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Volunteering with FUNDECOIPA means that you will be living in an indigenous community in the Amazon. To most volunteers this is a new and exciting opportunity and look forward to getting to learn about a different culture. To the local villagers, this also means that they will be sharing their private sphere with visitors from a different culture and they are as curious to learn about Western culture as the volunteers are to learn about theirs. In order to make the cultural exchange a good experience from both parts we have developed a few general guidelines for the volunteers as well as some information about the important aspects of the Shuar culture. If you follow the guidelines and normal respectful behavior we guarantee that the villagers will do their best to make your stay an unforgettable experience.
First of all, the community is located in the countryside and as in any rural setting, villagers and neighbors generally know each other very well and it is considered polite always to greet everybody with a hello at all times a day.
You might be invited to lunch or dinner with a Shuar family or to try some of the local foods. It is considered somewhat rude not to accept the invitation (even though you are full or going to eat somewhere else). Try always to accept the invitation and use it as an opportunity to get to talk to people. It’s better to eat a little bit than to refuse the invitation. In the community, villagers are aware that some volunteers are vegetarian or don’t eat certain food items, so just let the family know if you are on a special diet.
It is part of the Shuar culture to joke a lot, especially when working. Males are most often the target of jokes or are given a Shuar nickname. The joking is never personal or meant to harass people, but just a way of making work more fun. Try to give them some back and you will soon be popular!
Public nudity is considered inappropriate in Shuar culture. So always bring a swimsuit if swimming in a river or use underwear when taking a shower.
Drinking is allowed in the community and volunteers can buy beers at the community store. Male villagers do like to get a beer once in a while. However, women normally don’t drink and can feel intimidated if you insist.
In general, always try to remember that villagers are poor and live insecure lives in terms of income and health. Therefore, be aware of not intimidating people with knowledge (scientific vs. traditional), expensive gifts or by continuously trying “improve” their ways in terms of work and organization. At times norms and practice can seem backwards and irrational, but are almost always finely tuned to their livelihoods or culture.
Most importantly, have an open mind, talk to people and ask questions and you will have an excellent opportunity to learn about contemporary life in the Amazon and meet many new friends.