Yully started working with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology in 2009 and soon became our field and program coordinator. She has done or helped coordinate every major activity in the forest and communities we have been involved with including research on copal resin, producing essential oil from rosewood leaves, planting chambira palm trees, helping artisans make and sell better quality handicrafts, and leading non-violent communication workshops. She has always been willing to get her hands dirty or her body wet, keep working at a task until it is done, seek creative solutions to tough problems, and deal with her colleagues and our partners with honesty, compassion, and respect. After organizing multiple deliveries of food and medicines to partner villages during the peak of the pandemic, she got very sick from COVID, and then got back to work. As she approaches her 14th year with Amazon Ecology, Tulio asked her to share some of her background and reflections on her work with us in the Peruvian Amazon.
I remember that I met Campbell who was the director of an NGO called CECAMA (Amazon Ecology’s short name in Peru) in July 2009. He was looking for someone to join him to survey the resin on copal trees, and my partner Victor put him in touch with me. I had just returned from a trip as a field assistant to Norwegian students studying aguaje palm forest ecology. When he invited me to participate, I didn't hesitate since the trip involved going to a few native communities along the Ampiyacu River. It would be a great chance to get to know those communities and their people.
While I was studying nursing before college, I had my first contacts with people in rural communities. I began to listen to their stories, and my interest in Amazonian communities was born. I realized that technical nursing was not for me. I wanted to be in the field in communities where I could interact with the people. When I was 26, I decided I needed to study something relevant. I couldn’t afford a private university so my only option was to go to the National University of the Peruvian Amazon (UNAP) – the public university in Iquitos. My first choice was to study anthropology, but since UNAP didn’t have this program, I pursued a degree in Agronomy.
Another wonderful experience was having my first daughter. I had to stop my studies for a while, but when I came back, I gave them everything. I started making trips as an assistant for foreign students. I got some field experience, but I still lacked what I most wanted - the chance to get to know Amazonian people.
This brings me back to my first trip with CECAMA.
I made my first trip (and every trip since then) to the Ampiyacu by boat. I had time to talk with Dr. Campbell. I learned he had a PhD in Ecology so I call him “doctor” to this day. In those five days, I met Bora and Huitoto native residents from communities of Puca Urquillo and Brillo Nuevo. We looked for copal trees and resin in the forest, and I saw women artisans do phenomenal things with chambira palm fiber. These experiences inspired me. I said to myself - I want to do this, either with CECAMA, another institution or on my own. I really want this. I want to dedicate myself to this.
I had to wait a few months before Dr. Campbell offered me a job with CECAMA, but I accepted immediately.
I then moved on to another stage of my life of learning hand in hand with artisans. I learned about their family relationships, their economic problems, their daily difficulties, their dreams, and their longings. I learned and trained. I became an expert in craftsmanship. I can now identify and tell an artisan about the small details that make the difference between a craft which is OK and a really well-made one even although after many years I can still barely weave a little bird. I dedicated myself to gaining the artisans' trust and earned it by being honest and always letting them meet the real me without masks and all of my imperfections. Communities became my second home, and artisans became my second family. I have accompanied them all of these years and witnessed how much they have improved. There were very few male artisans in the early years, because they said that making crafts was an activity for women, but as they’ve seen the potential of craft-making grow over time, more men have changed their attitude and now openly dedicate themselves to this art. I have also witnessed how many women have become more empowered, become leaders in their communities, and have stronger visions of a better future for their children. I am excited just to contemplate these changes.
I now have 51 years on my life’s path with almost 14 years on this part of my journey that continues. I look back and see Yully who met Dr. Campbell in 2009, and I would like to tell him that he made the right decision.
Over the past five years, some very talented artisan partners have steadily made more and more beautiful and life-like bird and butterfly ornaments with chambira palm fiber. Our experienced facilitators have also been increasingly successful at showing other artisans how to make these ornaments at our workshops. We have had a hard time, however, getting large numbers of these ornaments for sale.
One of the main reasons for this shortage is that it takes a lot of time for even a good artisan to make one of these woven animals really well. While more artisans can now make these top-quality crafts, some choose not to because other buyers will pay more for the same kinds of crafts made more quickly with less attention to the details. Even our “rejects” are much better than the mediocre animal ornaments found in the souvenir shops in Iquitos.
We are trying to charge more for our premium quality crafts to incentivize the artisans to do their best work. This may work to some extent, but even socially conscious buyers have a limit to what they are willing to pay for a fair trade ornament. Fortunately, we are developing three new techniques with artisan partners to make their ornaments with greater efficiently, quality and consistency.
Artisans usually use a woven sample or photo as a reference to make a bird by themselves from start to finish. In a workshop, a facilitator provides some guidance for this process, but even artisans working together often produce a variety of shapes, sizes and styles. In the past month, we used a local version of an “assembly line” or "chain" process at two workshops to make four kinds of birds. We first tested this method at Brillo Nuevo where our facilitator Pablo organized six artisans to make a batch of Atlantic puffin ornaments. Two of them made six equal bodies and heads while their teammates cut and bent wires to make sets of wings, tails, and feet. Once the main pieces were put together, individual artisans took over filling in the details under Pablo’s guidance.
The experiment was successful. The group produced six puffins with higher quality and consistent design in much less time than it would have taken each person to do their own. It also allowed one less-skilled artisan to make an important contribution to the group instead of floundering on her own. To be sure, this method requires good cooperation, coordination and appropriate division of tasks to function well. The participants, however, all felt very good about their collective effort and results.
We repeated the process at the next workshop in Amazonas where small groups made woven ornaments of purple gallinules, kestrels and orange-breasted falcons. Pablo showed three other facilitators how to use the “chain” process, and they all found it helped their groups make their bird ornaments in less time than their usual individual method.
Seven years ago, our artisan partner Doilith placed real butterflies on tracing paper to outline the wings and colorful patches. She used these lines to shape the wire perimeter of the body and embroider the interior. This method worked well, but it still took a fair amount of time to draw these patterns for a few dozen butterflies in one order. Last month, we used Doilith’s drawings to make a rubber stamp for each set of wings for each butterfly she makes. In one hour, she and a helper used these stamps and an ink pad to create templates for over 200 butterflies – a task that would have taken an entire day by hand. At both workshops, Doilith easily showed young artisans how to cut out the shape of each wing on the butterfly they were making and use it to make a high-quality craft.
Doilith’s innovation in progress is weaving a long solid strip of chambira fiber. She will neatly fit a series of wing templates on this strip and cut them out. This process will then provide a tightly woven background for each wing and just leave the task of embroidering the colored patches and accents. This process could be a game changer for artisans who would like to make butterflies to sell. While it may not be worth their time to make one butterfly per day, it would definitely be worth it to make five or six.
It’s exciting to see our artisan partners applying their imagination and talents to increase the productivity of their process as well as the quality of their crafts. Seeing an artisan making one craft at a time in their home alone has some poetic appeal, but very few artisans have so far been able to use their skills to do more than buy some basic things for their children attending the primary school in the village. We want to make it possible for dedicated artisans to send their children to a technical school or college if they want.
WHAT A SKILL-SHARING WORKSHOP MEANS TO AN ARTISAN
One of the core activities that Amazon Ecology does in Peru is host skill-sharing workshops so artisans learn to make new kinds of crafts they can sell directly to tourists who visit their villages and expand their opportunities to sell more crafts to us and other wholesale buyers. After putting these workshops on hold for almost two years during the peak of the COVID pandemic, we have been organizing these sessions again in the Ampiyacu and Marañon River regions. Last month we conducted workshops in the villages of Brillo Nuevo, Puca Urquillo, and San Francisco where participants could learn to make a monarch butterfly, morpho butterfly or two birds which collectively included the great blue heron, blue crowned mot mot, peregrine falcon and the chickadee. The lead facilitators were our veteran trainers Edson, Pablo and Doilith with other experienced artisans from the communities taking one-day turns as apprentice facilitators.
Below are comments from two participants and one apprentice expressing what their workshop meant to them.
“It is always interesting to try to make new crafts. I am used to making birds, bags and sometimes placemats, but I rarely try to make new models. In this workshop I was encouraged to make butterflies, and I think I did alright. The teacher Doilith explained things well. She was patient and attentive. I appreciated she was an artisan woman like me with concerns like mine. She does the best she can for her children to fight for her family to meet their daily needs. I was able to speak with her, learn from her and get to know her a bit. I liked that. I liked finding that we had so much in common. The three days of the workshop flew by, and in the end making my butterflies was a great experience. Thank you for that chance.”
In my workshop I had the opportunity to be an assistant teacher for a day. It was interesting because I don't have many chances to teach what little I know about making crafts. I also felt a little pressured because I was surrounded by artisans who have a lot of skill, so I put forward my best effort. I approached each person in the group, tried to explain what to do, tried to be understood, and helped when they asked me for help. All in all, it felt good. It was a good experience to learn about myself and my ability which gave me more confidence.
“I think my skills making birds are improving. The quality is improving, and I know it can be better still. That's what I try. I want to be able to make very pretty crafts that anyone who sees them will admire. Nobody forces me to come to these workshops. I come because I want to learn and see how my fellow artisans work. I want teachers to tell me how I can do better. By the end I want to have made a craft that I like very much. Then, when I offer these crafts to sell, there will be a better chance that someone will buy them. This is my work. I feel proud of what I made.”
Thank you very much for your support for our work to empower traditional artisans from the Peruvian Amazon, build resilient forests and strengthen their communities. We would very much appreciate any additional gift you can make to our project this Wednesday, July 20.
Wednesday, July 20 is a special Bonus Day with GlobalGiving when your gift could be amplified by other generous donors. Starting at 9 am (EDT), donations made to our page on the GlobalGiving platform from $100 to $499 will receive a 30% match; donations from $500 to $749 will receive a 40% match, and donations from $750 to $1000 will receive a 50% match. Matching funds will be available until midnight or until they are used up.
Thank you very much for your support.
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.
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.
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