heard from farmers fighting a mining company near the town of Intag.  We met with organizations such as Accion Ecologica where we learned about Plan Columbia and its effects on the local population.  After discussing these issues in one of my classes, a student talked with me after class.  She was stationed in the military base in Ecuador near area where Plan Columbia was implemented.  She began by telling me that the local population was not very friendly to her or the other US troops.  Knowing that this was the result of Plan Columbia, I asked her about how friendly people were when she visited other areas of Ecuador.  She admitted that her experiences outside of the military base area were very pleasant, and people were very friendly.  Because of the Global Exchange tour, I was able to help this student see that the people of Ecuador were not antagonistic toward “gringos” but were justifiably upset about the policies of the US government that affected their lives.  We were able to discuss this distinction and make it a learning experience.

The Global Exchange tour in Ecuador was a life changing experience.  I hope to join another tour in the future.  I am still amazed at the depth of the experience and how profoundly it has impacted my life and those who shared in the tour. 

Take Action! For those of you that would  like to learn more and get involved: