Ensuring Everyone Counts — WAMAN

(WAMAN is a fictional character)

Waman and Ximena’s families have lived off the same stretch of land for generations and generations, yet they have always been treated as second-class citizens in their homeland. Navigating discrimination has been part of their life, but things are growing increasingly difficult as they are confronted with new obstacles in public health care and education, and they struggle to advance in the job market. It is not only that they feel marginalized, but more that they are tired of being left out of processes and significant decision-making. Their frustration builds to a point where they decide to take things into their own hands and begin engaging as active participants in their own movement. If the government won’t advocate for them and protect their rights, then they will fight to prevent public and private interest groups threatening to take over their home and land.

ICDP Review Report The 5 Pillars

A Sponge for Learning

Like many of the world’s most brilliant minds, Waman, an indigenous activist from Latin America, is happiest when he’s learning something new. After his family, books and information are his greatest treasures. Waman is known colloquially in his village as El Sponjee, because he is “like a sponge for information." Waman is a proud and humble man. He is one of the most skilled and educated people in his community, having completed primary and secondary school in both Spanish and his indigenous language. His favourite subject was natural science, where he enjoyed learning about agricultural techniques, botany and ornithology. Waman also knows basic English, which allows him to occasionally enjoy some side work opportunities with local tourism agencies.

“There are an estimated 370 million indigenous persons worldwide. Indigenous people have historically been, and continue to be, subject to social and political marginalization that has undercut their access to development.”

Waman’s educational success was made possible because of the government’s efforts in the past decade to include indigenous communities in the national education system. There are schools that teach through secondary school in local indigenous languages, alongside a Spanish curriculum. Some schools include English instruction as well. These schools also provide more culturally appropriate texts in all three languages. There are many indigenous communities in the region, however, and not all are given the same attention in the school system.

“Indigenous peoples continue to experience economic, social and political marginalization.”

Culturally Appropriate Health Care

Waman and Ximena have one child, Berman, who is two years old. Ximena is pregnant with their second child and currently in her second trimester. While health services are available and subsidized for Waman and his family, they are not culturally appropriate for their community. The medical professionals aren’t in tune with the birthing rituals and traditions that Waman and Ximena’s families have practised for generations.

“Within selected middle and high-income countries, pockets of weak and poor health system coverage and quality abound for indigenous peoples.”

When Ximena gave birth to Berman, it was at home. She was able to deliver in a squatting position, while Waman held her up in his arms. She drank tea made from a native herb to help prepare for labour and give birth more quickly. Ximena had women whom she knew from her community present during Berman’s birth. The women served as midwives, tending to her needs during the delivery.

It was fortunate that during her second pregnancy, Ximena and Waman decided to go to a clinic where Ximena received antenatal care. While there, she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Because she has a high-risk pregnancy, she is now under the care of medical professionals at a regional hospital. Her doctor has made it clear that she must deliver in their facilities to reduce the risk of maternal and infant mortality. These professionals are trained on safe practices that Ximena and Waman aren’t familiar with. If they need to, the professionals will be able to treat any haemorrhaging Ximena might experience. Without access to immediate care, haemorrhaging could lead to significant blood loss and death.

In Ximena and Waman’s community and communities nearby, there still aren’t official efforts to create intercultural health-care practices for sexual and reproductive health programmes. The medical professionals have been accommodating, however, allowing Waman and two other family members to be present during Ximena’s delivery. This allowance will hopefully keep her levels of stress more manageable, as the foreign care can feel alarming and cold. Ximena is uncomfortable with the bedside manner and nature of the medical professionals who treat her. She doesn’t like to be touched by them and often leaves feeling like the doctors aren’t seeing her as a person. For example, the ob-gyn assumed Ximena had had a vaginal examination before. She hadn’t, so the procedure left her feeling violated, ashamed and embarrassed. She didn’t feel comfortable explaining what happened to Waman, so he wasn’t able to find a way to prevent something like that happening again. He feels vulnerable for not being able to better support, nurture and comfort the mother of his children.

“More than 50% of indigenous adults over age 30 worldwide suffer from type 2 diabetes.”

Waman and Ximena are more comfortable with family members who understand the powerful healing qualities of plants. Fortunately, they will also be allowed a "vertical delivery," instead of Ximena being required to lie down during the child’s birth.

Waman is has type 2 diabetes. Ximena has always had high blood pressure. Both conditions are non-communicable diseases that require ongoing treatment and monitoring by a medical professional. Taking prescribed medications to manage their health is foreign to them. They don’t have information about how these prescriptions interact with the traditional medicines they have long used. Generations of family members have relied on traditional medicine, so Waman and Ximena feel confident in it. Accepting the prescriptions was initially challenging, but being healthy for their children is a priority for Waman. Recently, the medicines have become more expensive, and less expensive alternatives have not been made available.

Waman often reminds Ximena that they are fortunate to access many services that the government provides, even if they are always presented from a Western perspective. Access comes largely thanks to the advocacy effort of local civil society organizations.

Fighting for Land Rights

It is strange and polarizing to face discrimination within one’s own homeland. The land Waman and Ximena live on is where their families have lived for generations and generations—long beyond memory or recognized documentation. Sadly, discrimination is a reality they have long grown familiar with. This feeling is reinforced as Ximena readies to give birth to their second child and as they discuss the kind of life they want to be able to give to their children.

“Greater efforts must be made to foster the inclusive, transparent participation of all key population groups in the decisions that affect them, including adolescents and youth, persons with disabilities, older persons and indigenous peoples.”

Actually owning their land is the greatest benefit Waman and Ximena’s families experience as generations-strong agricultural workers who work and live off the land. Or so they thought. Over the last few years, a public-private partnership began conducting a large-scale development project. It is pressuring Waman’s family and fellow members in their community to sell their land. Many families have already sold for far less than their land is worth. This quick cash surrendering alarms Waman. He and many community leaders recognize the land takeover as a threat that denies his family their hard work and heritage. The public and private interest group’s efforts are aggressive and their messaging full of lies. Waman and the community members have witnessed the degradation of their natural ecosystem this season. Deforestation, water contamination and waste generation have resulted in poor agricultural yields and significantly less income.

“In Mexico, Panama and Paraguay, poverty rates are as much as 7.9 times higher among indigenous people than non-indigenous people.”

Waman is determined not to be pressured by strangers. He is an optimistic man at heart and also incredibly resourceful. He has stepped forward to take on the role of a community leader to protect their land. He is working alongside other community members, and together they’ve created an organization that demands free, prior and informed consent for land acquisition. This group is in the early stages of action, but is making some progress. Recognized participation is the only way Waman and his community can ensure a sustainable future for themselves, their families and future generations. It will be Waman’s children, Berman and their unborn child, who will carry on their customs and traditions, and hopefully, rightfully, on the land they’ve always lived on.

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