On Wednesday 24th August, Dr Paul Roberts and Marcos Urquia, Directors of Intercultural Education and Permaculture respectively for Alianza Arkana, had an important meeting with the community of Santa Clara.
Santa Clara is a medium-sized Shipibo community, located about one hour from Pucallpa, accessible by boat from the Yarinacocha lake in the rainy season.
We have been working in this community for a year and a half, developing our permaculture project there attached to the primary school. Children from the school are involved in learning about sustainable agriculture, attending environmental education workshops organized by our volunteers, planting food crops, and then consuming what is grown in a weekly nutritious lunch, cooked by the mothers in the community.
The meeting with the community was to plan together the next phase of our work. We had just received the good news that the joint funding application we had made to New England Biolabs Foundation, who have generously supported this work for two years, had been successful. This funding, together with further financial support from the Schmitz foundation in Germany, obtained by our German-Ecuadorian volunteer, Marcelo, who has been working alongside Marcos Urquia in the community, will enable us to advance with the next stage of our work there.
This work has a number of dimensions:
The community are very keen to attract eco-tourism to bring much needed income into the village. They are well situated for this having an accessible location near Pucallpa and being on a new eco-tourist route, created by the local municipality. Part of the funding will be used to renovate an old maloka (a ceremonial building) which will function both as a community center and also as a place in which visitors can be welcomed and the women can sell their artesanias (beautifully embroidered textiles).
We have already created a interpretive path displaying 75 different medicinal plants in the community, which leads from the permaculture project near the school to the maloka. This is both to enable the children in the school to learn about their traditional knowledge of medicinal plants and function as a further resource for eco-tourism – visitors with guides from the community can walk along the path and be shown the different medicinal plants with an explanation of how they can be used.
There are already four visits to the community planned in the next three months. Two will be from members of the University of Gothenburg Science Park, who will stay overnight in the community. Another is from a group of people attending a conference in Lima, bringing together organizations in the Americas who fund work with indigenous peoples. The fourth visit is from a group of Swedish primary school teachers who are interested in a cultural exchange between the primary school in Santa Clara and the schools where they work in Sweden.
This community, like many near Pucallpa, has suffered greatly from deforestation. After the community meeting, we spoke with the jefe (leader) of the community, who was born in and grew up in Santa Clara. He told us that he remembered the forest surrounding the community as a child. It was full of animals, which could be hunted to provide food. Additionally, the nearby lake of Yarinacocha was then full of fish. He graphically showed us with his hands how the fish now being caught have not only diminished in supply and are harder to catch but are also much smaller in size.
Previously people in the community could live well through what their natural resources offered them, known as the ‘economia de la abundancia’ (the abundant economy). Now they need money to buy food, to build and maintain their houses, to travel to Pucallpa, and to educate their children. Hence the importance of eco-tourism as a source of income.
We have already begun a project to reforest community land with medicinal trees. This funding now enables us to extend the area of reforestation.
Additionally, the children at the school can learn about the importance of these trees, their role in the local eco-system and in mitigating climate change, and the medicinal properties that they carry.
3. Development of the permaculture project
Up until now, the permaculture project has been able to provide basic food stuffs for a weekly meal for all the children of the community, which has been supplemented with other food such as rice, fish and chicken. Fruit trees have been planted which will begin offering a wide range of fruit within a year. We also have a production of salad vegetables.
This additional funding, as well as helping us pay the salary of our Shipibo permaculture director, who leads the project in Santa Clara, and his assistant from the community, will enable the construction of a hen-house to provide eggs and chicken for the weekly meals and the building of a small house on the land to house volunteers who are working on the permaculture project. Once these buildings are established, the next stage of development of the permaculture project will be to create a fish farm on the land.
In the community meeting, all these dimensions were discussed and enthusiastically adopted.
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Written by Dr Paul Roberts, Director of Intercultural Education, Alianza Arkana