Above: Enjoying a relaxing evening after the workshop. Village Earth was asked by some prominent Shipibo leaders a few months back to facilitate another regional workshop this time with more of an emphasis on intercommunity cooperation. So the Village Earth team returned for a 7-day workshop in early January. Twenty-four Shipibo leaders participated representing six communities in four different districts throughout the Ucayali. The workshop began with a review of past Village Earth-Shipibo collaborations and a viewing of the Village Earth/Shipibo documentary film, “The Children of the Anaconda“. Then we began a district-wide mapping session so community members would be begin to think beyond their own borders. This brought up an array of environmental issues as participants discussed sharing forest and river resources with neighboring communities, but also the destruction being wrought by logging and oil companies in the region.
Below: Shipibo children participated by drawing their own map of their community and then presented it to the group. For community initiatives to be truly sustainable, children, too, must always be involved in the process.
Village Earth would like to facilitate collaboration between our project partners, and both the Lakota and Shipibo have expressed much interest in working together in the future as they face many of the same issues being the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas. We decided to do a viewing of the Village Earth-produced documentary film “Rezonomics” which highlights the economic situation on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Although they inhabit vastly different environments, the Shipibo found many similarities in their struggles and learned from the Lakota new ways to think about many of their issues.
This was followed by a discussion on the roles and activities of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Shipibo country. This led to a very interesting discussion about NGOs and top-down funding models which many times inhibits NGOs from being responsive to community needs and truly participatory community-based development. The Shipibo have dealt with NGO after NGO letting them down with failed promises. However, this is not purely the fault of the NGO. The Shipibo, too, recognize that they need to be proactive and organized when soliciting the assistance of NGOs. Only when both parties are in consensus and work through the Shipibo model of community organization is there the potential to have successful collaborations. This led us to the discussion of ‘So, what has been successful?’ What has worked before and how did they organize to make it happen? This is an important part of the Village Earth process because we want to encourage communities to build off of past successes instead of reinventing the wheel each time. Many community projects had been successful before – from communal construction projects to fish farms. Then we questioned, “How did the communities organize themselves in order to make these projects happen?”
Above: One influential Shipibo leader, Limber Gomez, draws out the model of intra and inter-community governance that the Shipibo people use to organize themselves. This highlighted the disconnect between the way NGOs were entering the communities and beginning their work and the way in which Shipibo communities build consensus and participation for projects. Shipibo communities already have their own consensus-building processes in which the community authorities hold assemblies where everybody is welcomed and encouraged to attend. From this point, committees are democratically-elected to take on different project aspects which then report back to the authorities and the community during the assemblies. They have their own treasurers and methods for financial accountability. Although this seems like such common sense, it is surprising how many outsiders come in thinking they have the answers or that the Shipibo don’t know how to manage their own finances or run their own projects. Yet, the Shipibo are actually running their community affairs with incredible organizational capacity which is only disrupted when outsiders try to impose top-down funding and project management. We then began the strategic planning session with a five-year vision emphasizing regional unity. This was really a question from the heart – what do they really feel for their community and their people, as opposed to just thinking about what material goods they would like to have. This really forced them to look deep inside themselves to come up with their comprehensive vision collectively. Their vision consisted of four main emphasis areas: Community Development, Formation of Shipibo Professionals (business leaders, doctors, engineers, lawyers), Cultural Revival, and the creation of Micro-enterprises.
This led to the question, “What obstacles are holding you back from achieving your vision?” The participants really focused on obstacles they could change themselves instead of focusing on larger global systemic issues that might seem more daunting to overcome. We then moved onto Strategic Directions where participants looked at what they can do in the next year to overcome their obstacles and begin to move toward their vision. The Strategic Directions really got the participants involved and thinking about what they can actually do to achieve their own vision for the future.
Below: All participants were involved in putting their ideas onto the board throughout the visioning process. These young men were rearranging the group’s ideas into coherent groupings for the Strategic Directions phase of the workshop.
Finally, the workshop reached its pinnacle in the Action Planning phase. Participants mapped out their plans for the next three months – practical actions that they can actually take to move toward their vision and be active agents in their own “development” process. Eight aspects were deemed the most important areas for action. They are:
First and foremost — protect and defend Shipibo territory
Broader regional unity
University scholarships for their children
Small business development
An Indigenous Bank to facilitate economic development
Promoting indigenous foods for better nutrition
Shipibo-run radio stations broadcasting throughout the region
A committee was formed for each of these eight areas, tasks were assigned, timelines and budgets were drawn up, and finally they were presented back to the group. Above: Lea ders of the group planning actions to protect indigenous territory present their plan back to the group for approval.
These eight areas will be further discussed in forthcoming Blog postings. A Transitory Committee was democratically-elected amongst the participants (with at least one representative of each community present in the workshop) to hold an Indigenous Tribunal in June. This June event will be the follow-up to this workshop and it is Village Earth’s great honor that the Shipibo have asked Village Earth to return and co-facilitate this historic event. The Tribunal will be a gathering of Indigenous leaders from all 120 Shipibo communities, as well as other regional indigenous groups, to discuss their own alternative plan for “A Better Ucayali”.
All in all, this Regional Organizational Workshop was an incredibly empowering event and a great learning experience for all involved. The Shipibo have expressed to the Village Earth team how happy and grateful they are for our support for their self-determination. Yet, when we asked “Who came up with this plan?”, the participants realized that it was completely decided and directed by them with Village Earth only providing the framework from which to begin to question and think about some of these important issues.
Village Earth is honored to work with these amazing individuals that participated in this workshop and the Shipibo people as a whole. And we feel privileged to be invited to co-facilitate their landmark Indigenous Tribunal in June 2007.
Above: Village Earth facilitators Kristina Pearson and David Bartecchi dance with the group as the Shipibo band plays in the background. The community organized a farewell party on the last evening of the workshop to celebrate the achievements of the group. Below: A special thank you to Mayer Kirkpatrick, Mateo Arevalo, and Freddy Arevalo for their hardwork and dedication to this project. Above: Thank you to Ralf (Village Earth’s media specialist), and Chloe (Village Earth’s Poet Laureate) for their hardwork and help throughout the workshop.
Below: A very special thank you to Flora – an amazing volunteer who gave so much of her time to help with translations and facilitating the workshop.
And most of all – THANK YOU to all of our donors – without you none of this would have been possible!