ISA Experience

ISA Pay It Forward: The Mapuche Gardening and Worldview Project

Lisa Delao is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and was a participant on an ISA Service-Learning program in Valparaíso, Chile in the Summer of 2015. Lisa was an ISA Pay It Forward correspondent.

There is an educator who has been with Patio Volantín since its inception. Many know her as Ķ. Her name is Juana Huenchumil, and she is a member of the Mapuche nation.

Ñaña Juana’s excitement and sense of humor is contagious. Photo by Lisa Delao.

Ñaña Juana’s excitement and sense of humor is contagious. Photo by Lisa Delao.

The Mapuche are the original inhabitants of the territory now known as Chile and Argentina. They have been consistently subjugated to human rights violations for hundreds of years, as is the case for a devastating number of indigenous tribes around the world. Ñaña Juana Huenchumil is among thousands of Mapuche who will not allow their nation to be silenced. She is a revolutionary who relentlessly acts against injustices, and believes in the power of education. She has a piercing gaze that illuminates fierce love and compassion.

Ñaña offers language and culture workshops to share her worldview with the Valparaíso community. During our first workshop with Ñaña Juana, she introduced us to her native language of Mapudungun. “Mapuche. In our tongue it means Earth people,” said Ñaña Juana. Faces around the room are enchanted by Ñaña’s instruction. She asked us to repeat each new word after her. Our imitations of Mapudungun are pronounced with the wispy articulation of romantic Spanish, so Ñaña attempts to clarify. She says their language is rooted in the earth, and it must rumble out of one’s voice.

Ñaña moves through the Mapudungun words for the parts of the body. The word for “head” is “lonko.” Photo by Lisa Delao.

Her workshops involve different areas of Mapuche culture. During our workshop, Ñaña demonstrated different instruments and described when they are used. From one of her many bags, she pulls out several instruments. She holds up a horn, “This is known as a trutruka,” she explains to the class. It is a horn traditionally used by men during harvest ceremonies. To Ñaña and the Mapuche culture, adoration for the earth is an essential practice. Ñaña tells us, “Ayun means love. And love is the music of the land. We must show our love to those who need it most.”

ISA Service-Learning participant Dalton Youngblood Dalton playing mapuche instrument. Ñaña Juana says, “You must point the instrument to the four directions to greet all parts of the earth.” Photo by Lisa Delao.

ISA Service-Learning participant Dalton Youngblood Dalton playing mapuche instrument. Ñaña Juana says, “You must point the instrument to the four directions to greet all parts of the earth.” Photo by Lisa Delao.

Benjamín Briones, the Director of Patio Volantín, explains that from the start of Patio Volantín, Ñaña had expressed a desire to collaborate on a gardening project with Patio Volantín. The project finally came together with the help of the ISA Pay It Forward grant in August 2015. Ñaña will be donating her medicinal herbs, sacred trees, and cultural knowledge to the Mapuche Gardening and Worldview project.

Ñaña Juana with the class. Photo by Lisa Delao.

Ñaña Juana with the class. Photo by Lisa Delao.

Ñaña believes that children never forget the actions done to them. If a child isn’t properly cared for, they harbor that for the rest of their lives. The garden would give them an opportunity to learn in an exciting environment. There are not many spaces specifically for children to come together and learn about what it means to garden, recycle, and respect the earth. The Land of the Kids project would reinforce many Mapuche traditions in tending the earth.

Many volunteers with the Eco-brick Construction workshop and Mapuche Gardening and Worldview project, including ISA Service-Learning participant Dalton Youngblood, have played a meaningful role in turning these ideas into a reality. Photos by Benjamin Briones.

This project is a continuation of Mapuche practice. Ñaña Juana recognizes the importance in sharing her culture with people of non-Mapuche origins, and always tries to see potential growth everywhere she goes. She’s planted several trees around her neighborhood. She has been asked by a local university to speak on the implementation of Mapuche medicinal practices in modern medicine. Mapuche maintain a strong belief in achieving development as a collective, and Ñaña Juana has provided another outlet for people to improve their community through the education of her culture within these gardening projects.

Patio Volantín was awarded an ISA Pay It Forward grant in the summer of 2015. ISA Pay It Forward is a grant fund that supports ongoing sustainable development projects to serve under-resourced communities around the world. All ISA students have the opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ by contributing a $5 donation when applying for an ISA program online. 100% of ISA Pay It Forward donations go toward funding sustainable projects identified by our ISA Service-Learning community partners in 12 cities around the world.

The world awaits…discover it.

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