Wounaan women lead recovery from deadly floods

A young werregue artisan from the Wounaan community. Photo: Elisabeth Yarce/UNDP in Colombia
A young werregue artisan from the Wounaan community. Photo: Elisabeth Yarce/UNDP in Colombia

Torrential rains ravaged much of Colombia in 2011, killing hundreds and making thousands homeless. But the women of the indigenous Wounaan people on the Pacific coast of Colombia have overcome adversity: with their werregue handicrafts, they are rebuilding their lives and securing their families’ livelihoods.

“At times we lost hope and thought we would have to move away from here,” said Daira Chiciliana, a young artisan in the city of Litoral de San Juan in Chocó. Here, the Wounaan, known to the world for the handicrafts they make out of werregue trees, have kept this art alive generation after generation.

Highlights

  • The phenomenon "La Niña" ravaged much of Colombia in 2011, destroying crops and threatening the livelihoods of indigenous communities.
  • As part of the recovery process, toolkits were distributed to improve the efficiency of handicraft production.
  • This work is being carried out with 125 families of werregue artisans in 4 indigenous communities.

“The La Niña phenomenon has really affected our community,” said Plinio Opua, an indigenous leader from Taparalito. The devastating storms prevented the women from producing their handicrafts, and the few that they had were sold at very low prices.

But the United Nations Development Programme is helping the community recover, working with other UN agencies including FAO, OCHA, UNICEF, IOM and PAHO and funding from Colombia Humanitaria.
Thanks to the project, Wounaan women now have better tools for their work and they can market their products at fair prices, thus leading the recovery of their communities.

The women received 125 toolkits that improve the efficiency of handicraft production. This work is being carried out with 125 families of werregue artisans in 4 communities: Taparalito, Chagpien Medio, Chagpien Tordó and Dur-Ap-Dur.

The project seeks to recover the communities’ productive activities and improve their living conditions by consolidating production efforts. They are being strengthened right from the production process [all the way through to commercial transactions],” said Diana Cortés, project coordinator.

 “Werregue is life itself,” said one Wounaan women.

 “My mother taught me. I started to work with werregue when I was 14 years old. It takes about three months to finish a large vase,” says Chiciliana. “When we make a vase, we can sell it and with the money the women can buy what they need for their children.” The werrengue is also used by the communities to prevent and cure illnesses.

This work has empowered of the Wounaan women, while also conserving both the art of werregue and the livelihoods of the people in these communities.

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