In November of 2015, I had the pleasure of working for Alianza Arkana on several projects with one of their partner organizations, AIDI. The Asociacion Indigena Para El Desarrollo Integral is based in Pucallpa, and has offices very near our own in Yarinacocha. AIDI is involved in supporting the Shipibo-Conibo communities through education, publishing, community advocacy and medical support.
Soon after I started working with Alianza Arkana, I had a meeting with Jeiser Suarez Maynas. Jeiser is of a new generation of Shipibo leaders, and his Shipibo name, “Ranin Koshi”, actually means Strong Leader. Jeiser is co-founder and president of AIDI, and is also an official interpreter and translator of the Shipibo Language for the Peruvian Ministry of Culture. I soon found out that Jeiser trained as a nurse in Flasco, Argentina for several years. His western training would prove extremely useful in his work with AIDI. His rich cultural heritage and familiarity with western science makes Jeiser uniquely suited to his role as a cultural ambassador and spokesperson for his people. I found Jeiser to possess a joviality and warmth that belied the seriousness of the issues being tackled by his organization.
My first meeting with AIDI was to discuss a newly proposed Shipibo-Quechua-Spanish dictionary. This would be the first secular reference book of its kind, and Jeiser came fully prepared with an extremely detailed cost estimate and proposal. I soon found out that many books had been funded, edited and printed by AIDI. The books produced by AIDI are unique and have few precedents. Many of their publications are workbooks for educators detailing the concepts underlying the Shipibo language. Others contain indigenous myths and legends, designed to capture the imagination of young readers. Another, Non Rao, is a book of traditional Shipibo medicine, and contains hundreds of prescriptions for a wide variety of ailments, utilizing numerous rainforest plants that grow in the Ucayali river valley. This book in particular caught my attention, as I had begun my own rudimentary education in Shipibo medicine the previous year. My former occupation as a health care analyst at San Francisco General Hospital gave me a perspective on western medicine that had spurred my interest in learning more about these subtle, yet incredibly effective, traditional indigenous medicines.
Our next project was a website that would help people understand AIDI’s different roles. I soon found that AIDI was not only a publishing company. AIDI is also involved in providing medical support to many of the indigenous communities along the Ucayali river, supplying needed vaccines and medical advice. They also provide unique educational opportunities. As young Shipibos leave the traditional environments of their river villages, many aspects of their way of life are beginning to disappear. AIDI’s classes in Shipibo language studies help preserve a rich cultural heritage that is rapidly being eroded do to the exodus of young people to the large urban centers.
Alianza Arkana will continue strengthening its relationship with AIDI through a shared vision of a better life and and more effective representation for the people of the Amazon basin. It has been my great honor to work with Jeiser and provide support to the many talented people of AIDI. You can learn more about Jeiser and his organization at the new AIDI website: http://www.aidiperu.com.
Posted by Dirk Schwarzhoff, Volunteer for Alianza Arkana