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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fix It, Make It, Grow It, Bake It: An Interview with Billee Sharp

Billee Sharp was born and raised in a little village in Dorset, England. She studied anthropology and ancient history at University College London. Billee went on to style herself a career as a contemporary art curator and gallerist. Working with Damien Hirst and others, she opened Building One, a huge gallery in an old biscuit factory, and mounted a series of group shows, which contributed to the emergence of the YBAs.

Billee moved to San Francisco, California in 1993 where she started both a family and record label. In 2009, Billee founded The Mission Casbah, which is a fair trade, free market for craftsmen and artisans. She lives with her husband and two sons. Her book, Fix It, Make It, Grow It, Bake It, was released in 2010.

Shelly Rachanow: Tell us more about your book, Fix It, Make It, Grow It, Bake It.

Billee Sharp: I was very excited when Brenda Knight of Viva Editions suggested that I submit a proposal for a book about living cheaply and living your dreams. I believe that’s what I've been doing for the past twenty years and I was very glad to have the opportunity to share my philosophy and my tips!

Shelly Rachanow: I love the subtitle of your book: The D.I.Y Guide to the Good Life. What inspired you to live a D.I.Y. approach to life?

Billee Sharp: This book grew out of my personal experience: I've been married to my husband, a musician, for nearly twenty years, and when we started a family I decided that I wanted to be a full-time mom and continue developing my skills as a writer. The results have been very fulfilling but not entirely lucrative. We don't participate in a lot of consumerist pastimes, we make our own fun for the most part. This is the experience I tried to impart in my book: You don't need a lot of money to be healthy, eat well and enjoy life!

Shelly Rachanow: What do you want people to understand about quality of life on our planet today?

Billee Sharp: I think there is a wide misapprehension in Western society that we need a lot of things and these things make us happy. Like everybody else I love beautiful things and I feel happy when my family and I have the things we need. However getting caught up in materialism often leads to excessive consumerism which is difficult to sustain financially and certainly does the planet no good!

We cannot keep using the planet's resources at such a frantic rate. Deforestation and fossil-fuel depletion are real problems we are facing now in the twenty-first century. It’s our responsibility to change our ways and develop a more sustainable way of life. For this our children, grandchildren and beyond will be grateful.

Shelly Rachanow: Your book is a great step-by-step guide to help people consume less but create more. What are some ways we can do this?

Billee Sharp: I think the first step is to ask ourselves whether we really need the stuff we are buying. When we do need things, try to support green and sustainable industries and try to buy quality goods that will last, hopefully a lifetime. Although its nice to have shiny new items, it’s also great when your teenager says stuff like, "I love this dish. I remember you made a huge trifle in it for my fifth birthday party!"

Shelly Rachanow: What are some simple actions people can take right away to help both themselves and the planet?

Billee Sharp: Start by considering purchases as an ethical consumer. In our society we are very market-led, when consumer trends become identifiable they are followed. A good place to start would be to stop buying products which contain high fructose corn syrup – it’s bad for your health and bad for the environment. The less people buy of this nasty stuff the more obvious it will be to suppliers that we want healthy alternatives!

Shelly Rachanow: And last, the 'If Women Ran the World Blog' question for everyone - What would you do if you ran the world?

Billee Sharp: I really think the idea of women running the world is reactionary. I understand that men have held the concentration of power for the last two thousand years, they have made women second-class citizens and propagated a culture of inequality. However, I would hate to see the pendulum swing back the other way and I also reject the "women in power" model that women like Margaret Thatcher, Condoleeza Rice, Sarah Palin epitomize: These are women who act out like powerful men and follow the dominant themes of patriarchal society. This means that any power they have is merely male power by proxy.

I prefer the idea of partnership society which many contemporary anthropologists and ancient historians believe was the structure of Neolithic society. Partnership society is epitomized by men and women sharing power and making decisions for society together, where women are accepted as religious figures, doctors, teachers and politicians. Riane Eisler's book, The Real Wealth of Nations, advocates for partnership societies. She holds that sexual equality is the essential key to human development. Eisler cites the last 100 years of Swedish history as evidence that as women assume a more powerful role in the decision-making processes of society, men have less desire to aggressively dominate.

For more information:

Visit Billee on Facebook and read her posts at http://www.asitoughttobe.com/, including a recent article about feminism:


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jungle Mamas: An Interview with Robin Fink and Margaret Love

Robin Fink is currently working as the Program Manager for the Jungle Mamas/Ikiama Nukuri Program at FundaciĆ³n Pachamama in Quito, Ecuador. She graduated from Reed College in 2009 with a B.A. in Anthropology. She also plays the alto and tenor saxophone with various musicians around Quito.

Margaret Love is the Program Director for Jungle Mamas/Ikiama Nukuri at The Pachamama Alliance in San Francisco, California. She is a retired midwife. She has three grown children and three grandchildren. She has been a landscaper and the founding board president of a private school in Santa Fe, N.M.

Shelly Rachanow: Tell us more about the Jungle Mamas Program.

Robin Fink / Margaret Love: Jungle Mamas/Ikiama Nukuri, meaning Women as Keepers of the Forest in the indigenous language of Achuar, was conceived in a conversation between Margaret Love, a midwife from Berkeley, California and Achuar women in 2007. It is a program of The Pachamama Alliance in San Francisco, California and Fundacion Pachamama in Quito, Ecuador. The women and men in the communities were interested in learning about Western methods of pre-natal care, safe birthing and, post-partum care.

Traditionally, when it came time for an Achuar woman to give birth, she would scurry off into the jungle by herself and give birth alone in the forest, without the help of a mother, spouse or traditional birth attendant (who do not exist in Achuar culture). In the last 40 years, the Achuar have seen a great amount of change to their culture and society, despite having successfully kept out oil and resource extraction activities by transnational corporations. Through a deeply-rooted partnership with The Pachamama Alliance and its sister organization, FundaciĆ³n Pachamama, the Achuar have been extremely active in protecting their territory, the rainforest, and the organisms that reside within it. Largely due to more increased contact and navigation of life outside of the Amazon, the lived realities and health conditions of Achuar men, women, and children have drastically changed. Jungle Mamas/Ikiama Nukuri was created as a result of these changes, both due to an increased openness for cultural exchange and an increased need for solutions to maternal and community health problems.

Initially, the Jungle Mamas team consisted of Margaret Love, the program director, and Narcisa Mashienta Jimbicti, a woman of the indigenous Shuar nationality, who has lived and started a family in Achuar territory and is currently the program coordinator. Since then, Jungle Mamas has been working to train men and women of the communities of Pumpuentsa, Kurintsa, and Corinua in birth attendant, prevention, family health, and basic health workshops. Ten Safe Birthing and Family Health workshops have been conducted so far.

Shelly Rachanow: What is life like for Achuar women? What are some of the biggest challenges they face?

Robin Fink / Margaret Love: Achuar life in the present is characterized by change. With increased travel to cities outside their territory, formal education and professional jobs, local realities have changed. Instead of authority residing in elders, it now resides largely in the men and few women who have received teaching titles or who have become leaders. Whereas traditionally it was the men’s responsibility to hunt, provide food for their families, and take care of the cattle. It was the women’s responsibility to take care of the children, tend to the animals, plant and take care of the family garden, bring water from the river, and maintain the overall well-being of the family.

Now that many men have become professionals, there are times where they spend periods of time outside of the community, placing more responsibility and pressure on the women to take care of their children and maintain their houses. It is the case of many women who have recently given birth or have newborns to spend very little time recuperating from their births, they often rest 3-5 days and immediately go back to lifting heavy buckets of water or spend very little time breastfeeding their children.

In one conversation, we discovered that it was common for women to stop breastfeeding between 3 and 6 month of age, significantly contributing to malnutrition and problems with diarrhea – the leading cause of death among infants in the communities we are working in. We have made significant advances in the prevention and treatment of diarrhea and dehydration, in addition to other easily preventable health conditions in the communities, but one factor remains a constant threat to the Achuar people – contaminated water.

Shelly Rachanow: Water.org, which was cofounded by Matt Damon and Gary White, reports that nearly one billion people on our planet lack access to safe water. They also note that the Ancient Romans had better water quality than half of the world’s population does now. How does water quality impact the Achuar people, and particularly, Achuar women during childbirth?

Robin Fink / Margaret Love: Contaminated water is the most problematic obstacle standing in the way of the health and well-being of the Achuar. In the past, Achuar communities would only stay in one part of the territory for up to 15-20 years before relocating to another plot of land. However, recently people have settled in one location and the land’s capacity for supporting growing populations is decreasing.

In one community, Pumpuentsa, for example, only two tiny creeks provide nearly 275 people with water for drinking, bathing, washing dishes, washing clothes, and cleaning meat. In an effort to address this problem, the county municipal government installed water systems that pump water from a cleaner water source – one that requires diesel in order to function. Keeping in mind that the only way to access these communities is via Cesna airplane, bringing in diesel from the exterior is hardly sustainable.

In addition, the municipal government did not provide the community with any education in maintenance of the system or how to navigate the eventual bureaucratic process once the system breaks. As a result of this unsatisfactory use of infrastructure, the community of Pumpuentsa has been without clean pumped water since April of 2010.

If a mother needs all the strength she can get after giving birth and yet she is drinking contaminated water, it is near impossible to ensure her own health let alone the health of her newborn and of her other children. The easy solution would be to tell them to boil water, but can you imagine the time it takes to boil enough water for a family of 8 over a wood campfire every day, in addition to all your other responsibilities.

Shelly Rachanow: How can we improve health and sanitation for people all over the world, while still respecting different cultures and ways of life?

Robin Fink / Margaret Love: The most important thing we can do to help improve health and sanitation conditions for people living all around the world begins first by listening and working to achieve an understanding of local needs, obstacles, cultural barriers, and culturally respectful means of action. Perhaps the greatest failure of all well-intentioned foreign aid projects originates from the beginning – when we as outsiders approach a local ‘problem’ without thinking through the consequences, obstacles, and local norms of action. It is wonderful to want to provide communities with water systems, but there is a double-edged sword to unwise, un-thought-out development.

By providing communities with resources that fall under the responsibilities of local and national power structures of authority, you are in effect guaranteeing the continued inefficiency of those larger bodies. You are also disempowering local communities by not providing them with the resources they need to eventually navigate the omnipotent system. So the greatest thing that people working in development or interested in helping people at the community level is to work towards building partnerships with local institutions and providing the resources that local community members need to be able to actively solve the problems in their community.

We are working both with local community members, local government, the Achuar Federation of Ecuador (NAE) and are currently building alliances with Ecuadorian governmental organizations and other international organizations to help find a solution to the contaminated water currently plaguing the Achuar.

Shelly Rachanow: What’s one thing each of us can do right now to make a difference? And, in particular, how can we support the Jungle Mamas Program?

Robin Fink / Margaret Love: You do not have to travel to a foreign country to make a difference in this world. Change starts in your heart and an active decision to open yourself up to what is happening in the world today. For those interested in learning more about the initiatives on climate change, and supporting indigenous initiatives, please visit http://www.pachamama.org/. To learn more about the Achuar, and for those interested in traveling to Ecuador to experience the Amazon with the Achuar, see this most recent NYT article: http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/travel/17Ecuador.html?ref=travel

Shelly Rachanow: And last, the 'If Women Ran the World Blog' question for everyone - What would you do if you ran the world?

Robin Fink / Margaret Love: The key to self and community empowerment lies in education. If I ran the world, I would make sure that everyone, regardless of gender identification, class, ethnicity, and age has access to a good education. What makes life so full of inequalities is the variable access to resources, not just economic resources, but social and basic.

Education is empowerment. When one has an education, one is better able to visualize a different future and thus take responsibility in creating it. An education, no matter how basic, provides people with the ability to believe in themselves and to access certain resources that allow for the creation of new opportunities and the realization of dreams. I was able to visualize my dreams thanks to my (albeit privileged) education and the very fact that I had people who believed in me, thus creating a belief in myself – a true sense of empowerment.

In the hypothetical circumstance that I should run the world, I would encourage children starting at a very young age to believe in themselves, for the members of their families to empower each other to envision new possibilities and that solutions to problems can originate from within.

For more information about or to support Jungle Mamas, please contact program director, Margaret Love margaret@pachamama.org or Ecuador program manager, Robin Fink at rfink@pachamama.org.ec.

Follow Jungle Mamas on Twitter: @Junglemamas

See videos of our workshops at: http://vimeo.com/user4829164