Learning to Support each other as Women: our experience with the Girls from Bena Jema and Santa Clara

In January, in collaboration with the US nonprofit “Girls for the World”, Alianza Arkana had the pleasure of organizing a five-day transformative personal development workshop for adolescent women at the “Tierra Vida” center, some 20 minutes away from Yarinacocha by boat. The 20 girls from the two Shipibo communities of Santa Clara and Bena Jema who participated in the 5-day workshop had a unique and life-changing experience.

The girls who attended the workshop were very active participants, constantly eager to learn about different matters such as sexual and reproductive health, leadership and, the use of medicinal plants native to the Amazon, under the guidance of our Maestra Amelia Panduro.

Currently, under-age pregnancy in indigenous communities is very frequent. You see lots of young girls fall pregnant from 13 years old, due to the generalised lack of sex education across the country. What the Demographic and Family Health survey (2011) showed is that Ucayali region has the third highest rate of adolescent mothers in the country (24.9%) with only Loreto (30%) and Madre de Dios (27,9%) having higher rates. It has been said that: “Motherhood during adolescence is more commonplace in indigenous women coming from Shipibo-Conibo and Ashaninka communities. Atalaya has the highest rate in the country (46%); Purus (43%), Padre Abad (33%) and Coronel Portillo (22%).”

However, this reality is much more than a statistic. It’s an experience that the girls who participated in the workshop are all too familiar with. Many mothers in these communities have had under-age pregnancies and they have experienced the fear of potentially finding themselves dealing with unwanted pregnancies. To resolve these problems, amongst others, it’s very important to establish trust and respect between the girls and mothers attending the workshop. Only with mutual support will we be able to establish the educational spaces that are so very much needed.

Something that really struck us during this workshop was the fact that two young mothers came to the centre to participate in the activities. This was really important because lots of teenage mothers stop participating in educational activities given their new responsibilities. However, we realised that these girls were very strong and keen to have new experiences. Their presence also means that we must consider carrying out a workshop specifically aimed at teenage mothers in the future.

Also unexpected was not just the transformative power of this workshop but rather the impact it had on our personal lives as facilitators. Being surrounded by so much feminine and youthful energy rejuvenated us spiritually, allowing us to reconnect with our inner teenager and think about the different stages of our own lives. Furthermore, feeling like we were older sisters to these girls, sharing our life experiences, relating in a more intimate way with each of them, allowed us to feel supported and reaffirmed our conviction in continuing to work with young women.

Workshop presenters

Two highly knowledgable Shipibo-Konibo women covered the issue of sexual and reproductive health from an intercultural perspective:

Silveria Pino Canayo is an indigenous nurse and member of the Local Health Authority. She said that for not having the right information, lots of people don’t go near hospitals. It’s not a question of a lack of resources, but it is due to a lack of information; something that is a great shame. Silveria told us about how to access health insurance as well as different family planning methods.

 Amelia Pandura is a ayahuasca maestra and plant spirit Shaman with many years of experience. She gave us various formulas using different medicinal plants to help contend with female health matters. Amelia emphasised that whilst we have these medicines around us, we don’t use them and we should. Sometimes the fact that they are under-used is due to the fact that information has not been properly passed down and that there is a lack of access to medicinal plants. Her participation in the workshop was very important as it is key that we recover this ancestral knowledge in order to take care of one’s own body and to guarantee health autonomy.

We will continue our work

Five years down the line, we felt a bitter-sweet emotion. On the hand, we were so happy to have had such an enriching experience and to be finally returning to our homes but on the other hand we were sad that all this had come to its end. We said goodbye to the cooks and all the Tierra Vida team, thoroughly grateful to them for their support in this workshop.

A really lovely thing happened three days after the end of the workshop: the girls came to the Alianza Arkana offices encouraging us to put on another workshop. They said that they had loved it and that they wanted to keep learning; something that made us very happy indeed. We realised just how essential it is that we continue with these transformative activities which have so great an impact on the lives of young women.

Written by Jane Shirley Mori Cairuna and Macarena Arias.

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