Casa de Eliza is a cozy, budget traveler's guest house founded in Quito in 1989 by Maria Eliza Manteca, an Afro-American nurse from Ecuador's Imbabura province (Northern Andes). In its early days, Casa de Eliza was frequented by travelers who had spent time in the rural parts of Ecuador, particularly the northeast regions of the country. At the Hostal, Ms Manteca listened to the firsthand impressions of these travelers on the realities of Ecuadorian life. Tales of poverty, forced migration, few work possibilities, low productivity, loss of cultural practices, low self esteem and environmental degradation were far too many.
In an attempt to improve this non-sustainable situation, the Casa Eliza community, made up of local activists who had stayed at the Hostal and sympathetic foreigners, decided that the profits made from the Hostal and its eco-excursions were to be put towards buying virgin forest in Ecuador's northeast Andean mountain range. These funds were augmented by the generous donations from friends.
The forests in Ecuador's Norteast cordillera occidental are part of the mega-biodiverse "Choco Ecosystem" which runs from Panama to Ecuador. This bioregion also includes the famous Mindo cloud forest. The goal was to protect and develop sustainably this precious ecosystem of man and nature.
The project grew gradually. In 1996 Fundacion Golondrinas became an official NGO (Non governmental organization). The organization was dedicated to the Conservation of Cloud Forest, the Use and Recuperation of Eroded soil, and Environmental Education in the Miro Basin. Among the stated aims was to teach sustainable agricultural techniques to locals in order to cultivate organic produce and to recover local culture and traditions.
Fundacion Golondrinas received the support of CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) in Cali, Colombia in the form of a donation of Vetiver (Vetivaria Zizanioides), a grass used to control erosion on hilly farms by forming terraces. With CIAT's technical assistance, Fundacion Golondrinas pioneered the application of Vetiver grass in the region, improving both the quality of the soil and ultimately the quality of the local people's lives.