Part 1: The Community
It was about 6 AM when we all were awakened to the sweet sound of a 4-year-old blowing full heartedly in the neon- colored, high pitched recorder flute. Flauta dulce, translated as sweet flute, didn’t seem like the most fitting title in that moment, but it still brought out a smile amongst the crew at Proyecto Iquitos. A smile that was filled with pride and a sense of accomplishment that we were a part of something good that might just leave an impact in this small little town called Santa Clara Primera Zona A rather peaceful community just about 100 meters off of the shorelines of the Amazon River in Peru.
Living in a community with no access to running water and only about 8 hours of electricity a week created a big change in pace amongst us highly stimulated, goal oriented and stressed out Westerners. While the people living in the jungle definitely have their own challenges, the way of life here generally brings a sense of calmness, connection, and community.
Just like one would expect in rural and socially isolated towns, news travels like wildfire. Everyone is very well acquainted or even related (people meet their partners usually in football events when the towns gather to compete against each other). Sharing seems to be a common ground in maintaining relationships, so it is customary for neighbors to drop over with papayas or bananas as a gift, or to ask for some of the fresh mangoes that had just ripened from the tree in your backyard. When the overgrown path leading into the jungle and farms needs some clearing, the community arranges a ‘minga’ ( in Quetchua, this means something similar to gathering).
At 5:30 AM you will see grandparents, parents, and children all alongside the path with shovels, machetes and their bare hands ambitiously working at full speed to clear vegetation and overgrowth. At the same time, kids are outside playing until late, everything seems safe and sound. Their banking system is another illustration of their self-organization and communal solidarity. This simple but effective arrangement consists of borrowing and lending chickens, barrels of chicha (a popular, slightly alcoholic, spiced corn or wheat-based drink) and of course money. The degree of self-organization is quite impressive, and needless to say community seems to be everything out here.
As beautiful and unique as these communities are and can be, living in isolation with little to no regulation or law can have serious societal implications. Enforcing human rights and providing proper education on topics such as sexuality violence and addiction is complicated, and as a result often non-existent. Due to the lack of schooling outside of didactic, outdated methods; a few organizations have formed with the intention of tackling this challenge. One of these organizations is Proyecto Iquitos, a school founded in 2017 with the mission to provide a free, arts- based education to the youth of Santa Clara primera zona. The school started off providing a basic shelter with a room, kitchen, and school serving little to no students, but it has grown substantially and now counts 30-50 students per day. The auto-sustainable, free alternative after-school program has gained so much popularity that, thanks to donations, Proyecto Iquitos has been able to expand, constructing another building with more land and space for the students to utilize.
Drawing upon frameworks utilized in alternative education, such as Freire and Montessori, the founders along with several volunteers provide daily workshops usually covering arts, science, dance, and theatre. Typical schooling in the area focuses on traditional didactic methods, which are easier to implement and sustain, but somewhat outdated. As a result one may find students commonly skipping or not participating in class. Having identified this gap in education, the founders also recognized that kids as young as 3 have to work to help support their families (fishing, farming) and that education had to be fun and exciting to work as an incentive for students to voluntarily come. Over time, this organization has become a part of the community, a safe space where students and parents are eager to participate and contribute their gifts.
When I first arrived, I offered simple workshops on music and health. Having a background in these fields, I was impressed with how well these workshops were received by the curious students and parents. This is when it dawned on me how necessary it was to continue this work, but we had limited funds to expand on what I was currently providing. That’s when I realized we needed to set up a fundraiser and we needed to do it fast. We needed materials for DIY instruments, ready made low-cost instruments, music lessons, and health and music focused lesson plans.
We were amazed and touched by the level of support and generosity we received as a result of the fundraiser we held. The initial target of 500 $ was raised and surpassed, we ended up receiving funding that nearly totaled 2000 $, and so ‘Music, health and art in the jungle’ was born.
Part 2: The Project
Just like anything in life, light always comes with darkness and this same concept applies to remote towns like Santa Clara. The more time you spend in a place, the more you get to really know the internal politics of locations and people.
Outside of superficial problems such as constant lice infestations, or unknown jungle skin growths, there are also deeper and darker issues that wallow seemingly unacknowledged within these towns. With hospital visits being unaffordable and the boat ride being too long of a way, homebirth is not only valued but the only option. Birth, however, if not accompanied with a skilled traditional birth attendant and/or emergency kit, is a process that can jeopardize women’s lives.