Peru: Woman Learns How to be a Fearless Leader

peru woman

Maritza Casancho Rodríguez is part of a coalition of indigenous woman in Peru and a leader in her community. Photo by Alison Hospina/CRS

The following story was written by a CRS’ program manager in South America to offer a window to the lives of the people you help through CRS.

By Alison Hospina, CRS Perú

Maritza Casancho Rodríguez is Nomatsiguenga, one of the many indigenous communities in Perú that call the central region of the Peruvian Amazon home. In the 1980’s violence caused by terrorism affected the area. Three decades later its consequences are still palpable in the communities: mistrust, violence against women and cultural clashes.

Catholic Relief Services works with indigenous communities through local partners in Perú to teach people their rights and mitigate conflicts. Maritza, 28, participates regularly in indigenous leadership workshops organized by CRS’ partner Amazonian Center of Anthropology and Application (CAAAP, in Spanish).

From her point of view, the most important rights are the rights to intercultural health and intercultural bilingual education. Maritza believes that many of her indigenous brothers and sisters are forgetting their own language, customs and traditional wisdom, such as the use of medicinal plants. That worries her.

Through the CRS’ program “Conflict Mitigation and Development in the Amazon” Maritza, who is active in indigenous women organizations, has learned how to incorporate those topics into talks and workshops in order to raise awareness about the importance of valuing their culture.

She is also part of a dialogue committee that discusses the collective and individual reconciliation as a manner of dealing with the traumas left by terrorism in the 80’s and domestic violence. Some of the strategies she has learned to help her explain these issues to the community include: creating teams, promoting dramatizations and distributing printed materials. She also thinks it is necessary to have translators in the workshops, to facilitate the learning of all women in their own language, including the Asháninka, Nomatsiguenga and Yine women who participate.

Maritza, who has a young daughter, says the program has helped her “become more knowledgeable and to be fearless”. Before she was afraid of speaking in public, but she does it regularly now and she can even speak to other leaders or authority figures that used to challenge her or not trust in her capacity as a leader. Women need to lose their fear and dare to participate and gain experience as leaders, Maritza says.

But the most important things for her has been gaining new knowledge that she can share with others, thereby helping other people learn, understand, and defend themselves. She considers this to be her most important role as a leader.

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