Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Jungle Mamas: An Interview with Robin Fink and Margaret Love
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, Fundación 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?
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 email@example.com or Ecuador program manager, Robin Fink at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Jungle Mamas on Twitter: @Junglemamas
See videos of our workshops at: http://vimeo.com/user4829164