We have been working with the community of Santa Clara for over two years now.
As our permaculture project there has grown in impact and success, and we have formed increasingly durable and long-lasting relationships with families in the community – greatly helped by the presence of Alianza Arkana volunteers living in the community – we have become increasingly involved with the community in helping them find sustainable forms of livelihood.
This is important so that people do not have to leave the community to live in the city of Pucallpa or migrate to do poorly paid seasonal work such as picking grapes in Ica or eking out a precarious existence selling their handicrafts on the streets of cities such as Iquitos and Cuzco, with the result that community ties are weakened.
Traditionally, this has been a community where people have dedicated themselves to agriculture and fishing. In common with many other indigenous communities, they now find that these activities, which in the past provided sufficient food and some income, have become more tenuous and less productive due to deforestation and commercial overfishing.
One strategy to help the community find other forms of livelihood, which has unfolded organically as a result of our work with them, is to attract ecotourism to the community. A key step in this has been to refurbish an abandoned maloka (a traditional ceremonial building) to create a cultural center within the community. The community has also built an attractive market area where they can show and sell their handicrafts to visitors.
In the past few months, the community has hosted six groups of visitors. These have included:
- A small group of people from the International Funding for indigenous Projects (IFIP) making a pre-conference visit to projects in the Pucallpa area before attending the international IFIP conference in Lima.
- A group of people from an organization called Arkana Peru that arranges cultural study tours.
- Three primary school teachers from Sweden, who visited the community on an educational exchange program, to create links between their school in the municipality of Harryda and the primary schools in Santa Clara and Bene Jema, where Alianza Arkana is also involved.
- A group of about 15 young people from Norway, taking a year between secondary education and university to visit the Peruvian Amazon and get involved in environmental projects.
- And, most significantly, and most recently, two groups of 25 people from the Universeum in Gothenburg – the Universeum is the Nordic region’s largest science center, set up to educate people about ecology, science and technology. On their large site in the heart of Gothenburg, they have recreated the Amazonian ecosystem, (amongst others) complete with tanks housing two huge paiche (huge river fish which used to be part of the staple diet of the shipibos) as well as many other Amazonian species. These last two visits were particularly important both for their size and also for the fact that the visitors stayed overnight in the community, with 25 families hosting 25 visitors on each occasion.
These visits have been very successful and a good learning process for both Alianza Arkana and the community. With the people from the Universeum, the visits generated a lively and warm exchange of cultures, as the Swedish visitors also shared aspects of their culture with the community including dances, Xmas traditions, songs and games.
These visits have led to two important consequences. One is that they have helped rekindle interest and pride in the community in their traditional dances and songs. The second development is that a group of young people in the community has taken the initiative to form an association to promote their culture and ancestral knowledge.
On December 1st, they invited staff from Alianza Arkana to a meeting in the cultural center at Santa Clara to present their ideas about activities they want to develop in the community. These include learning more about key aspects of their culture, including songs, dances, legends and its extensive knowledge about plant medicines.
Alianza Arkana will now be following the lead of these young people and working with them to find funds to further the major projects they want to do, which include:
- Helping develop the eco-tourist infrastructure in the community by building an elevated walkway from the port to the community entrance so the community is more easily accessible by boat.
- Continuing the reforestation project that Alianza Arkana has initiated by reforesting a hectare of community land with medicinal trees and plants, that can be sustainably harvested and provide a much-needed income for the people involved.
- Recreating the traditional festival of the Shipibos called Ani Xeati.
We are very excited to be involved with this association of young people. We will also be helping provide them training in the areas of leadership, personal development, administration, computer skills, marketing as well as continuing the English classes that two volunteers have been offering them.
We see this as at the heart of intercultural education – to equip and empower the young people with the skills they need to navigate a globalized world that increasingly impacts them in so many ways whilst simultaneously strengthening their indigenous cultural identity.