Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon

by Center for Amazon Community Ecology
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Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon

I recently returned from an incredible six-week trip to Peru that included one Artisan Facilitator Workshop, one Basic Artisan Workshop, one Guided Artisan Workshop, and two Training for Facilitators in the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) program.  The artisan workshops all focused in different ways on helping groups of artisans learn to make high-quality ornaments representing eight species of Amazonian and North American birds: the great blue heron, snowy egret, blue and gold macaw, chestnut-eared aracari, American kestrel, marvelous spatule-tail hummingbird, roseate spoonbill, and northern cardinal.

The Artisan Facilitator workshop had participants from seven communities who spent four days together learning a bit about the anatomy of birds, how to make a simple drawing of a bird, and how to work in a group to weave bird ornaments with the same size, shape, colors and high quality. The members of each small group had to put aside their craft making for 20 minutes at a time to facilitate their group.  In this role, their tasks were to: explain, show, observe, comment and affirm.  It was intimidating at first for some intermediate level artisans to approach their more experienced peers.  They all learned, however, that the art of facilitating is not trying to be the expert - it is creating a dynamic where everyone learns from and receives encouragement from everyone else.

Our most experienced artisan facilitators Pablo and Edson led the Basic Artisan Workshop and Guided Artisan Workshop in the Marañon River communities of San Francisco and Amazonas with a different apprentice facilitator helping them each day. This gave Jhonni, Wenceslau, Ketty, Wilder, Francisca, Miriam, Maria, Raquel, Rosita, Marianela, Loidy, and Rotmelita a great chance to practice the skills they had learned in the Artisan Facilitator workshop in mid-February.  Edson and Pablo also improved their techniques for teaching the fine-points of weaving bird ornaments, how to help a group make crafts with consistent design and quality, and how to mentor apprentice facilitators.  The photos we took of the artisans at the end of each workshop showed the beauty of their woven birds and the pride they felt in making them.

The AVP Training for Facilitator workshops produced potent emotional experiences for everyone involved.  The lead facilitator team began each workshop with some review material, but most of the time was devoted to giving participants the chance to prepare and deliver a practice agenda.  Many of them had a serious case of the “nerves” when their team presented their session since it was the first time they had ever introduced or led an activity like this for a group.  It was also new for them to share affirmations about themselves and their teammates as well as share ideas for how they and their teammates could do better. They got even more in-depth practice on the third day when they were confronted with challenging situations (e.g. participants talking too much, getting very emotional, or failing to respect the ground rule of confidentiality) requiring tactful interventions and/or quick communication with their fellow facilitators.  It will be exciting to see how these apprentice facilitators improve their skills as they join full AVP and artisan facilitation workshop teams in the future.

Thank you very much for your support that makes all of this work possible.  Any contributions up to $50 made to our project on GlobalGving by this Friday (April 8) in the Little by Little campaign will receive a 50% matching contribution.

 

Artisan drawing a hummingbird for artisan workshop
Artisan drawing a hummingbird for artisan workshop
Small group planning their bird design
Small group planning their bird design
Group presenting their plan for weaving a cardinal
Group presenting their plan for weaving a cardinal
Artisan apprentice facilitator helping participant
Artisan apprentice facilitator helping participant
Artisan weaving a kestrel with chambira palm fiber
Artisan weaving a kestrel with chambira palm fiber
Edson reviewing woven roseate spoonbill ornaments
Edson reviewing woven roseate spoonbill ornaments
Great blue heron ornament by marsh in Amazonas
Great blue heron ornament by marsh in Amazonas
Marvelous spatule-tail hummingbird ornament
Marvelous spatule-tail hummingbird ornament
Artisan with roseate spoonbill ornament
Artisan with roseate spoonbill ornament
Marienela leading AVP facilitator practice session
Marienela leading AVP facilitator practice session
AVP facilitator practice team preparing agenda
AVP facilitator practice team preparing agenda
Affirmation thumbs closing at AVP workshop
Affirmation thumbs closing at AVP workshop

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To some academics, traditional medicine is the sum of knowledge, skills and practices based on theories, beliefs and experiences originating from different cultures, whether explainable or not, that is used to maintain health. This definition may fit well in a dictionary, but it may fail to convey its essence to the people who practice it.

Some people view traditional medicine as a form of magic.  Imagine you are in a tropical forest and get a cut on your leg.  Back in the village, a woman arrives and asks to be alone with you. She trims off a few pieces of your pubic hair, heats them over a fire and applies them to your cut. Then as if by magic, the pain in your wound disappears.  In "western medicine" we have drugs that can do the same thing, but in the middle of the jungle being treated with little pills would appear equally magical.

Now consider the COVID pandemic that began in 2020.  Thousands of people in Peru were getting very sick or dying from a disease that was difficult to treat.  The threat was huge in native communities whose small medical centers did not have oxygen tanks or respirators. What did they do?

They had to rely on traditional medicine to supplement whatever drugs from the pharmacy they had available.

We wanted to honor a request from the members of FECONA (the federation that represents 14 native communities in the Ampiyacu region) to come together to discuss how they handled the immediate challenges of the pandemic and how they could better prepare themselves for the future. Thanks to a grant from the GlobalGiving COVID Relief Fund, we organized an Integrated Health workshop in the village of Huitotos del Estiron last October to facilitate the sharing of information and skills related to both traditional and western medicine.  Each community was invited to send a "curaca" who knew traditional medicine well as well as their "health promoter" who was responsible for handling some medicines they had in a village pharmacy.

The first two days of the gathering focused on traditional medicine.  We first asked participants to consider: 1) what diseases and health conditions had they encountered?, 2) what types of physical traumas had they encountered?, and 3) what plants or other treatments had they used to deal with these conditions? Each question was first discussed in a small group which then shared a summary of their responses with the whole group. While plants accounted for most healing agents written on large papers, animal secretions and spiritual treatments were also mentioned.  It was clear that traditional medicine was not just based on following simple recipes.  The curacas talked about the importance of respect for the forest and the need to ask permission from the spirits of the forest to heal someone when they collected plants from it.

On the second day, small groups with a mix of curacas and health promoters walked around the village to find one or more plants they could prepare to treat a specific ailment. It was inspiring to accompany experienced curacas walking in the forest and see how much they enjoyed sharing their encyclopaedic knowledge of diverse ways to heal people with each other.  It’s important to mention they also mentioned how some plants can be used to harm someone’s body or spirit.  Each group took their leaves, roots, and pieces of bark to a home in the village where they chopped and boiled them to prepare a remedy. Back in the meeting room, each group showed the plants they had collected, how they had processed them and how they would apply them to be a healing agent.  With encouragement from the community teacher, several children recorded the presentations using tablets they had received during the pandemic.  We recorded notes to share with all workshop participants.

The final session gave people a chance to share their experiences with COVID in their community. The health promoter from Puca Urquillo Bora offered a heart-rending account. She cried while saying that almost everyone in her village got the disease at some point. Many people got seriously ill, and five people died. Most of the other communities also had high rates of infection and some illness, but fortunately everyone recovered.  A few communities had escaped unscathed - presumably because they had imposed and respected a strict quarantine on themselves that effectively kept the virus out. People also shared which plants they used to deal with the virus. These included varieties of lemon, garlic, ginger, pepper, and onion which are often used to treat respiratory conditions as well as a few lesser known medicinals. While people greatly appreciated receiving some medicines from the pharmacy (mostly from CACE), many people believed that using plants gathered from their backyard gardens and fields greatly helped them reduce the severity of COVID in their communities.

The second half of the workshop focused on western medicine was led by Sica – the health technician from the health post Puca Urquillo. This medical center serves the twin Bora and Huitoto communities there as well as other more distant villages in the region. During the peak of the pandemic, Sica and her small team did a titanic job attending to all of the patients who came.

Sica gave a two-day crash course in some of the tools that people at the front line of health care in the villages might use to assess and deal with COVID and other medical situations. They learned how to use some instruments to measure someone’s temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation.  They practiced giving injections on oranges and suturing wounds on a piece of paca (large rodent) meat.  After the workshop, CACE donated sets of these equipment to five remote communities with health promoters who were well prepared to use them. The session closed with fascinating discussions about how some conditions like snake bite and COVID could first be treated in the field with medicinal plants and then followed up with medicines from the pharmacy or other treatments at a health center if needed.

Here are a few comments about the workshop offered by the participants. 

Alcebio - curaca of Ancon Colonia: “I have learned a lot in my many years as a curaca, but it is always good to reinforce what you know. I heard my brothers talk about different treatments - some I knew and others not so much. I knew the basics of some western medicine like what pills to give, but I learned new treatments I could use. I liked everything we did especially having the chance to practice some things.”

Moraima - health promoter of Betania: “During the pandemic we applied much of what we knew, but we also experimented a lot. We had to try everything.  I came to this workshop to hear everything that others tried, and some were new to me. Medicine is a wonderful and complex thing. The knowledge of our ancestors is valuable, and our children should know it. This was an experience I had never had before.”

Clever – the health promoter from meeting host Huitotos del Estiron offered these closing words: “I think this workshop should be repeated every year. It is very important to continue sharing our knowledge because we are always updating it. Not everything is spoken in traditional medicine. There is a lot of knowledge, but there is also so much we don't know. Tomorrow someone will discover something new, and if it can be shared to save lives, it should be shared.  Western medicine also continues to evolve. New medicines, new procedures, new treatments. The health of the communities will greatly benefit if we can sit down to learn together every year.

The farewells shared by participants at this workshop were some of the most emotional we have ever seen. Many curacas had said they had felt discouraged for a long time that few if any people from their communities seemed interested in learning the knowledge they wished to pass along before they passed. They now had a sense of hope that at least some people in the younger generation were hungry to hear what they could share and continue to learn with them.

Two curacas discuss a medicinal plant in the field
Two curacas discuss a medicinal plant in the field
Small group discusses medicinal plant uses
Small group discusses medicinal plant uses
Collecting liquid from a wild banana for medicine
Collecting liquid from a wild banana for medicine
Scraping bark to make a medicinal tea
Scraping bark to make a medicinal tea
Boiling bark to made a medicinal tea
Boiling bark to made a medicinal tea
Woman describing use of a medicinal leaf
Woman describing use of a medicinal leaf
Small group collection of medicinal plants
Small group collection of medicinal plants
Curaca describing use of a medicinal root
Curaca describing use of a medicinal root
Workshop participants with medicinal plants
Workshop participants with medicinal plants
School children recording medicinal plant talks
School children recording medicinal plant talks
Plant medicines used to treat COVID
Plant medicines used to treat COVID
Learning to read a thermometer
Learning to read a thermometer
Learning to measure blood pressure
Learning to measure blood pressure
Measuring oxygen saturation to assess COVID
Measuring oxygen saturation to assess COVID
Learning to take blood samples to test for malaria
Learning to take blood samples to test for malaria
Practice giving injections on oranges
Practice giving injections on oranges
Practice suturing a wound on a piece of paca meat
Practice suturing a wound on a piece of paca meat

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Before we began our recent workshop on digital literacy, one artisan told us: "I have never used a computer." Here is how this story unfolded…

Since the pandemic began to recede in Peru, Amazon Ecology has been working hard to help form and strengthen artisan associations in many communities. Formalizing an association creates new opportunities for artisans to access scholarships, invitations to special craft fairs and introductions to wholesale customers. While talking with them about their aspirations and doubts about this process, we realized we wanted to help them get more comfortable with digital technology to meet governmental requirements, better market their products and tell their own stories. Thanks to a grant from the American Tower Foundation, we organized a workshop to introduce artisan leaders to the computer, social media and creative writing.

Given the large number of artisans who wanted to receive this training, we first brought 22 men and women from communities of the Marañon, Ucayali and Tahuayo river basins to Iquitos for the four-day workshop in late November. The second group of artisans from the Ampiyacu region followed them the following week. Morning sessions were held in a cyber café where everyone could use their own computer. In the afternoons, they gathered in the dining room of the hotel next door where they were staying to practice writing.

In the first few days, artisans in their early twenties through veterans over fifty learned some basics about the hardware and software aspects of computers with an emphasis on using the Word program to write and save a document. The second and third days gave participants guidance and practice writing about themselves, interviewing others, and crafting stories about their group and community. The final workshop module introduced them to social networks with practice writing content and using photos to publish posts that would enlighten viewers about themselves and their crafts.

Kiari, a young Bora native artisan from Brillo Nuevo told us: “I have used a computer before, but I learned many new things in this workshop – particularly new ways to use Word and Facebook. It was great to see older people at this workshop who were comfortable and willing to learn. The trainers were very patient with them which helped their self-esteem. This was really important since many of them had barely finished elementary school. This workshop was really good. When I return to my community, I want to share what I have learned with other members of my association.”

Kiari’s comments brought to mind reflections shared by Estelita who is an artisan leader from Chino on the Tahuayo River. “I used to be afraid of a computer. I had never been encouraged to use one, and while my children had some experience with one, I didn’t really care. But I came to this workshop to learn and found that I liked the computer. I could turn it on, turn it off, and use it to write. I'm not saying it was easy, but I found I shouldn’t be scared of it.”

Estelita continued, “I'd always heard of Facebook, but didn't pay much attention to it. This week I created a page for my association where I described and posted photos of our products. It was also nice to write about something that happened to me. I had told one story orally before, but when I wrote it, it became something else. It was a beautiful experience.”

Francisca, an artisan leader from Amazonas on the Marañon River shared a story she wrote during the workshop that motivated her to become an artisan. “I met my partner when I was young. At first he worked, and I stayed at home. He bought things for us, but I didn't earn money because I took care of the house. Once I was hungry and asked him for 3 soles (less than $1) to buy something to eat. He got annoyed, treated me like a girl and refused to give me anything. I felt so humiliated. It was like I had to beg for money. I remember that I cried from helplessness.

Francisca concluded, “After that incident, I decided that I didn't have to beg from him or anyone else. I was going to earn my own money. I first sold things that I grew in our little farm, and then dedicated myself more and more to making handicrafts. And it was the crafts, more than anything that gave me my own money. I became independent.”

At the end of both workshops, each artisan association received a surprise gift of a laptop computer so their members could continue writing and publishing more stories. We hope to organize other digital literacy workshops in the future which will expand artisans’ ability to effectively use photos and videos and learn to use Excel to track their income, expenses and inventory. We thank the American Tower Foundation and our supporters on GlobalGiving who made this workshop and our other work possible.

Bora artisan learning to use computer
Bora artisan learning to use computer
Ampiyacu artisan learning to use computer
Ampiyacu artisan learning to use computer
Artisans practice writing stories at workshop
Artisans practice writing stories at workshop
Amazon Ecology staff helping artisan at computer
Amazon Ecology staff helping artisan at computer
Artisan writing her story
Artisan writing her story
Artisan sharing her story in writing workshop
Artisan sharing her story in writing workshop
Huitoto artisan sharing his story
Huitoto artisan sharing his story
Artisan smiling behind a computer
Artisan smiling behind a computer
Francisca with woven chambira basket and ornament
Francisca with woven chambira basket and ornament
Estelita with chambira basket at Chino
Estelita with chambira basket at Chino

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Edson is a 35 year-old father who lives in San Francisco, a campesino community on the banks of the Marañon River. He has been a fisherman most of his life because he enjoys fishing and it helps him provide for his family. Edson is also a very good artisan. We started buying crafts from him three years ago and soon realized he was also quite willing to share his talents with his fellow artisans. He developed new woven bird ornaments with his fellow artisan and friend Pablo and became a lead artisan facilitator in our training workshops because he was patient, charismatic and affirmed the artisans learning these difficult new skills with natural ease.

When COVID hit Peru in the spring of 2020, life for Edson and almost everyone else in the Amazon radically changed. Quarantines and travel restrictions halted all tourism. Virtually overnight, Edson lost his ability to sell any crafts or earn any money teaching others how to make them.

So Edson went back to fishing a lot for many months because it directly produced some food and generated some income selling fish in quick discreet trips to the market in Nauta.

As the severity of the pandemic eased, there was more freedom of movement. Edson could fish more and sell more. There was still no market for selling crafts, however, because there were still no tourists coming to Iquitos from other parts of Peru or anywhere else. Making crafts had become practically irrelevant to his life.

It looked like we could start to resume our work with artisans near the end of 2020, so we reached out to Edson to see if he would work with us again. He appreciated we had given some food and medicines to people in his community during the peak of the pandemic, but he wanted to keep focusing on fishing and explore other work because craft-making seemed too unpredictable. We were very sorry to hear this because we had been counting on him a lot, but we had to respect his decision.   Edson wanted to be a responsible father and husband. We listened, we waited, and we talked from time to time. If he was going to make crafts again on a regular basis, we understood he would need to regain his desire to create them by himself. He kept fishing, and we waited some more.

More time passed, and Edson started to come around. He was still an artisan at heart and wanted a chance to express himself through this médium and encourage other artisans to start making and selling crafts again. We were very happy to hear this and renewed an order for some bird ornaments from his group.

This slow return to craft-making, however, was almost fatally cut short. When we saw the first batch of hummingbirds produced by Edson’s group, we were disappointed because they fell quite short of the high quality they had produced in the past. We understood, though, they were out of practice and suggested some ways to the ornament could better represent the real bird. Edson tried again, but even his efforts still didn’t hit the mark. After we provided a second round of comments, he went radio silent….for several months. His group had lost their enthusiam for craft-making again because they felt it wasn’t worth their time making crafts that would never satisy us.

This situation was very humbling and led us to two important conclusions. Before we ask a group to make multiple copies of a specific ornament, we need to make sure they are working from an actual prototype of the model we have approved – not just photos of the animal. It’s understandably demoralizing to ask a group to make 20 ornaments only to tell them aferwards that we want them to redo them with some minor difference. Our other key realization was that we need to pay artisans like Edson a better price for developing these prototypes if we expect them to make multiple versions of a new model that will eventually become the standard for other artisans.

It was great to be spend time with Edson as a co-facilitator at a recent Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop in Nauta. Once again we were impressed with his diligence, insights, integrity, empathy, and ability to project enthusiasm with a seriousness of purpose. It was not surprising he had become the natural leader of his artisan group.

We had a heart-to-heart talk with Edson during a break in the workshop about his evolving relationship with craft-making in the past year and a half.   He was honest sharing his frustrations with the ways we had recently dealt with him and his group and why these had almost led them to abandon their involvement with this enterprise. He very much appreciated, though, that we had offered to pay him and his compatriot Pablo more for developing new craft models since it acknowledged both their economic need and emotional investment.

Edson and Pablo both came to Iquitos two days later to discuss our plan for moving forward. We started going over the designs for specifc bird ornaments one by one. It was so much nicer and productive discussing the finer points of design and color in person since we had clearly not done a great job of doing this working from one-inch wide photos on cell phones.

It seems like we are back on track with two of our master artisan partners. Edson is an artisan who almost got away. We suspect the fish will be happy that he will dedícate more of his time again to weave bird ornaments instead of throwing out nets to catch them.

Edson and his wife Ketty at artisan workshop
Edson and his wife Ketty at artisan workshop
Edson teaching woman artisan at workshop
Edson teaching woman artisan at workshop
Edson with harpy eagle and kingfisher ornaments
Edson with harpy eagle and kingfisher ornaments
Edson and artisan group members at workshop
Edson and artisan group members at workshop
Edson teaching Franki at Brillo Nuevo workshop
Edson teaching Franki at Brillo Nuevo workshop
Edson giving thumbs up affirmation to new artisan
Edson giving thumbs up affirmation to new artisan
Edson playing guitar during workshop break
Edson playing guitar during workshop break
Edson receiving COVID relief supplies from CACE
Edson receiving COVID relief supplies from CACE
Machiguenga native fishing with net
Machiguenga native fishing with net
Bora man fishing from dugout canoe in Brillo Nuevo
Bora man fishing from dugout canoe in Brillo Nuevo

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We organized two workshops last month with artisans and others from the native village villages of Brillo Nuevo, Puca Urquillo Bora and Puca Urquillo Huitoto in the Ampiyacu River area to use art and respectful communication as ways to address problems and solutions related to their lives in the forest.

“This is a workshop somewhat different from what we are used to doing,” explained my colleague Yully before the 30 attendees of the ART AND CONSERVATION OF THE FOREST WORKSHOP in Brillo Nuevo. Yully continued: "In the next two days we will explore different issues that surround indigenous identity, as well as some problems that may arise in the community, forest and when working with crafts." The attendees listen attentively wondering what will come.

We began the workshop by asking the artisans to mention some problems they had either in the community or working with crafts. Gisela adjusted her mask to speak. She is the president of her artisan group and immediately felt led to share that one big problem she has faced is the theft of chambira by other members of her community. She posed the question out loud why someone might steal chambira from their neighbor’s field. One person called out, "They have no chambira of their own to harvest.” Someone else said, "They don't want to plant new trees in their fields," We wrote down all responses on large pieces of paper taped to the walls without comment. Moises raised another problem related to chambira - the sale of raw fiber by the kilo to occasional buyers or even trading chambira in bulk for used clothes. This issue is new to us. Apparently some outsiders come to the village to sell used clothes or trade them for meat or more recently for chambira. We recorded all comments on the papers without discussing solutions. It was time to create art.

We gave everyone some paper, cardboard, pencils, colors and modeling clay with the open invitation for them to use these materials to portray their ideal forest field. The participants, gathered in small groups, let their imaginations fly and began to draw (and shape) their vision of this idea considering the problems mentioned. Incredible scenes begin to appear with many chambira trees growing around artisans harvesting all kinds of plants in the forest or next to the river. When their creations were done, the participants seem satisfied and were eager to explain what they did.

Before unleashing this sharing, though, we moved on to the next create task.

We invited the artisans to make their own mandalas. "Mandala? What is that?" Some people who attended our Alternatives to Violence Project workshops were familiar with this concept of concentric circles of phrases used to present the core concepts of respect for self and others. We now explained we wished them to create a mandala to display the essence of what their indigenous and communal identity meant to them. They could show a personal conflict if they wished such as a time they had felt like a victim of racism or other form of discrimination. We give them paper and left them to draw or use their chambira to weave anything they wanted. Once again they embraced the chance to apply their imagination and make more art.

When they finished, each participant had a chance to present their initial creations. Each person was greeted with enthusiastic applause. The second round focused on the mandalas. They were incredible in their beauty, diversity and depth of feeling. They included bags, trivets, and dream catchers. Each artisan in turn explained what their indigenous identity meant to them. Rode said, “The forest is extremely important to me as an indigenous woman.” Pointing to her design on the wall, she said, “My Bora identity is important to me. These symbols mean life and forest. Without the forest we could not work, and we could not eat.

Yully and I continued to marvel at each successive presentation.

The final activity of the workshop was the World Café when we returned to the problems identified in the morning. This time, though, we asked people to discuss them again with the goal of generating ideas for how to solve these problems in the community. Participants gathered around an imaginary table (as if they were in a café) to brainstorm practical solutions and write them down on big sheets with paper with colored markers. Yully and I sat down and listened. Dalila who is an artisan and dedicated mother said, "We must identify who is stealing chambira, why they do it and try to help them get their own supply. If they persist in committing this offence, we need to tell the president of the community so they can apply the penalties we have in the community for people who don’t respect our agreements.”

We had been aware of many problems surrounding chambira for some years. It was really good to feel that this workshop finally gave us and our partners the opportunity to discuss these sensitive issues in a way that could bring people together to find solutions instead of just complaining about and fomenting bad feelings. Amazon Ecology is committed to continue supporting our partners to tap their creativity, their culture and their deep connection to the nature around them to create sustainable livelihoods, conserve the forest and build healthy resilient communities.

Please support our work with a generous donation on July 14. GlobalGiving Bonus Day. Any donation from $100 to $1000 will receive a matching donation as long as funds last (usually a few hours).

Thank you for your support that makes our work possible.

Casilda - Bora native artisan with chambira hotpad
Casilda - Bora native artisan with chambira hotpad
Bora artisan drawing native design on mandala
Bora artisan drawing native design on mandala
Chambira mandala with yellow center at Brillo Nuev
Chambira mandala with yellow center at Brillo Nuev
Artisan dad with baby at workshop in Puca Urquillo
Artisan dad with baby at workshop in Puca Urquillo
Huitoto artisan drawing tree with vines
Huitoto artisan drawing tree with vines
Brillo Nuevo artisan with woven bird mandala
Brillo Nuevo artisan with woven bird mandala
Brillo Nuevo artisan weaving chambira hotpad
Brillo Nuevo artisan weaving chambira hotpad
Making clay figure for 3D forest scene mandala
Making clay figure for 3D forest scene mandala
Community reviewing mandalas in Brillo Nuevo
Community reviewing mandalas in Brillo Nuevo
Workshop participants celebrate their sharing
Workshop participants celebrate their sharing
Angelina's chambira mandala
Angelina's chambira mandala
Workshop reflections from head, heart and hand
Workshop reflections from head, heart and hand

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Organization Information

Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Location: Lemoyne, Pennsylvania - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Amazon Ecology
Project Leader:
Campbell Plowden
Dr.
Lemoyne, Pennsylvania United States
$129,909 raised of $150,000 goal
 
1,015 donations
$20,091 to go
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