“Now that I have lived this experience, I have solidarity with other girls and I am not shy anymore. I’m a leader and I am happy!”
-Karen, 14 years old
Last week, fifteen girls in Puerto Firmeza community participated in a special rite of passage ceremony. After five days, the timid girls who arrived were completely transformed into self-aware, strong, confident, young leaders.
For the second year in a row, Alianza Arkana partnered with Shipibo Joi and Girls for the World (GFW) to offer this coming-of-age experience to Shipibo girls between 12 and 19 years old. We continue to be amazed by the transformation we witness in these girls each year.
As women and girls have often done throughout history, we sat in a circle and shared our wisdom with each other. We started by creating awareness about the girls’ strengths and the roles they play in their families, with their friends and classmates, in their communities, as representatives of the Shipibo culture, and in the world. We then made group agreements about trust, responsibility, solidarity, honesty, non-judgment, confidentiality, inclusion, and shared leadership.
The girls enjoyed discussing labels and nicknames that have been given to them in the past, and identifying those labels as positive or negative. Donning silly glasses that made it difficult to see clearly, we talked about the lenses through which we view ourselves and others. They learned that interpreting their world and themselves with clear eyes, open ears, and an open heart helps to recognize helpful or hurtful messages for what they truly are. They discovered that with clear self-awareness, they have the choice to reject hurtful messages and set healthy boundaries.
They also increased their emotional intelligence through a game to build awareness about accepting feelings and finding constructive outlets for expressing, not repressing, them. The girls offered each other great suggestions for dealing with difficult emotions: crying, bathing, reading, journaling, climbing a tree, taking a walk, singing, washing clothes (while trying not to rip them!), and listening to music were some of the strategies they suggested.
Two young Shipibo women, Katy Lomas Maldonado and Rebeca Melendez Rengifo, helped us facilitate this workshop. Rebeca, who works with Alianza Arkana part-time, participated in the GFW workshop last year in the San Francisco community. It had such a huge impact on her that she started her own NGO called Xontakobaon Nete, which translates as Young Women’s World.
The Xontakobaon Nete vision statement is: “We aspire to create a world in which young Shipibo women and girls can retain their ancestral knowledge and culture while working to protect the environment in which they live, where they can pursue healthy lifestyles now and plan a better future for the next generation. Through the theory and practice of our values, we aim to keep our legacy alive.”
Rebeca and Katy were instrumental in leading the section of the workshop where we discussed puberty, hygiene, and topics relating to sexual education, harassment, and abuse. They led the entire discussion in Shipibo and created a relaxed, safe atmosphere where the girls could to ask questions free from judgment or embarrassment. We were fortunate to have them with us.
While we were carrying out exercises to practice saying “no,” a mother who was accompanying us throughout the workshop was inspired to share a story about a teacher who harassed her as a girl, how she dealt with it, and what she would recommend to girls in this position. Her example inspired others to share their own experiences about times in their lives when they have confronted these issues. It was clear that there are very few safe places and resources for these girls to get help and seek out confidential support within the community. As a young Shipibo woman close to these issues, Rebeca hopes to address this need through Xontakobaon Nete, and Alianza Arkana will be supporting her, as well providing follow-up health workshops for young women and their mothers.
Moving into the final days, the young women learned about collaboration and solidarity, proudly sharing dances and songs from their culture, and making art and crafts to symbolize their togetherness. In our closing circle, each girl shared how the workshop had affected them and was presented with a mirror inside a frame that they had decorated. They were then told, as they gazed at themselves in the mirrors, “we want you to see what we see: beautiful, strong leaders; girls who know who they are and what they want. Thank you for being a part of our circle here. Now you are a part of the global community of Girls for the World.”
We all returned to our homes mutually-enriched by the experiences we shared in that 5-day ceremony. It was such an honor to learn with these girls, and we’re excited to continue building their self-awareness, self-esteem, knowledge, and empowerment in the year to come.