The mission of The Pachamama Alliance is to empower indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture and, using insights gained from that work, to educate and inspire individuals everywhere to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world.
Life Challenges of the Women Served
One of the most persistent and prevalent global development challenges continues to be how to reduce maternal and infant mortality and morbidity. Ecuador is a country whose adjusted maternal mortality rate is among the highest in South America. This statistic is complicated by the fact that the Ecuadorian Ministry of Public Health does not have regular access to measure maternal or infant mortality in Achuar territory. The women and communities of the Amazonian rainforest in particular face high maternal mortality and infant morbidity due to extremely limited access to medical care and the high birth rate (the average Achuar woman has six children, and has experienced the death of at least one infant).
In Achuar society, women and girls have a lower social standing. Their voices are largely not heard, and therefore they have little say in the structure of their family or the community.
New health challenges faced by the entire Achuar community, such as the availability of potable drinking water, stem from increased pollution of rivers and the more sedentary lifestyle they have recently adopted, without the complimentary understanding of sanitation. Due to a lack in public health resources and infrastructure, basic needs such as sanitary toilets are lacking, creating increased prevalence of disease and illness and contaminated rivers and soils.
The mission of Jungle Mamas, The Pachamama Alliance project that will be supported by a grant from Dining for Women, is to empower the indigenous women and communities of the Ecuadorian rainforest by creating self-sustaining programs to ensure safe birthing and the wellbeing of pregnant women and newborns.
Questions for Discussion
- Have you ever experienced a serious medical problem far from a populated area—perhaps backpacking in the wilderness or traveling in a rural area in a developing country? How did it feel to be so isolated? How did you cope?
- What if most families where you live had experienced the death of an infant? How would that change the culture?
- What if you or your wife (if you are male) had no access to contraception? How would that affect your life, or how would it have affected your life in earlier years?
The Project Budget and How DFW's Donations will be used
Through the grant from Dining for Women, Jungle Mamas will increase the number of trainings throughout Achuar territory, giving indigenous women birth attendant skills to assist traditional community births. Four Level 1 and two Level 2 workshops are planned in 2013. With an average of 30-35 participants at each 1-day Level 1 workshop, and 25-30 participants at the 7-day Level 2 workshops, Jungle Mamas foresees directly impacting at least another 170 – 220 women in dozens of communities that range in size from 10 to 60 families, and anywhere from 30 – 150 people per community.
In addition, Jungle Mamas anticipates distributing 200 birthing kits to key people in communities where the trainings are held, reducing neonatal mortality both for women whose births are attended, and those that still give birth alone in the jungle. The birthing kits are distributed on an immediate-needs basis, meaning distribution is given based on how many women are due in the community at the time of the training, as well as how many women they anticipate giving birth in the coming year.
Promoting women’s autonomy and leadership is essential to address some of the root causes of the challenges they face. Through the partnership with Dining for Women, the Level 1 and Level 2 birth attendant trainings will offer education and training to Achuar women so that they may make the best decisions for themselves about their health and family planning. This simple act of giving a woman or girl the power to decide her own health future contributes to carving avenues for women to elevate their place and role in society and increase their self-sufficiency and their community involvement.
There are just under 8,000 Achuar individuals living in Ecuador. Approximately half of these are women. Jungle Mamas will have indirectly impacted nearly two-thirds of them by the end of 2013 due to the nature of their program, which encourages and educates individuals to spread their knowledge to those who are unable to directly attend.
The program will also provide apprenticeship opportunities outside Achuar territory at Spanish-speaking birth clinics, where they may gain more hands-on experience.
The Program Budget
|Support personnel costs (25%) for Program Manager, Coordinator, local sub-coordinator, and Achuar workshop facilitators in Ecuador, Program Manager in the US and four certified midwives from US & Mexico (oversee Level 1 workshops, teach Level 2 workshops)||
|Provide half the total program cost of workshops – airfare, ground transportation, lodging, and workshop materials||
|Provide half the cost of 200 birth kits. Each birth kit contains: Sterile birth pad, 6 cotton cloth baby diapers, string for tying umbilical cord, gloves, soap, baby clothes, maternity napkins, a traditional shawl for carrying newborn, a traditional Achuar-woven bag for carrying materials.||
|Fully fund the cost for six new people from three Achuar Associations to complete a series of birth apprenticeships at a Birth Clinic outside of Quito, Ecuador.||
Total of Program Budget supported by DFW
Please note: Net donations over the grant amount will be reserved to ensure we fund in full all future selected program grant requests, provide Sustained Program Funding to former DFW featured programs, and to offer a $25,000 – $30,000 grant to an organization selected by member voting through the new Member Choice Program.
Why We Love This Project
Jungle Mamas reaches a vulnerable population of indigenous Ecuadorian people in the Amazon rainforest. Traditionally Achuar women give birth completely alone in the jungle. They have no history of using traditional midwives or birth attendants. With the leadership of an indigenous, all-female team, Jungle Mamas is addressing areas of critical need for the Achuar people, stating that maternal health is the key to the health of the rainforest and its communities.
Evidence of Success
To date, Jungle Mamas has trained approximately 130 female participants in their workshops and distributed 105 safe birth kits. The participants, who travel by foot and canoe across the rainforest to attend the workshops, represent at least a dozen communities throughout Achuar territory. Through their participation, Jungle Mamas has indirectly reached dozens of families. Another 130 women will have been trained by the end of 2012, more than doubling the reach and impact of the programs.
There are also men who are often fathers or health advocates who attend the workshops, which both gives them the skills to support women in birth, as well as creates new opportunities for shared decision-making regarding family planning and community concerns, traditionally unheard of. A total of 50 men have attended the three Safe Birthing and Family Health workshops to date.
Family planning and discussions around sexual reproduction, long considered taboo by Achuar culture, are becoming more accepted as topics of conversation in workshops.
There has not been a single maternal mortality or infant morbidity when attended by a Jungle Mamas-trained birth attendant since Jungle Mamas began their birth attendant program. In a culture that had never had people attending their births, it is a huge accomplishment that the majority of women in the communities Jungle Mamas has reached now want their births attended by trained birth attendants.
The Jungle Mamas program is the first of its kind among the Achuar peoples, and cultural shifts have begun since the Achuar requested the program’s involvement and ideas. For example, Achuar men did not previously value women as having roles or responsibilities outside of childbearing and keeping the home. However, Achuar men (not only husbands, but local leaders as well) have recently come to value the contributions that women are making as safe birth attendants, and have in response created spaces for women to organize through women’s associations. Additionally, men are recognizing the importance of having family planning discussions with their wives. Jungle Mamas elicits ongoing feedback through conducting community meetings and individual interviews to look at how women have become increasingly empowered.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, three Achuar women have become trained to lead the Level 1 birth attendant program, and are a large reason that Dining for Women’s grant will have such a large impact in 2013 by reaching many new communities and women. Jungle mamas will train more Achuar women to lead the Level 1 workshops throughout their territory.
“We used to think we HAD to go into the jungle alone to birth our babies. Now, thanks to Jungle Mamas we know there’s a better, safer way.” – Achuar participant trained as a birth attendant
“I am very happy to have been able to share this experience with so many Achuar women. I attend births in my community and I am very excited to keep learning more advanced information so that I can convert into a midwife.” – Achuar participant
“I am from Pastaza. It has been extremely valuable for me to have been able to learn from master midwives and to share experiences with other Achuar and Shuar women. I am committed to help women in my community give birth and to keep learning.” – Achuar participant
“I am so happy to have learned how I can better support my Achuar sisters. For this workshop, I left my children, my family behind, so that I could better learn. When I return to my community, I will share what I have learned and I remain committed to being a birth attendant/midwife.” – Achuar participant
About the Organization
The Pachamama Alliance was born out of an invitation from the Achuar people. By the early 1990’s, Achuar shamans and elders were having dreams of an imminent threat to their land and traditional way of life. From contact with neighboring tribes, the Achuar knew that oil companies were poisoning the rainforest and everything alive in it, steadily moving closer and closer to their home. The Achuar were also influenced by their understanding of an ancient prophecy about the Eagle and the Condor, shared by many Andean and Amazonian indigenous cultures. According to this prophecy, we are at a moment in history when the Eagle – representing intellect and the mind – and the Condor – representing wisdom and the heart – must come together to ensure the continued existence of humankind.
Achuar leaders reached out to request allies from the North who would “change the dream of the modern world” – shift our culture of overconsumption to a culture that honors and sustains life. In 1995, a group of people, including Bill and Lynn Twist, traveled to the rainforest at the invitation of Achuar leaders to learn more.
The group committed to work in partnership with the Achuar to preserve their land and culture while bringing forth a new worldview that honors and sustains life. Upon their return to the United States, Bill and Lynn Twist co-founded The Pachamama Alliance to carry out their commitment.
Where They Work
The Pachamama Alliance works with indigenous Achuar in Morona-Santiago Province of Ecuador. “Shuar”, in the Shuar language, means “people.” The Shuar live in the tropical rainforest between the upper mountains of the Andes and the tropical rainforests and savannas of the Amazonian lowlands in Ecuador extending to Peru. Shuar live in various places — thus, the muraiya (hill) shuar are people who live in the foothills of the Andes; the achu (swamp-palm) shuar (or Achuar) are people who live in the wetter lowlands east of the Andes on both sides of the Ecuador – Peru border.
Achuar lands have no roads and are therefore only accessible by air and by boat. Until the end of the 19th century, the approximately 5 million acre region of the Amazon basin occupied by the Achuar of Ecuador and Peru was only occasionally visited by small numbers of missionaries, joined infrequently by a few explorers.
The area was considered unknown territory until the late 1960’s, when Catholics and Evangelicals began to enter Achuar territory with an evangelizing intent. They initiated a process of increasing intercultural contact that would slowly begin to change the Achuar’s way of living. For example, it was the Catholic missionaries who suggested to the Achuar that there might be some advantage to living in small villages, which is how many Achuar live today.
Since 1991, the majority of the Achuar in Ecuador belong to a political organization called the Federation of Ecuadorian Achuar Nationalities, which is organized into ten regional associations containing 64 communities and approximately 7,000 Achuar.
With the assistance of organizations including The Pachamama Alliance and AmazonWatch, the Achuar have waged successful battles to protect their land from exploitation by oil companies. Eco-tourism has presented the most viable, nonpolluting source of economic security.
Pachamama Alliance website – http://www.pachamama.org
Documents and images provided by Pachamama Alliance to Dining for Women
Philippe Descola’s writings on the Achuar – http://www.minelinks.com/ecuador/achuar.html
Video of Narcisa Mashienta speaking – http://vimeo.com/29815247
Video – a Call for Our Time – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeaKN5COCL0
About the Achuar – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achuar_people
AmazonWatch work with Achuar – http://amazonwatch.org/news/more-about?tags=Achuar
Kawapi Lodge – http://kapawi.com/
Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morona-Santiago_Province
On the DFW November Program webpage for the Pachamama Alliance you will also find links to:
- Food for Thought – an in-depth look at birthing practices and maternal health challenges
- Program Presentation – PowerPoint file provided by the Pachamama Alliance
- Program Video – link and downloadable file
- Recipes, Customs, and Cuisine
- Fair Trade, Books, Films, and Music recommendations
- The U.N. 2015 Millennium Development Goals: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/