Last week I took a boat over to the native community of San Francisco for a workshop Alianza Arkana was putting on by our friend, Amanda Suutari from Canada. I was excited about this workshop because it had to do with sewing and waste management, two topics I am particularly interested in, and to which I had never before seen a connection.
When I arrived, the event had already started, in a small, open house with leaf roofing (known here as a tambo), and several Shipibo women, children, and a handful of men, were sitting on the floor, listening to the topic at hand, looking – like me – a bit incredulous. How could useless plastic bags make ¨beautiful artisan crafts¨ as this tall, white woman was claiming?
But then, Amanda started passing around samples of purses and wallets and place mats and hats that had been made in other communities out of bags, and there was a sort of collective gasp of understanding and awe. The products were indeed amazing, and did not look as if they were made from those plastic bags that we toss out with little hesitation.
With that, we were all ready to get started. The first step was the cutting of the bags. If you cut them in just a certain way, the bags will yield one extremely long strip of plastic. Amanda patiently explained the steps, and then handed out crocheting needles, and we began crocheting with the bags, as if they were yarn. And everyone, even a few men and teenage boys, sat in the circle, quietly crocheting together in that kind of comfortable silence that brings people together.
As the day continued, we began sharing our work with our neighbors, exchanging tips we were learning, helping small children do their own projects, and above all, laughing together. The workshop and its results were fantastic, not only did women (AND men) learn a new skill and way to solve a growing waste problem, but it brought a group of people closer together on a sweltering, jungle hot Saturday afternoon.
Eco-Yarn is just one way that Alianza Arkana will now be implementing its Zero Waste Resources Management program, Jema Jakoanti. Our program transforms the idea of waste by reframing ‘waste’ as a valuable resource that can be composted, sold, or salvaged for reuse. Eco-Bricks, Composting, waste water filtration gardens, and now Eco-Yarn are just some of the creative tools we have for teaching about environmental stewardship and sustainability.
Eco-Yarn is especially important because it increases the participation of Shipibo women, who, for cultural and linguistic reasons, often do not participate as much as men. Over a series of workshops, women from the communities of Tres Unidos, Santa Rosa de Dinamarca, San Francisco, and Puerto Firmeza, who are already skilled artisans, have quickly embraced the concept and are creating exciting new designs.
While still in its early stages, the project is quickly gaining momentum, and their products have been very well received at local markets. There are plans to expand and develop online sales and overseas markets as well.
After decades of activity in the rainforest from extractive industries such as oil, mining and logging promising “development” and employment to indigenous communities, the reality is very different. Poverty is rife across the Western Amazon and income sources are extremely limited. Alianza Arkana’s vision of human-scale development in the Amazon helps to identify innovative and sustainable income sources whilst empowering communities also to be more resilient and able to protect their own health and well-being.
Thursday, 24 May 2012