Rosa Huenchuleo: "Defending the land has no other purpose than to protect life."

Rosa Huenchuleo Cifuentes belongs to the original Mapuche people in Chile. She has lived in Tarapacá for 15 years. She is a public administrator, president of the women's cooperative Añañuca, and leader of the trade association of local entrepreneurs Küyen Ray. Rosa is a participant in the UN Women's Originarias program, and through her initiative Orígenes Reutiliza, she seeks to strengthen her economic autonomy and promote recycling actions that contribute to reducing pollution and garbage.


Photo: Courtesy of Rosa Huenchuleo

What does your business Orígenes Reutiliza consist of?  

We are a business that emerged from the need to share a cultural message, a vision, and a solid historical value of our roots. Our products are made in Chile with 100% recycled materials by a team of six people, all committed to the environment and generating a positive impact on the environment.  

Orígenes Reutiliza collects, cleans, and polishes wine and beer bottles to give them a second use. We create ecological flowerpots, wind chimes, cup holders, and lamps, among other products, with equipment designed by us. We are also suppliers of other SMEs, who send us their raw materials so we can make new products. 

What is the link between indigenous women and the land?   

I am indigenous, and respecting the land, natural resources, and environment is essential. As indigenous peoples, we directly relate to the land and its care. We Indigenous women are the ones who live primarily in rural areas, and we are the ones who take care of our environment. This has always been the case because it is part of our traditions.   

We are connected not only with the land and the importance of taking care of it through recycling and giving a new life or use to what we call garbage but also in the generation of products with identity and the cultural approach of our people.   

Also, being in Originarias created a powerful bond for me. Belonging to the program made me connect with other indigenous women, especially Aymara women, and strengthened my sense of belonging as a Mapuche woman. I strive to ensure that the identity of the Mapuche people is reflected in my products. 

Why is it important to give these products a new life?  

We currently live in a culture of disposal. We use something once, throw it away, or constantly yearn for a replacement. This behavior will eventually saturate the planet. For us, it is essential to demonstrate that elements can be reused and given a second life, a second use.  

We find mostly glass and plastic when we collect bottles from neighborhood associations, homes, or micro dumps. This is why we do recycling workshops, where we teach people who intend to recycle but do not know how to do it.  

We also recycle books. Every year we have a campaign for neighbors to donate them. This small recycling action also transmits culture, evokes happy moments, and even takes us back to our childhood when we reread those classics of literature that we all saw at school. 

Why is it important to promote the participation of women who lead environmental initiatives?  

In the Originarias program, we have done different courses and workshops. One of them is about leadership. That is where I realized there was a lack of information, which is why it is essential to learn, but above all, to transmit and share our knowledge and traditions to those who do not belong to the native peoples.   

From the leadership spaces where she participated, such as, for example, the trade association and the women's cooperative, we instilled the principles of circular economy, collaborative work, and identity. The latter is significant because it allows us to communicate who we are and where we come from, so I, as an indigenous woman, have tried to integrate love and respect for the land in my work and entrepreneurship. 

How can cooperation and collaborative work contribute to mitigating the climate crisis?  

Women are agents of change. These women's networks can help mitigate the climate crisis because collaborative work is much stronger. We must innovate in formulating responses; we promote the circular economy because, with our products, we can prove that we can make an educational, cultural, and economic contribution by being a green company committed to the environment.  

We have regulations; for example, we do not use plastic bags, our cards are biodegradable, we encourage our customers to carry gender bags, and even our business cards are biodegradable. Since they are made with seeds, they can be planted. 

What are the future projects of Orígenes Reutiliza?  

We are working on a new prototype of machinery to create ecological brooms, which would be made from plastic bottles. With this initiative, we seek to take 15 three-liter bottles out of circulation and create a new product with 2 to 4 years more durability. It is all very rudimentary, and we are looking for financing to advance in a more elaborate design of this machinery.   

In the future, in terms of sustainability, as a woman, I see the urgency to take measures to address the climate crisis. The change has to happen now. I feel a much greater responsibility for being indigenous. We have respect and attachment to the land from our upbringing that our mothers and fathers passed on to us. That is why I believe that all initiatives work - whether big or small, they all add up. Sometimes we expect other people or entities to facilitate a solution, but I believe that the answer also lies in the individual. 

What initiatives should be promoted to support and make visible the work of women who lead enterprises or projects with environmental impact?  

I would love more spaces for participation and meetings in Latin America where we could talk with sisters from other native peoples and exchange experiences. This is very enriching because we can learn and replicate other successful models and share the models or initiatives we have here that can be applied to other territories.   

All the experience and what we have learned during all these years of collecting and recycling can be useful to someone else in another city or territory. This dialogue can be excellent feedback because sometimes the realities, despite the distances, are very similar.  

What message would you like to share with other women in Latin America and the Caribbean?  

What I would like to transmit to the sisters of other countries is that with minor changes, one can generate a considerable impact. We are called to contribute and promote change. As women, we are very creative and can reinvent ourselves and innovate. Defending the earth has no other purpose than to protect life.



Note: These posts aim to stimulate a constructive debate around the key issues of interest for advancing gender equality and women's empowerment in Latin America and the Caribbean. The opinions expressed by the individuals interviewed for the production of our editorial content do not necessarily reflect the official position of UN Women and United Nations agencies.