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The Radio Star: Social Change in the Peruvian Amazon

 

The Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Fund aims to protect the last wild places in the ocean while facilitating conservation, research, education, and community development programs in the places we explore. This blog entry spotlights some of the exciting work our grantees are doing with support from the LEX-NG Fund.

By Madeleine Pauchet

Who here grew up with the Internet? As a young 20-something woman in the U.S., I did. Who here turns to the Internet in times of urgent diagnostic need? I’m talking, “stubbed my toe–do I have low blood sugar?” or “was my stomach ache brought on by eating seventeen dill pickles?” But also, and more importantly, “how do I do a breast self-exam?” or “what are my contraceptive options?”

Now picture you were born in the Peruvian Amazon. You definitely don’t have Internet access: at best, maybe a few faded books in the public school. Your thatched rooftop shakes every night from the commotion next door. You don’t know exactly what’s happening, but the broken glass that litters the ground the next day tips you off.

In hushed voices, you’ve spoken with your neighbor. She doesn’t want any more children, but her husband won’t hear of it. Where you live, women do not have a voice in their homes or the community. It is accepted that men have the right to be violent with their wives. There is no venue to report abuse. With no internet or reproductive health education, family planning is rare, and families do not have the money or resources to address urgent medical needs.

Girls drop out of school early; the cycle is perpetuated.

To help women in these marginalized, rural communities, the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Fund supports Minga Peru, a non-profit organization. Founded in 1998, Minga operates in the Loreto region of the Peruvian Amazon and shares its methodology with other NGOs working throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Loreto suffers from high rates of poverty, HIV/AIDS, and domestic abuse—much of this tied to a fundamental lack of education. With the help of Minga Peru, rural, indigenous women in the region are fighting these obstacles by spreading education and messages of social justice.

Seventeen years ago, Minga Peru created the radio show Bienvenida Salud (Welcome Health) to reach isolated communities across the Amazon. The episodes are based on handwritten letters from listeners, who travel along small waterways in canoes to give their letters to river taxis. From there, it can take three or four more days by boat for letters to reach a main port city where they are delivered to Minga Peru’s headquarters…not quite the speed of the Internet! But to date, 40,000 letters have been received, and the radio program has reached over 120,000 listeners.

As Founder and Executive Director of Minga Peru, Eliana Elias, explains, “the letters and radio show are powerful ways for people to connect with us and each other.”

Minga is addressing misconceptions and erroneous beliefs about health, relationships and women’s positions in society. In addition to Bienvenida Salud, Minga trains women promotoras (promoters) to reach out to the community and bring change from within.

The promotoras are demonstrating by example that women can be empowered and trusted with projects outside of the home. They have become leaders in their communities, spearheading income-generating projects like fisheries, agroforestry, and handicraft production. (Read about promotora Emira Montes Zuta in this article by National Geographic Education.)

By altering the popular discourse around these concepts, Minga Peru is working to change the long-term attitudes of the inhabitants of the Peruvian Amazon. Open conversations around previously taboo subjects are changing social norms. Minga is catalyzing social change and giving a voice to those who didn’t know they had a right to speak.

In the Loreto region of the Peruvian Amazon, where videos of any kind are sparse, the radio star is not only alive and well, but a force for social change.

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If you would like to learn more about Minga Peru, or other projects supported by the LEX-NG Fund worldwide, please contact the Fund by email. To contribute to the LEX-NG Fund, click here.

 

Madeleine Pauchet is a student at Princeton University, where she writes for The Nassau Weekly.