Yupukari Public Library
Yupukari Public Library

The guesthouse, Caiman House, Yupukari

“Wabbani” is a word of Arawak origin that means “platform” – as in a hunter’s treetop hide.

The Company

Wabbani LLC is a for-profit social enterprise that produces handmade, culturally-authentic home décor, personalizing IKEA products while fitting their exact specifications, and preserving cultures and habitats in marginalized communities. Our inaugural product line is made by indigenous artisans in the Rupununi region of Guyana, South America. In future we will offer an expanded product line from multiple countries.

Wabbani spun off the work of 2 nonprofits, Rupununi Learners Foundation (a US 501c3) and Rupununi Learners Incorporated, a Guyanese Nonprofit Corporation. The 2 nonprofits have partnered since 2007 to support Caiman House Field Station in the village of Yupukari, which hosts the Yupukari Public Library, the ecotourist guesthouse known as “Caiman House,” and several community-run conservation projects, with black caiman, jaguar and yellow-spotted sideneck Amazon river turtles.

Together we have raised the pass rate into secondary school from near zero to 75%; have been the largest village employer for a broad range of roles, and provided a local market for farmers and craftspeople. For more about our tourism and literacy work, visit http://rupununilearners.org

The decision to make Wabbani a for-profit company stems from the mission to create not only fair-wage employment, but also to be able to attract investment for scale, thereby generating significant funds for community development. Currently we are setting aside 2.5% of revenue (not profit) to be returned annually to participating communities, so they can build their own capacities to manage the development they choose.



The Backstory

In 2005 I (Alice Layton), Peter Taylor and our 9-year-old son moved to the Macushi (indigenous) village of Yupukari in Guyana, South America. Peter was there to research a poorly-understood animal, the black caiman, and I as a social worker/librarian had established a collaboration with village school teachers to create a public library and classroom libraries and help them improve the teaching of reading. The community lacked books and few children were advancing beyond elementary school. So you might say we were focused on the lacks in the community: lack of skills, lack of knowledge, lack of resources. We were often overwhelmed by the contrast between the village way of life without running water or electricity, their lack of access to communications and health care, and what we took for granted as North Americans. 

Bookmaking from oral stories

I established Rupununi Learners Foundation, a US nonprofit, and a few years later Yupukari created Rupununi Learners Inc., a Guyanese nonprofit corporation, to manage all the projects and attendant funding, which has included grants from multiple zoos, the IUCN, and others. Visit http://rupununilearners.org for more about this partnership. Everything we do at Caiman House is village owned and operated.

Over the next weeks and months in that first year, while the libraries took shape, Peter trained a crew of 18 villagers (rotated in teams of 3) to capture the formerly avoided caiman (up to 14 feet long), notate measurements and observations, mark, release and recapture them for a long-term study (still ongoing) to understand the animal and its role in the environment. Tourists in the region soon got wind of the project, and before long we were hosting "follow boats" of enthusiasts who, once the caiman were immobilized and jaws taped, could enjoy a bucket-list opportunity to get up close with a top predator and help out with the study. 

Black Caiman handshake

We quickly realized that the village now had an opportunity to get into the tourism business, with the "Caiman Project" as our unique attraction. Interest grew, and so did the urge to link with other communities in the region and build a village guest house. As a local team began to design and build it, our roles shifted from experts to novices. We didn't know how to make bricks, select trees for lumber, thatch roofs, weave hammocks, and a thousand other activities, small and large, that have created Caiman House in Yupukari and won us tourism awards and mentions by architects. My role shifted 180 degrees, from outside expert to "Village Appreciator," with the shift of focus from my skill sets to theirs. And it's the combined skill sets of North and South that bring WABBANI to you.