Creating Social Change in the Peruvian Amazon

Creating Social Change in the Peruvian Amazon

In the Loreto region of Peru's Amazon River basin, the Minga Peru organization empowers women to become community leaders.


9 - 12


Geography, Social Studies, Sociology, Human Geography, Health

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Minga Peru, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), serves the remote, Indigenous populations living in the Loreto region of Peru’s Amazon River Basin. Often living in poverty, these populations have limited access to electricity, potable water, and education. By empowering local women and navigating cultural differences in understanding and language barriers, Minga Peru seeks to improve the lives of the people in this region.

Luis Gonzales and Eliana Elias, specialists in intercultural communication, co-founded Minga Peru in 1998. Minga, a Quechan word, means “collaborative community work.” The organization was established to promote social justice and human dignity in Peru’s rural areas, and now stretches throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Tailored programs, such as the radio show Bienvenida Salud and leadership training for girls and women, reflect the needs of specific communities.

One program created and produced by Minga Peru is Bienvenida Salud; a radio program broadcast three days a week throughout the Loreto region.

Bienvenida Salud encourages listeners to openly discuss topics such as health, gender equality, and human rights. The radio program is an effective method to disseminate this information because many of the communities are remote with little infrastructure, such as roads, electricity, or communication systems. Radios are more accessible and reach an audience over a large geographic area. Broadcasts are available through personal, battery-powered radios; over community loudspeakers; or in classrooms and communities via cassette tapes. Bienvenida Salud reaches 120,000 people daily.

Each episode of Bienvenida Salud is based on letters (40,000 to date) Minga Peru receives from listeners.

“People sew their letters [shut]”, Elias has said in a previous interview with Catalyst, “so they are confidential and travel by canoe along small waterways to give the driver of the river boats. Minga pays for the postage. The community is so isolated—it can take 3-4 days by river to get to the main port city. The letters and radio show are powerful ways for people to connect with us and each other.”

In Loreto, Minga Peru works with local government authorities and other NGOs to build long-term, positive programs that help local families and protect the environment.

In addition, the organization trains women to be promotoras. Promotoras are community leaders, role models, and decision-makers who teach other women what they have learned at a five-day training about “self-esteem, cultural identity, and health issues.” Promotoras also lead environmentally sustainable income-generation projects, such as fish farms, animal husbandry enterprises, agro-forestry programs, and sewing cooperatives.

Emira’s Story

Emira Montes Zuta is a great example of how Minga Peru’s work can change lives. Zuta started listening to Bienvenida Salud with her mother when she was 13 years old. Encouraged by the program’s message of empowerment, her mother sent a letter to the organization, and Minga Peru visited their community. Zuta received leadership training and became one of Loreto’s first promotoras, as well as one of the first women to speak in her village’s meeting.

“The first time I participated in my village meeting, they introduced me as a community promotora,” Zuta recalls. “I explained what I had learned in the Minga Peru trainings. I talked about domestic violence, self-esteem, gender equality between men and women. For everyone there it was very strange to see and hear a young woman talking about these topics in a village meeting. The village authorities were reserved at first. I offered to help the community on a voluntary basis. At first they couldn’t believe it. But eventually I was able to help the secretary of all of the community meetings write the statutes. Later I helped in developing community policies, although it was still very unusual to see a woman doing public works—I was the only woman working with the men. Later, I shared all of this information with women in the community.”

Zuta enjoyed the learning opportunities she was exposed to with Minga Peru. Determined to continue her studies, she paddled three hours to and from school each day. After high school, Zuta moved to Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest, to work with Minga Peru and became a voice on Bienvenida Salud. She then won a scholarship to continue her studies, and attended Palo Alto College in the U.S. city of San Antonio, Texas. From 2008 to 2010, she studied English, sustainable rural tourism, and marketing.

Today, Zuta is one of the most recognized voices in the Amazon, working as both a senior trainer and the Loreto Region Program Manager for Minga Peru. She also helps develop programs that present an indigenous perspective on the rainforest to tourists who visit the region on National Geographic/ Lindblad Expedition cruises.

Zuta often receives letters from young women seeking advice about how they can avoid becoming pregnant as teenagers and how to help their parents understand and respect them as individuals. Emira responds to these letters through Bienvienda Salud by working them into the programming.

Recently, Zuta was elected as a representative to the regional government task force combating poverty in Loreto. The task force provides a space for civil and government organizations to come together to discuss and agree on strategies to reduce poverty. Recently, the group has been working on environmental protection policies.

“Minga Peru has been my main ‘university’ where I have been trained and supported as a person and a professional,” stated Zuta. “I feel like I have developed important skills and habits to be a strong agent of social change. I still feel very connected to my values, my culture, my traditions, and my beliefs, and I am able to speak as I am.”

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Caryl-Sue Micalizio, National Geographic Society
Jessica Shea, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Elizabeth Wolzak, National Geographic Society
Parker Ziegler, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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