This September 2018, after a very successful Hip Hop workshop, we continued our youth work in the community of Paoyhan. This time, we had fun by engaging in confidence-building exercises, and made an exciting excursion to the new “Farmacia Viva” project site, to connect them to their traditional medicine knowledge.
After an incredibly successful Hip Hop workshop with three special guests from Lima, a beautiful spark was lit in Paoyhan. A clear moment of “before and after” happened, where after 3 intense days of songwriting, performance, instrument-playing, an evening show, movie nights, stencil-making, and screenprinting, the children and youth of the community felt like an immense range of possibilities had just opened before them. It was so much so, that during one of my many visits to community, I would constantly get greeted by all the children and teens, who fondly remembered the workshop and the guests facilitators, to the point where they asked if they could have a meeting to organize more activities.
I was glad to see that the seed was blooming inside of them, so I got together with a group of 15 girls or more to talk about future plans. While eating cake and sharing laughs, we decided to do another workshop, replicating some past activities and bringing in boys to the mix. This time, I gave them the responsibility to recruit the participants.
In September, I came back on a Friday, equipped with all of our workshop materials, ready for an exciting weekend. We inaugurated the workshop with a movie night, featuring Disney’s “Moana”, the perfect way to talk about bravery, self-confidence, and revitalizing tradition.
The next day, we started deeper work regarding self esteem and cultivating the qualities you want in yourself. We made a list of qualities that we would like to have inside of us, and then represented them in drawings of our silhouettes. This was a powerful exercise and helped us observe what kind of perception the teens had of themselves.
We later activated our energies and used movement therapy techniques to work on empowerment and group bonding. A lot happens internally, when we use the power of movement and voice to address that which yet has no words. A lot of emotions can surface, and this is why movement therapy is one of our favorites when it comes to workshop techniques. We made a special sequence of biodanza, where at one point, we were all holding hands and helping each other achieve our dreams with a determined strut. “She wants to learn English!” – someone yelled. So we all affirmed the participant, powerfully enuncing together, “she wants to learn English!” – and walked with a focused and empowered step towards the other side of the room, empowering each other as one by one announced their dreams and wishes with vigor in their voices.
This workshop was extremely special for two reasons: the first, because we invited two of our young Shipibo interns, Fiorella and Eva, who served as role models for our teen girls, and second, because on Sunday we went on a local trip the the newly created medicinal plant sanctuary “Farmacia Viva”. Fifty participants traveled in four boats, guided by the local committee. We had a very fun and insightful excursion, visiting the great tree doctors, (some of which teens had never seen in real life), and even shooting a video featuring the girls. In the video, the girls reflected about why this knowledge is being lost, why they were never taught, and what perceptions young people have about plant medicines that need to change. Many young people see plant medicines as something “old people do”. However, after seeing certain plants and trees live for the first time, one of the young girls, Kelly Cassandra, said, “now I feel like I know what my mom was talking about.” If young people never experience a plant, how are they going to connect to it? How can you value what you don’t know?
At the end of the workshop, and during our closing party, a young boy came to me and told me how he was teaching himself guitar by listening closely to songs and that he’d like to learn more. “We can learn anything!” I said. Later that night, I got together with a group of young people and they decided that the next activity would be to have a songwriting and music composition workshop to create a song in Shipibo. We will meet in October to discuss details, and strengthen their organizational skills in the process.
The bonds we continue to build, and the safe space we have created have provided fertile ground for youth to continue to find avenues for self expression and empowerment. We hope to continue being resources for them, so we can bridge them to their dreams and a life of choice.