sherilee harper

EcoHealth Research with Indigenous Communities

Camila and Paola Engaging with Shawi in the Amazon

Written by Camila Angarita, Undergraduate Research Assistant at the University of Guelph

After long airport layovers I was able to make it to Lima, Peru. Here I met Dr. Paola Torres-Slimming (MD), a PhD Candidate whom I was going to assist while visiting the Shawi communities of Nuevo Progreso.

We arrived late at night to Yurimaguas after a one-hour flight and a three-hour drive over treacherous roads; this was the closest town to our final destination. The next day we took the opportunity to meet with stakeholders and authorities who have dealt with water-security matters around the region. These included the head of vicariate, NGOs, and members of the health ministry; the discussions allowed us to have better insight on the health-related issues that existed, before we entered the community.

Families who were gathered in “El Salon Comunal” welcomed us with great joy when we arrived, and of course lots of “Masato”- a traditional fermented drink made up of mashed boiled cassava. As I approached the women to greet them “Wikama Kai” bowls and bowls of Masato were given to me, as a gesture of appreciation.  We introduced ourselves to the community and asked the community members if we could come back at a later date to collaborate on a research project about water security.

Every day was a completely different journey, you can never predict or expect anything when in the jungle. The long walks to reach the farther houses were enjoyable, especially when you fall several times, cross bridges made out of branches or get stuck in quicksand. I named the walks from one house to the next “the reflective walks”. We would always learn a fact, hear a story, analyze the last visit, or predict the new one.

I’m thankful for having this amazing opportunity as an undergraduate student, to being able to engage with community members in their remote community. This will allow me to have a better perspective on the community and will facilitate my work during my fourth year research project. A special thanks to Paola, Guillermo and Rosa for teaching me and sharing their knowledge throughout our time there.

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