The “Club de Chicas” cruise into the photography workshop at the Women’s Empowerment Centre at Minga Lodge in the Amazon. From the moment the 10 girls were picked up from their community in Kanambu, it’s all giggles. The recently formed club provides leadership workshops to motivate girls to finish high school. But they’ve never done a photo assignment before. They’re psyched.
The girls were given a camera and 36 hours. After some minor technical training, they created the shot list. All the photos in this story were taken by the girls themselves. After taking the photographs, they also wrote explanations of their favourite images. Translated from Spanish to English, all quoted text gives you a glimpse into the girl behind the lens.
“This was a really fun activity, as it gave me the chance to express myself and be myself. Thalia is 15 years old, documenting the day-to-day. Motorized canoe is a common form of transport for these girls. They’re growing up in the basin of the Amazon Rainforest, close to the Napo River. This also means access to everyday essentials, like clean water or employment opportunities, can be limited or non-existent.
Clean water is not something the girls are growing up with—yet, as Nayeli shows us. This stream cuts through the community and families pipe this water directly to their houses—no filtration system, no clean water. But WE is in the process of building a new water project in Kanambu. First, the system will provide clean water to the school campus. After that, it will be connected to the homes.
The Kanambu school is one of the largest schools that WE partners with in the Amazon, as it’s both a primary school and a high school, with over 350 students. Joselyn is one of the youngest in the Girls’ Club, at 13 years old, but she’s in her last year of primary. Her goal? To graduate high school.
“My brothers, my mom and my sister, they’re all my happiness, I don’t know any other way to say it. They’re my family and I can trust them.” Thalia’s mom runs a local restaurant—a one-table establishment, steps from the main road. Her dad is a construction foreman. Most people in the area work in either construction or farming.
“I felt happy to be able to express myself with photos—the place where I come from, where I study and most of all how I live in my house. Heidy holds up a cacao pod—the natural goodness that becomes chocolate. Cacao farming is popular on small farms in the Amazon, but household farms often lack the opportunity to reach a bigger market and get a better wage.
“This cacao is from the area. It helps us with our economy. We can sell it so that we can later invest or buy something we need like food and education.” WE is starting a training program with farmers, so they can learn about different varieties of cacao and how to get a fair wage for their product. Household income is often the biggest roadblock for girls furthering their education.
“This is my mom. My mom is doing a job that is not so easy. She is making a rope out of a plant that’s called ‘pita.’ It has a long leaf with spikes. To make this rope you cut out the spikes and then you need a piece of wood that is slippery, like, for example, balsa wood. Then you tie the leaf to the wood piece and you scrape it with another smaller piece of wood that’s not too sharp. Women like Andrea’s mom weave handicrafts out of the fibre they create—including shigras (Quechuan purses) sold with ME to WE Artisans. Women also use the material to weave fishing nets, hammocks and local dresses.
“It is hard as a girl to see that boys have more permission to go out to play. Girls need to stay at home doing the chores of the house.”What’s expected of a girl and what’s expected of a boy continue to fit mainstream gender stereotypes. The girls navigate this with an acute desire to keep the important traditions of their culture alive, while not being held back because of gender.
“This is my pet. We love her very much, but we didn’t give her a name. She lives with us in the house. I wanted to take her picture to show people my pet.” The photos showed it wasn’t just people who were loved at home—a couple of friendly family pets also made appearances.
“I get along very well with my twin brothers. They already graduated school and I am going to as well.” Nayeli is the third-oldest, with three brothers and three sisters. She’s the only member of the Girls’ Club in her final year of high school. As the eldest daughter in her home, she is paving the way for her younger siblings and younger female students. Other girls and her sisters look up to her, just like she looks up to her brothers.