Volunteer at Shiwiar community of Juyuintza

My impressions and suggestions about volunteering in the Shiwiar community of Juyuintza (along the Rio Cunambo very close to the Peruvian border. – Eli Pivnick Feb-March 2013

Experience. I do not think you will ever regret going to this community. It is a fascinating experience. The Shiwiar people are very friendly and welcoming. They are getting used to outsiders and most of them have been in Puyo once or many times. Eight community members (and a few other Shiwiar) were involved in a film made by a Spanish film company in 2012 which documented their way of life (embellished slightly by foregoing some of the modern conveniences that they have started to use over the last few years). Five of these same community members subsequently were treated to a trip to Spain for a month where there were subjected to all kinds of new experiences (including scuba diving and skydiving). They loved it although they were not crazy about a lot of the food.

Getting used to the food is a little difficult as it is mostly boiled plantain (platano) and cassava (yuca) and wild meat (boiled and smoked) as well as a lot of chica (boiled, mashed and fermented yuca and water; fermenting is started by the woman (chichi is exclusively a woman’s activity) chewing and spitting the yuca mash back into the tub in which they mash it. A special treat is palm tree grubs (live, boiled or fried).

Other treats are: sugar cane, quila, pineapple, angowara, naranjilla, and lemons. My recommendation is NOT to bring food with you (except a little bit of whatever is your comfort food). When you are hungry, everything tastes good and it is easier to get used to new food. Always accept chicha when offered but only take a little bit if you do not want much. The food is all local except for salt.

You will hopefully have a chance to go out hunting, fishing and gathering. The highlight is watching local men hunt with the bodoquera, their blow gun, which is amazingly precise and works at distances up to 30-40 m on birds, monkeys, and even peccaries. People here use true dugout canoes. You can learn a lot by watching how people here interact. It is the way people are meant to interact. Laugh lots. If you good at football or volleyball you will be appreciated. If you are a musician, share!

Language. All community members speak Spanish although mostly they speak Shiwiar and you will feel out of the loop some of the time. You may be asked to translate English to Spanish if there are non-Spanish speaking tourists. It will be appreciated if you can teach English to the school students (best for the Grades 3-6 and College students (beyond Grade 6), and to interested adults, as well as to help in community work details (mingas) and community construction projects. Other than that it depends on your talents and interests. It is a pretty laid back life style.

Energy. The community does have a generator which they use to light up the community for evening events including workshops (occasionally) and “church” on Sunday evenings which mostly sermonizing by a member of the community in a Christian eva ngelical style. When the generator is on, you could take the opportunity to charge batteries if you have a charger.

Health issues. Take malaria medication. Try to avoid February and March, the rainiest part of the year, and when theshiwiar03-700×525 mosquitoes and other biting flies are at their worst. Personally I am used to and not bothered by large numbers of mosquitoes in my country (Canada) but the bites here tended to become really swollen, itchy and often infected. In the rainy season, when your clothes are often wet, the sores heal VERY slowly. So I would be aggressive at least at first in staying covered up, using repellent (including under your clothes) and using anti-itch creams where bitten. It goes without saying, that the equatorial will burn you in minutes if your skin is fair, so act appropriately.

Things you might want to bring:

Toilet paper (locals use leaves and/or water)

Water Filter or Purification tablets, water bottle
Rain jacket
Mosquito repellent, Anti-itch lotion
Band-aids and Antibiotic ointment
Sun hat and sun block
Long sleeved shirts, t shirts, long pants, swim suit
Rubber boots
Head lamp and extra batteries
Machete (big one)
25 lb fishing line, hooks and sinkers
Nylon cord (clothes line)
Camera (and spare battery and charger)
Day pack, rain cover
A few plastic bags of various sizes
Comfort food
Books, music
US Cash in $5, $10, $20 to buy handicrafts or to pay for an ayahuasca ceremony if interested (Ask around; Hernan will do the latter)
You may want to leave behind a few of the above as gifts if you will not need them after your visit.
Speaking of gifts, I would bring some to give out soon after arrival or possibly later in your visit.

Here are some of the things that will definitely be appreciated as gifts:

Ball caps
Rubber boots (leave yours)
Batteries (D, AAA)
Duct tape
Notebooks, pencils, coloured pencils
Ear protection (for use with chain saws)
Reading glasses´(medium strength: for locals over 40)
Radio (VHF)
Flashlights or head lamps (good quality)
2 1/2” nails
Small knives
Painkillers: Aspirin, Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen

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