2019 & 2020
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Good Project envisions indigenous communities empowered with agency, self-representation and self-determination in navigating through their ever-changing and expanding world.
The Good Project supports education, healthcare, and preservation programs for indigenous peoples through intercultural and participatory perspectives. We document, learn, and share their way of life to foster cross-cultural awareness, and promote the recognition and protection of indigenous rights and ancestral lands.
LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT
EXPEDITION 2019 & 2020
Mosquito Net Project
Medicines & Medical Aid
letter from the president
Dear Good Project supporters,
It is a great honor for me to assume the new commitment and challenge of being the president of The Good Project. I am a Venezuelan anthropologist that has been working among and with the Yanomami for more than two decades. I live in Caracas and work as an Associate Researcher at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC) in several anthropological projects related to indigenous populations in the Venezuelan Amazon. Thus, it is a pleasure to undertake this important responsibility that I hope will be beneficial for The Good Project and the Yanomami people.
The Good Project reached significant achievements between 2019 and the beginning of 2020. We carried out two expeditions to the Alto Orinoco, Amazonas state, Venezuela and met the scheduled goals. We delivered donations of medicines and mosquito nets to Yanomami communities, and school supplies to the Bilingual Intercultural School in Mavaca. We continued research on the human microbiome project, documented the activities and life of the Yanomami; and above all, Yarima (David’s mother) was able to obtain the necessary documents (ID, passport and later the visa) to travel to the United States and reunited again after many years with her family. In summary, they were successful expeditions despite the many difficulties in acquiring funding, organizing logistics and overcoming the very delicate political and economic situation in Venezuela.
For this year, despite the suddenly and dramatic outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that afflicts all of humanity, including indigenous peoples, we hope to continue strengthening the programs and projects of The Good Project for the welfare of the Yanomami. With the support of all of you and David Good's enthusiastic dedication as Executive Director, I am convinced that we will be able to obtain funds and institutional support that will allow us to continue fulfilling the mission and vision of our foundation.
Hortensia Caballero-Arias, Ph.D.
The Good Project is proud of what was accomplished in working with the Yanomami people and local organizations in Venezuela thus far. Of course, we did not do it alone. We were a coalition of researchers, medics, indigenous guides, documentarians, missionaries, military personnel, and volunteers in the U.S and Venezuela. From 2018 to 2020, the Good Project team, researchers from the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC), and a physician from the Plan Salud Yanomami, mounted three expeditions to the Upper Orinoco region of Yanomami territory in Venezuela. We successfully carried out the microbiome research project (MRP). We collected samples from various body sites such as the face, arms, and legs; and measured physical parameters (i.e. weight, height, blood pressure, etc.) in two Yanomami communities with varying degrees of external impact and frequency of contact with non-Yanomami due to transculturation processes. Additionally, we delivered educational materials for the Yanomami schools in Mavaca, brought medical supplies, and completed the Mosquito Net Project (MNP) by distributing over 2,000 long lasting insecticidal nets.
The Yanomami communities involved in our projects were located in three different regions within the Alto Orinoco municipality, Amazonas state, Venezuela. One was along the Padamo River (PR), the other in the Mavaca area (MV), and the most remote region was well beyond the Guaharibo Rapids (GR) of the Orinoco River. The first two communities were located on or near Christian missionary compounds. The latter remains relatively isolated from outsiders and non-Yanomami visitors. By partnering up with existing programs in health and education, we not only provided direct aid but assisted in long-term programs that benefit the surrounding communities.
In 2018, we initiated a microbiome research study adhering to four elements essential for ethical research and conduct: transparency, education, inclusivity, and responsibility (see Venezuela 2018). However, carrying out the MRP in the first community in PR proved difficult as we were confronted with deep suspicion, distrust, and even anger. While these negative sentiments were directed towards the scientific community at large, we ultimately inherited the transgressions of previous scientists and researchers. A community-based and participatory plan was prepared to assuage their anger, gain their trust, and ensure that our project would not repeat the mistakes made by past researchers. Before the team began sampling, a village meeting was held with elders and representing leaders. The purpose of our visit, the summary of the research, its importance, and why their community was being recruited were all carefully explained.
Additionally, we carried out an individual demo, using David as a test subject, to show how the sampling process works. Subsequently, various Yanomami leaders (all men) took turns in addressing the Team and its village members. It was evident that the villagers of the PR community were divided. Some were disgruntled and carried out angry tirades while others graciously approved the project. They all implored that something must also be done to take care of the community’s needs, especially in health. The Team patiently listened as Yanomami individuals expressed their thoughts. Eventually, and after we obtained the community informed consent, enough had volunteered to satisfy the sampling size requirements for the study.
Overall, the Yanomami of the PR community did not oppose the general objectives of the research. This was evident because no questions were asked regarding the sampling process and the concept of the human microbiome.
Ultimately, what the Yanomami were concerned about was that any biomedical and social research team that visits their community should contribute and provide concrete benefits to the village. After assessing the main health problems that afflict them, together with the group of Yanomami leaders, we pledged to continue supporting the community through the provision of medicines and mosquito nets to prevent malaria. This commitment with the PR community became one of our objectives for the following expeditions to the Alto Orinoco.
See Venezuela 2018 for more information.
Since the 2019 and 2020 expeditions were carried out within a four-month span, the following is a combined summary of our work and projects into Yanomami territory. We carried out the following main objectives:
Deliver Education Supplies to Yanomami schools
Deliver mosquito nets to Yanomami communities
Deliver medicines and provide medical aid
NOTE: Yarima’s journey from her village to the United States was filmed and is under production for a feature documentary. For updates visit jointhegoodproject.org.
2019 & 2020
In 2019, the Good Project and its institutional partners initiated another study in the village of which executive director, David Good, is a member in the Upper Orinoco. It is where his Yanomami mother and family reside.
This community is of interest because it is minimally impacted by outsiders. In other words, they still live a traditional Yanomami lifestyle and in a traditional dwelling - the shabono. They still hunt exclusively with the bow and arrow, cultivate plantains, forage for fruits, nuts, and berries, adorn with little clothing, sleep outdoors around a fire, and chew tobacco daily. Their diet is high in starchy fibers and above all, low in salt, fats, and refined sugars.
We suspect that their microbiome is of greater diversity (compared to that of a typical, healthy, Westerner) and highly synchronized among the villagers. Current research indicates that the microbiome undergoes major changes with age among Western, industrialized populations. Does the same hold true for the Yanomami people – a relatively isolated group of hunter-gatherers and small- scale horticulturalists?
However, they are not totally isolated as the impact of outsiders is evident. They have machetes and steel axes, some clothing, and have informed us that they do, sometimes, have visitors from health programs or other Yanomami from highly transculturated communities.
We are taking part in a worldwide endeavor to study the ancestral microbiome of native peoples before they are changed (for the worse) forever. The Yanomami people have largely maintained and propagated their evolutionary microbial legacy long after Westerners began using antibiotics, have become more sedentary, started consuming processed foods, and ingesting synthetic chemicals, as well as limiting their exposure to the natural environment.
We argue that the robust and highly diverse microbiota of David's family protects them from chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases that afflict us in industrialized societies.
The sampling experience was just as fascinating and challenging as the research topic itself. In 2018, the Team struggled with limited workspace, failing equipment, biting gnats and mosquitoes, and sweltering heat. Mistakes were made and lessons learned.
During the 2019 expedition, the Team was a little more prepared. A mobile lab was constructed using screened in canopy, military grade water/shockproof laptop, 300 watts of solar panels, a 1400-watt portable power station, and a portable cooling unit.
Another challenge was navigating the bioethics on conducting microbiome research. In certain respects, this was uncharted waters and the Good Project team was pioneering into the unknown. There are exisiting laws, IRB processes, and human rights protocols that provide guidance. However, there is still much gray area on carrying out microbiome research among indigenous peoples and especially the Yanomami who are considered a vulnerable population sample. When a society uses a numerical system limited to one, two and many, transmits knowledge orally, believe human disease states are solely caused by evil spirits, what exactly is the protocol for obtaining consent?
Of course, after explaining and translating as best as possible what is the human microbiome and why collecting samples among the Yanomami is of particular relevance to their health, all that participated did voluntarily consent and we had the blessings of the village headman.
The Good Project vows to be transparent and open to the Yanomami people for they are more than research subjects. They are collaborators and partners in the research process and in the benefits that come from it. Some are even David's family.
To date, the microbiome samples have reached various laboratories and are undergoing DNA sequencing and analysis. Our findings will be published soon helping to shorten the knowledge gap in understanding the link between microbes and human health and disease. The worldwide impact in studying diversity of humanity from the microbial perspective gives us yet another powerful reason why we must protect the Amazon, the Yanomami people, and their microbes.
"We must protect
the amazon, the Yanomami people, and their microbes"
"the right to their own intercultural and bilingual education system'
The Yanomami people, up until the mid-1950s, lived mostly a hunter-gatherer-horticulturalist way of life, had a counting system of one, two, and many; practiced only shamanism, had no written language, and was largely unaware of governmental institutions, indigenous peoples’ rights and industrial developments outside their territory.
Today, many communities are integrating with the tremendously complicated system of world economy, globalization, nation-state politics, novel diseases, human rights, environmental protections, Spanish literacy, and biomedicine, to name a few. It is important for these communities on the front lines to protect their land and cultural heritage from the negative impacts brought on by the outside world. They are eager to learn the necessary skills and gain the tools of survival for navigating their rapidly changing and expanding world. It is equally important for them to preserve their traditional way of life, knowledge, and wisdom.
Many have already come to identify with the Venezuelan nation-state. This has been accomplished through persistent efforts of political functionaries, missionaries, educators, NGOs, and relations with other indigenous peoples with long ties to the government. These communities navigate the intersections of sociopolitical, economic, and healthcare systems integrating with the Venezuelan state system while maintaining their traditional values, customs, and norms.
In article 121 of the 1999 Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela constitution, it states that the government, "shall encourage the value and dissemination of cultural manifestations of indigenous peoples, who have the right to their own intercultural and bilingual education system, taking into account their socio-cultural particularities, values, and traditions."
Since 1976, the Salesian Catholic Mission established an educational system for the Yanomami people in the Upper Orinoco through the Intercultural and Bilingual Yanomami School of Alto Orinoco. They successfully built and maintained an infrastructure that supports over 1,000 students offering Kindergarten to 6th grade. They trained Yanomami leaders to be teachers and administrators, and more recently partnered with UNICEF to reproduce 3000 copies of at least three Yanomami textbooks.
The Good Project partners with the Yanomami schools to support their education programs that are critical for their future, self-representation, and maintaining autonomy on the world stage. After meeting with the Yanomami school leaders and administrative personnel, they were excited and happy to hear that another outside organization is helping them.
During our recent expeditions, The Good Project delivered hundreds of crayons and notebooks, as well as a microscope for the students that aspire to be medics or nurses. Additionally, the microscope can be used to perform blood smears to diagnose malaria infections. This is the beginning of our newfound relationship that supports our mission to facilitate empowerment and agency for the Yanomami people.
We will continue to collaborate on education workshops that focus on areas of health, and protection of the environment. This is especially important with the increased mining activity and spread of introduced diseases.
The schools are always in need of outside assistance to obtain enough resources for operation and maintenance. the Good Project is dedicated in supporting them.
The Mosquito Net Project (MNP) was a culmination of years of fundraising, coordinating logistics with local and international collaborators, and, most importantly, listening to requests of the Yanomami people. Malaria is vectored by the mosquito. The leaders of the PR community expressed the dire need for mosquito nets since many Yanomami fall ill with malaria, called prɨsɨprɨsɨ in Yanomami, and succumb to the parasitic disease. After speaking with Yanomami leaders, missionaries, and medical personnel, the consensus was that when communities receive mosquito nets there are fewer malaria related illnesses and death.
In February of 2020, we successfully delivered over 2,000 long lasting insecticidal mosquito nets. The design was adopted from a similar project for the Joti people conducted by colleagues, also in the Amazonas state. The net has holes large enough to allow for breathability and they are just small enough to keep out mosquitoes, flies and even some of the biting gnats. It is also designed to be tall and wide enough to fit three hammocks. A single net could easily provide protection for several villagers.
The netting is made of insecticide-infused fibers that last longer than conventionally insecticide-treated mosquito nets (i.e. insecticide applied to the net after manufacturing). With the mechanical and chemical protection against mosquitoes, these nets will surely save lives and decrease morbidity due to malaria.
Hundreds of nets were also delivered to the Yanomami schools at the Mavaca mission. The coordinators will distribute the nets in exchange for food and support for the school children. This underscores the importance of working with existing infrastructure in Yanomami territory to create a more sustainable and long-lasting approach in our projects. Mosquito nets will help students stay in school and keep them healthy and fed during their lessons.
Mosquito net project
"A single net could easily provide protection for several villagers"
< 1 year
Low Back Pain
50 years >
Patients seen in Yanomami communities. Guaharibos Rapid (GR) Sector
Expedition February 2020
Medicines & Medical Aid
Some of the most frequent diseases, as described by medical personnel working in the Alto Orinoco, encountered among the Yanomami communities are malaria, tuberculosis, and other respiratory infections. In addition to the indigenous human pathogens of the tropical rainforests, the Yanomami people today face a slew of relatively novel diseases that bring on new sets of public health challenges.
One of those challenges is managing the integration of biomedicine with traditional shamanism. The Yanomami adhere to a form of animistic spirituality where disease states are caused by nefarious spirits, called shawara attempting to "eat your soul." However, many Yanomami recognize that the shawara spirits introduced by the napë (non-yanomami) are difficult to overcome thus require biomedical intervention.
Medicines are extremely scarce, sometimes non existent, in the dispensaries throughout Yanomami territory. Physicians have made fewer and fewer visits due to limited transportation and resources.
The Good Project collaborates with the Indigenous Health Office and Plan Salud Yanomami to deliver much needed medicines and medical personnel to various Yanomami communities. In addition to using mosquito nets to reduce the spread of malaria, communities also need antimalarial medication to treat those that are infected. Coupled with education and awareness projects, theses are the most effective methods for reducing malaria and other diseases in the communities.
We work with mission compounds that have the infrastructure and means to store medical supplies. In the last two years we donated numerous materials such as medical gloves, syringes, gauzes, microscopes (for diagnostics), antiseptics, antibiotics, antimalarials, and rapid diagnostic tests. We aim to continue supporting the medical staff and programs in Venezuela.
Below is a chart of number of patients seen and their clinical presentations during the 2020 expedition.
The Yanomami people in Venezuela live in a protected land known as the Alto Orinoco-Casiquiare biosphere reserve. It covers roughly 20 million acres. The area in which the Good Project operates is located in the Alto Orinoco municipality of the Amazonas state.
Alto Orinoco - Amazonas
The Good Project teamed up with Shabono Media, LLC to begin producing a feature documentary on Yarima's journey to the United States to reunite with her long lost family. Combined with the Good Project's archival footage of their expeditions and the observational film technique used in the United States, we are creating an extraordinary documentary of a family facing insurmountable odds to be together for the first time in 30 years.
Through the lens of a personal human journey, we believe sharing such a powerful story will resonate with people from all cultures and backgrounds. Love, family, and loss is part of every human story. By connecting with one of the world's most unique Yanomami families, the audience will be immersed in an amazing adventure that ultimately advocates for the protection of the Amazon rainforest and the Yanomami people.