Shilpa Darivemula is a volunteer who worked with Alianza Arkana at our intercultural school in Puerto Firmeza, as part of a one-year international educational program to study the use of dance as a healing medium in work with young women.
Please read about the workshops she held at the school and her reflections about intercultural issues and self-esteem for young Shipibo girls below.
The girls all sat in a circle and stared up expectantly at me. We were under a cool thatched roof in the school on a beautiful yet hot day in Puerto Firmeza. It was the first of four workshops that I, along with three amazing women, developed to help improve the self-confidence and self-esteem of the young Shipibo girls ages from 9 to 15 years old. Rebecca and Kaity, two young Shipibo women, and had been discussing the idea of starting a series of workshops for the Shipibo girls in this community for a while.
Rebecca had participated in a workshop aimed at empowering girls run by 'Girls for the World' a wonderful organization from the U.S.A., and noted how it positively impacted the young Shipibo girls of the San Francisco community in Pucallpa who participated. I met Rebecca and Kaity at Alianza Arkana and we, along with Rebeca and Teresa, two Alianza Arkana volunteers from Germany who worked at the school in different projects, decided to support the girls in Puerto Firmeza with a some dance, music, and art workshops.
I was a bit nervous. I had picked a series of what I had thought were a good set of icebreaker games, but then realized how complicated they are to explain in English, let alone in Spanish and then Shipibo. But the team we had was well equipped for the challenge. We sat in a circle and introduced ourselves, stating our names, how we feel with a movement, and our favorite color. When the girls stared at my Spanish explanation with a bit of confusion, Rebecca and Kaity and Rebecca's sister Liz, stepped in and translated, which was a huge gift.
We then played a few icebreakers, angering a few of the boys who wanted to join but were told it was only for girls. The girls seemed to really enjoy the workshop and worked very seriously on the unique paper bracelets we made. We had each of the girls try to define self-esteem, a word that resulted in a lot of stares and confusion. So we talked about being confident instead with the idea of developing their understanding of self esteem through further workshops. Each girl made a paper bracelet and began by first writing down 8 sentences about themselves. Interestingly, the girls were unsure of what to write, so we had to give examples, like perhaps our favorite foods, our favorite color, etc. They ended up following those suggestions strictly, oftentimes asking us if what they wrote was alright.
It made me wonder about how in the United States and other western countries, we are always encouraged to "express ourselves", to find our "identity", to "describe ourselves". (Remember that piece of paper you would get at the beginning of each class each year, including in college, asking you to describe yourself in some way? I'm honestly very sure that my professors never read a single one of those surveys, but it always felt good to be able to tell him or her that my favorite color was pink, that my favorite band was 'One Republic', and my favorite class was Science). We begin early and we begin strong, slowly shaping us into exactly what our society wants us to be: independent, self-assured, and "aware" of ourselves.
While looking at these girls, I realized that perhaps our confidence in being able to list off attributes gives us only the façade of self-esteem. In some ways, it makes us more fragile. We are less accepting of changes in ourselves ("When did I stop liking pink and start liking green? But there is only one line for favorite color? Oh my god...can I like TWO colors?"), we are more prone to defining ourselves in linearities rather than circles, single options rather than a plentitude of views, and in the end, all that talk about ourselves....really gets annoying and bit egotistic. I am not saying that we should not do so or that our self-esteem workshops were useless, but I'm saying that perhaps there is an excess of those first-day papers and a lack of open conversations about change, about ourselves, about our interconnectedness.
In these workshops, we tried to pull away from the paper defining and hard and fast rules. We had a few conversations about what we liked and how we felt. The girls enjoyed being able to choose colors, to design their bracelets, and to wear them as well. We left them saying that these bracelets were the first step into learning how to express themselves and learning more about themselves. The girls giggled and smiled, asking us when the next workshop would be. In short, the self-confidence was practiced not through creating definitions or giving examples of how to write about yourself, but in the games, the giggles, the movement, and the arts and crafts. It was in the details where we saw the beginnings of a very long process of finding oneself and we were extremely excited that we could create this moment in Puerto Firmeza with the girls.
We had three more workshops that focused on different arts and aspects. We had a theater class focusing on several theater exercises that the girls liked quite a lot, a dance exchange between classical Indian dance and traditional Shipibo dance and created a choreography together blending both arts, and finally ended with a mask making workshop in which each girl made two masks representing how they felt inside and outside. The girls were not as quick to "define" themselves and at every moment when I asked for undefined self expression, they usually began by staring at me expectantly to show them "how".
Most of their movements and expressions centered around modelling and being happy, which makes me wonder if they pick up what they see as "right" mainly from television and the city. Only when I began jumping around like crazy, did they start to jump around as well and explore other forms of space and expression. I think one of the biggest challenges is trying to let them know that they know what they know and that they shouldn't be afraid of being wrong.
In a world where school consists of rote memorization and being told instead of exploring on one's own, the challenge is mainly learning to be confident to be wrong and to think for oneself. I think the four workshops were useful, but more workshops and more time with the girls, who got more comfortable towards the end, would be wonderful and a true positive impact on their lives.
Many thanks to Alianza Arkana for this amazing opportunity. Thank you to Rebecca, Kaity, Liz, Rebeca, and Teresa.
As part of the intercultural education program, Alianza Arkana is working with the mothers of students to create healthy, nutritious dishes from crops grown at the school. These cooking and nutrition workshops have become more and more popular in the community with a growing number of participants and the recipes used have been successfully accepted by the women. Currently, more than half of the women participating have planted different vegetables in their family plots that have been used to cook in the workshops. The rest of the plots are scheduled to be planted in the coming weeks.
On Monday, October 7th, Alianza Arkana´s nutritionist, Mariana Orta, together with the participants, organized a demonstration in order to present the very important nutrition topics they have learned throughout the course. This was seen as a key way to reinforce their learning. Amongst the audience was the Director of Intercultural Education of Alianza Arkana, Dr. Paul Roberts, the Director of the US-based NGO Shipibo Joi, Mershona Parshall, a German midwife, Nine Uhlich, who works jointly with Alianza Arkana and Shipibo Joi on a project for training Shipibo midwives, foreign guests interested in learning more about the project and 2 Shipibo women from another community also interested in learning more about nutrition.
For Shipibo women, this type of demonstration activity is not common, as they are not used to speaking in public. At first they were a little nervous, yet the presentation was very successful - each one presented her theme wonderfully and they were all satisfied and happy after the presentation.
The event not only consisted in an oral presentation, but the mothers chose a traditional Shipibo-improved recipe to share with the visitors: mazamorra de doncella (fish soup). The traditional way of preparing this dish consists of grating plantain to form a puree, boiled with fish and some onion and cilantro. When cooked, the fish falls apart and the result is a delicious thick soup. However, in the improved version, other ingredients are added (more vegetables) to increase not only the taste but the nutritional quality of the dish, having at the end a tasty soup that has more nutritious ingredients such as onion, tomato, sweet pepper, garlic, coriander and ginger. This exemplifies the typical way that this project has worked, starting with traditional recipes and amending them in small but important ways to include a higher nutritional content.
All visitors and participants enjoyed the delicious lunch, typically accompanied by plantains. The mothers were very proud of their presentation and their succulent dish, especially as the visitors left with a great impression of both the presentation and the food. One of the 2 Shipibo women who was there, commented that: "This version of mazamorra was scrumptious, and I am proud to see that these projects are carried out, since the traditional Shipibo cuisine, despite being very natural, does not include fresh vegetables."
This project has now reached the final stage of its first phase: teaching about the importance of nutrition; creating a cookbook for each of the participants with improved dishes that can be easily replicated; and planting vegetables in the homes of each of the participants. The next phase is integrated with another important education project Alianza Arkana has in the community of Puerto Firmeza, in which the community has donated to the school five hectares of land that have been planted with different crops in order to eventually provide school meals to students. The mothers who participated in the Cooking and Nutrition workshops will be responsible for coordinating the school lunch program through a seasonal menu of available food crops. The ultimate goal is that students have access to a healthy breakfast and lunch at least three times a week.
Many thanks to our supporters, especially our regular donors, who have continued to contribute monthly donations since out first fund raising campaign last year.
This money has enabled us in the last three months to start a significant new project at the intercultural rural school in the Indigenous Shipibo community of Puerto Firmeza called “Grow & Cook”. This project is led by the nutritionist working full time with Alianza Arkana and has been made possible by the donations enabling us to build a traditional Shipibo model kitchen within the school grounds and to provide some of the food for the workshops.
This project is important because:
The next stage of this project will be to run workshops for the mothers who are attending the cooking/nutrition classes on how to cultivate their own family orchards to guarantee a supply of healthy food for their families.
Another important development of the project in the last three months has been to clear an area to cultivate corn, which will provide food for the chickens that are being reared at the school. Over time, we hope to provide nutritious meals for the students at the school based on eggs and meat from the chickens, fish from the fish farm (which we plan to complete by the end of the year) and the fruit and vegetables, which are being cultivated in the school grounds.
We are continuing to make good progress in creating a new model for intercultural education at this pilot school project known as “Soi Sani” of 120 students in the indigenous Shipibo community of Puerto Firmeza in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.
Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we have been able to advance on four significant fronts in the last few months:
This new model of education is important as it combines the practical teaching of traditional agricultural practices based on permaculture principles with the Peruvian State education curriculum. By doing this, we are developing an innovative model of “productive education”. Additionally, the children will receive classes about the arts and crafts of their own culture and its cosmovision.
Many thanks to our donors who are enabling us to continue this important work, which helps preserve and strengthen a unique indigenous culture as well as help create food security and diminish malnutrition by developing the capacity of the students and their parents to grow their own nutritious food. And especial thanks to the donors who give monthly as this is invaluable in helping us plan ahead.
Many thanks to all our supporters who have generously donated via Global Giving. In total we have now raised $9,725 through this campaign.
This money has enabled us to do the following:
Further donations will be used to:
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