Continuing to learn about our bodies and ourselves in Paoyhan

By Jessica Karlson

This is blog illustrates the work on self-care and personal development that has been going on in the village of Paoyhan for over a year with young girls. The workshops are conducted 80% in Shipibo and with an intercultural focus. 

Starting our journey

“Hello we would like to go to the port”

“Ya 10 soles”

” 5 soles?”

“9 soles!”

“8 soles?”

“Yah its fine.”

It is amazing how fast a negotiation goes, in the market, at the cloth store and this time in a mototaxi. But it is nice, to always need to be on an edge. When we come to the port, 3 men throws themselves to our motorcar, asking to carry our luggage. There are two ways of handling this situation; 1. Panick and yell at everyone that is touching your luggage 2. You kindly talk, trying to have all eyes on your things, while telling everyone where you are headed.

We enter the big cargo boat and maybe 20 hammocks are packed together. This is the slow boat to the village of Paoyhan. A community where we have been working with young girls over the past year. It takes about 11 hours to get there compared to the fast boat, which only takes 4 hours. Then again, this one only costs a fraction.

As dawn arises, we sat in the front deck, looking as the forest starts to take shape in the first rays of sun. On my right side a 27 year old man initiates a conversation. He works in Pucallpa and goes once a year to Iquitos to visit his family. I really like this about la selva. Here, everyone is a new friend and it is only a matter of time before you will know someone’s lifetime in five minutes.

At 06.00 the boat reached Paoyhan and a large group of people stood by the shore. The host family took us with open arms and we begun to say hi to everybody. Later that morning, the workshop was about to start. We excitedly waited for the girls to show up.

At 10:00 am, one by one, the girls started to coming by, both old and new friends. Some of our girls have come to every single workshop we’ve hosted. Others are here for their first time, curious and ready for a new experience. Through name games, movement exercises, and a song about women strength in Shipibo and in Spanish, the workshop is off to a smooth start.

One exercise was to sit in small groups and talk about things you like to do, things you value about yourself, things you would like to change about yourself, and your goals for the future. The aim of this exercise is to start thinking about our identities, our self-worth, and the treasures that we hold within. In the beginning, some girls were shy, but with time they started to share their thoughts.

Sex-Ed, Shipibo Style!

By watching a movie about a Shipibo girl’s first encounter with a condom called “Nokon Reken Condon” (my first condom), we reinforce ideas of family planning, consent, and partner care when it comes to sex. The movie is cute and age-appropriate. The girl’s laughter at a situation that is comical and at the same time extremely relatable was really a delight to hear! After the movie, Macarena held a lesson about sexual diseases and different birth control methods.

After the introduction, the girls had to build their own birth-control play-dough models, and the exercise was such a success! Their imagination when it came to show how a condom, implant, or spiral worked was amazing! The girls demonstrated that they really understood the mechanisms of ovulation-prevention and barrier protection.








Me and My Period!

In the morning the heavy rain surprised us, which made it impossible to go to the place where we eat due to the mud. We just had to wait.

Luckily, at 9am the sky cleared and the rain stopped, and soon the girls started gathering for breakfast, which was a really tasty combination of tacacho (seasoned green plantains mashed into a ball) with hard-boiled eggs.

The workshop started with dances and songs to energize us for the next activity. After that, as a continuation of yesterday’s sex-ed lesson, Macarena demonstrated show how to put condoms on a classic banana. Every girl got to try how to put it, and after that we filled a condom up with water to see how elastic it was. Some of the girls even used them as water balloons! But when the laughter had left, the more serious questions started to arise and it was nice to see how easy it was for them to talk about hard subjects to each other. In the future these women will be living in the same community. I kept thinking how important it is to have connections and friends to trust in a community. To live your life in a community is hard and it is important to have good friends.

Later it was time for us to sew our own menstrual pads in different colors and sizes! The pads are later washable so they don’t need to spend money on disposable ones. Of course the master of the sewing was mama Carolina, one of the mothers who joined us in the workshop and later shared with us her knowledge on plant medicine.








The rest of the workshop continued with a beautiful exercise on biodance. Biodance is a therapeutic form of body movement exercises that aim to heal individuals and groups through music and intentional-symbolic movements. Through a sequence, we teach the girls to engage with their feelings through eye-contact and heart-opening exercises. These are important exercises for the girl’s personal development, as they aim to teach them emotional awareness.

In the end, the workshop concluded with cakes, dances, laughter, and lots of joy. There were some tears because the workshop had ended, but in the end we were all just glad to share moments with each other. For me it was amazing to see how creating environments that are safe spaces can really open girls up and help them with their personal development. I am really grateful that I went, not only because I learned a lot, but also because I gained new fantastic friends!

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