Image of Francisca speaking during Minga’s empowerment workshop taken by Ruth Oratz, MD.
Under the thatched roof of a large round meeting space, shaded from the hot Amazonian sun, a group of about 15 women from indigenous communities gathered to share their stories. “Tambo Minga”, the residential training center of Minga Peru, is located along the Maranon River, at the border of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Peruvian Amazon. For more than 20 years Minga Peru, a non-profit organization, has been working to promote social change in this region, home to more than 1 million people, a region rich with local culture and the magnificent biodiverse rainforest, but challenged by high rates of poverty, domestic violence, social injustice, and health problems. Resilient and creative individuals have emerged as community leaders, who because of the work of Minga Peru have been effective in significantly improving life in their communities.
At the heart of Minga Peru’s outreach is a radio program called “Bienvenida Salud” (“Welcome Health”). The show broadcasts 3x/week at prime time and reaches more than 120,000 listeners. Each episode is based on letters and questions sent to Minga’s central Amazon office in Iquitos – some of them taking several days’ journey by boat. Over 40,000 letters in 20 years have resulted in 3,000 radio programs addressing the issues that are most pressing for the local population.
The most active listeners, some selected by their communities, some self-identified, others noted by the Minga Peru staff, are invited to participate in an intensive and progressive 3-year training program where they learn about human rights, disease, and abuse prevention, civic participation, and environmental stewardship. These individuals go on to become “community leaders”, using their leadership skills to share ideas and skills with others in their own communities. More than 1200 women from 50 rural communities have been trained to become promoters. Hundreds of teachers, government officials and nature conservationists have also participated in the Minga Peru training.
Image taken by Ruth Oratz, MD.
Elisa, age 50, has been part of Minga Peru for 8 years. She described how as a leader, she has learned to guide women to speak up and take action against violence and discrimination. Minga Peru has restored her self-esteem, allowed her to believe in her own individual rights as a woman. “Before Minga, I thought I had no value. Now I know differently.”
Francisca, age 44, mother of 7 children, is a most extraordinary woman. Her intelligence and warmth, enhanced by bright eyes and winning smile make her a natural leader. Because of her training with Minga Peru, she has organized the people of her community into an artisanal working group, producing hand-woven and embroidered baskets, necklaces, bracelets, and ornamental birds that are now sold to tourist markets. Prior to this their Kukama culture was one of fishing for subsistence, now through handicraft, they earn good money that is shared communally and spent on education, food, and health care for everyone. This year they have been formally and legally recognized as an incorporated group and will be participating in international handicraft fairs.
Daniela, 20 years old, told us this was her first training session at Tambo Minga. She is now the third generation of trainees and came to Minga, interestingly because of her husband. Since the age of 14 they have been listening to the radio show, “Bienvenida Salud”, he was collecting and sending the letters from their town to the Minga headquarters. He is now the Mayor of their town and encouraged Daniela to participate in the training. This young couple is certainly a shining example of the impact of Minga Peru in rural communities of the Amazon.
Flaca, age 38, has been a promoter for several years. “Before Minga, no one was interested in the well being of women, not the authorities or anyone else. Before Minga I did not discuss, share or question at all. Now I can have open conversations and debates. My life is changed forever.” Flaca was the victim of domestic abuse by a husband who also had an alcohol problem. Through her own education and the intervention of Minga Peru in helping her husband, he no longer drinks, the violence has stopped and she is working to educate and lead others in changing the culture of “machismo” that had been so prevalent.
Marcely, 23 years old, has been in Tambo Minga training for 1 year. She has attended 3 workshops, completed high school and is particularly interested in health education. Marcelly travels 10 hours on a small riverboat to get to the Tambo center from her community of Nuevo Mundo in the Amazon. Marcely recounted how her aunt had not been feeling well and told Marcely about her symptoms. Because of her training and the information on the radio show “Bienvenida Salud”, Marcely recognized that this could be cervical cancer, the number 1 cause of death for women in the Amazon. Last year almost 1000 cases were diagnosed. Most often the disease is far advanced and treatment is not successful. But Marcely realized that her aunt needed prompt medical attention and pushed her to go for diagnosis and treatment. Her aunt had an early-stage disease and will be ok. “You saved her life”, I told her. With tears welling up in her eyes, she changed the topic away from herself to her work with Minga Peru, conserving natural resources. “I love the beauty of this place and am working on a productivity project by planting more trees for my community. The plants and trees make the oxygen that we all need to breathe.”
These voices, these stories are just a few of the innumerable moments in the work of Minga Peru.
Community Leaders with Ruth Oratz, MD after finalizing Minga’s empowerment workshop.
Article written by Dr. Ruth Oratz, MD.
Dr. Oratz is a leader of modern medicine with 30 years of experience in the oncological field in the fight against breast cancer. Apart from assisting and developing treatments for patients, Dr. Oratz is also a Professor of Clinical Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine and is on the Faculty of NYU Langone Health. She serves as Minga Peru’s health advisor for the Women Cancer Program and we are grateful to her for writing this article and becoming an amazing source of professional support empowering women in the Peruvian Amazon.
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** U.S. donations are tax-deductible and can be made through Minga’s fiscal sponsor, The Resource Foundation.