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The Good Project envisions indigenous communities empowered to have complete agency, self-representation and self-determination in navigating through their ever-changing expanding world.
Meet the field team
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR LETTER
MEET THE FIELD TEAM
UPDATE: YARIMA'S RETURN
FROM THE AMAZON TO THE WORLD
Support the education, healthcare, and preservation of the Yanomami people through intercultural and participatory perspectives. We educate the public on the unique, dynamic way of Yanomami life as well as other indigenous peoples to increase cross-cultural awareness, and for the recognition and protection of indigenous rights and their ancestral lands.
An anthropologist and head of the Anthropology of Development Laboratory and Associate Researcher at the Center of Anthropology of the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research (IVIC). She received her Ph.D in anthropology at the University of Arizona (2003).
Her work focuses on cultural, historical and political transformations among the Venezuelan Yanomami as well as intercultural processes and indigenous rights among Amazonian peoples. She currently serves on the advisory council for the Wenner-Gren Foundation and is on the Good Project board.
tHE fIELD TEAM
A biologist and executive director of the Good Project. He studied at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania where he received his undergraduate and master’s degree in biology.
His passion is medicine and teaching. He is currently studying for medical school and is an adjunct professor in biology at Northampton Community College of Pennsylvania.
He travels the world to share the knowledge and wisdom of the Yanomami people to raise cross-cultural awareness and advocate for indigenous rights.
A microbiologist and head of the department of Microbiology and Biochemistry at the Venezuelan Insitute for Scientific Research. She received her Medical Technologist bachelor's degree at University of Los Andes, Mérida, Venezuela in 1991, and her Ph.D. in Microbiology at University Paris XI and Institute Pasteur from Paris, France in 2003.
Her area of research focuses on the human microbiome, and its relationship with state of health and nutrition, at varying levels of urbanization. She also investigates antibiotic resistance in H. pylori bacteria and its role in causing disease.
After returning home from Yanomami territory in Venezuela, I was hospitalized twice for malaria and spent many weeks recuperating and restoring my strength. Bedridden, I took the opportunity to contemplate my recent experience with the Yanomami, Yarima, and the research we conducted. The expedition was thrilling, adventurous, emotional, difficult, and rewarding. Laughs were shared, tears were shed, the dead mourned, and new life celebrated. My identity as a Yanomami continues to strengthen and my spirit is more emboldened to serve my people.
I had the honor of being part of a tremendous intercultural team comprised of scientists, medical personnel, government functionaries, military officials, private enterprises, Yanomami leaders, missionaries, and volunteers. Together we saved a life, healed the sick, conducted research, established trust, and created partnerships. With each expedition under our belt, we gain more knowledge and insight on Yanomami culture, their contemporary challenges, and how they are redefining indigeneity in the 21st century. It is overwhelming to think of the adversities the Yanomami face today - invasion of illegal gold miners, devastating epidemics, limited access to basic healthcare, disruption of education and schooling, and cultural degradation. Mounting international efforts are working towards helping them and the Good Project is proud to be a part of it. We are already underway in preparing for the next expedition.
As a follow up, the Good Project will give back to the Yanomami with projects that provide aid for their health and educational needs. We will deliver resources such as medical equipment, medicines, and mosquito nets. We will hold workshops to continue the dialogue of the link between the microbiome and health, as well as conducting research ethically among the Yanomami. We will continue our objective in reuniting Yarima with her family in the United States. We are excited to begin this next journey and building our Good Project family.
I'd like to personally thank you, the Good Project supporter, for helping us make a difference both here and in Yanonomami-land. We are truly a global family. Though we may live different lifestyles, eat different foods, and believe in different gods or spirits, we share the same world and depend on each other to preserve our beautiful planet for future generations.
David measuring blood glucose of Yanomami woman
A resident of the Upper Orinoco in Yanomami territory. Born in Boliva, he has lived most of his life among the Yanomami. His native language is Yanomami and he speaks English and Spanish fluently.
He is highly skilled in jungle survival and navigating the river ways of the Amazon. He supported this expedition by serving as a our motorist, guide, and translator.
His wife is Yanomami from the Jalalusi-teri village and he is a proud father of five.
A parasitologist and researcher at the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the Central University of Venezuela. She received her degree in bioanalysis at the same university and is a professor in their medical school.
She has worked with indigenous communities for over ten years specializing in diagnostics of intestinal parasites, onchocerciasis, leishmaniasis. She is a also a researcher in the microbiome projects in Venezuela. She avidly supports programs that empower indigenous peoples.
Monica using a cotton swab to sample Yarima's arm
A medical doctor and coordinator of the Indigenous Health office in Puerto Ayacucho. He received his medical degree from the Universidad de Los Llanos Centrales Romulo Gallegos, Venezuela.
He frequents the Upper Orinoco and provides medical care to Yanomami communities most affected by health issues. His passion for providing healthcare to indigenous peoples has led him to work in Puerto Ayacucho.
Microbiome research surrounding indigenous societies is an increasing focus within the medical and public health field. The Yanomami took center stage after a study by Clemente, et al.,1 was published in 2015, which indicated that the gut bacteria of one remote community had the highest diversity seen in any human group. The people were not exposed to the negative effects of a “Western lifestyle”, which has been shown to have drastically decreased our microbial diversity. This imbalance, or dysbiosis, is linked to an array of ailments and diseases (e.g. irritable bowl syndrome, diabetes, obesity, etc.).2
It is assumed that these “diseases of the affluent” essentially do not exist among isolated or minimally impacted Yanomami communities largely due to their robust and diverse microbiome. The race is on to study their evolutionary legacy before it is changed forever. The Good Project was proud to support a study titled "Estudio del microbioma en sujetos amerindios y mestizos para evaluar los parámetros de salud, dieta y actividad física" [Study of micriobiome in Amerindians and Mestizos in order to evaluate their parameters of health, diet and physical activity] coordinated by the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research.3 A major goal of this research was to characterize and compare the microbiome of communities along an "urbanization" gradient (i.e. how microbial diversity changes when communities are more impacted from westernization).
Venezuelan scientists, including executive director David Good, traveled to two different Yanomami villages to conduct their research. They started out in Cosh, described as "high impact" due to frequent contact with non-Yanomami. The other village known as Wanapuewi, is located almost 120 miles further up the Orinoco River. The Wanapuwei have less frequent interaction with non-Yanomami thereby live a more traditional Yanomami lifestyle. They dwell in a traditional shabono (see photo below), hunt exclusively with the bow and arrow, forage with baskets, engage in shamanic rituals, and chew tobacco. Outside impact is evident as clothing, metal pots, a nonfunctional shotgun, and other steel goods can be observed in the village.
Stocked with cotton swabs and tubes they sampled different parts of the body with the aim of preserving bacterial communities and analyzing them in a lab. Additionally, they measured physical parameters such as height, weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and recorded their diet. There was much excitement in the air since no such research had ever been conducted in their communities. It was hard work but many Yanomami volunteered to assist the team and took active roles in the project. In addition to following all local and national human rights laws, protocols, and ethical conduct for research, the team went above and beyond by upholding the following principles:
Research among the Yanomami has had a checkered past. The dark history of scientists violating ethical codes of conduct has left a lasting scar for many Yanomami communities (for more information refer to Robert Borofsky's "Yanomami: The Fierce Controversy and What We Can Learn from It").3
The team quietly and patiently received strong admonition and anger expressed by Yanomami leaders who harbor a deep suspicion for scientists. The team responsibly apologized for the past transgressions committed by scientists and researchers and acknowledged their every right to be skeptical and indifferent towards the their presence. After hours of discussion the team and the Yanomami leaders came to an understanding through honesty and openness.
Before sampling, ample time was dedicated towards explaining and sharing knowledge on the link between health and the microbiome. Demonstrations were carried out to simulate the sampling process and explain how the instruments will be used. Additionally, visual tools such as posters were used to help explain the microbiome and it how it is unique to the Yanomami.
The Yanomami were integral in carrying out the research. They became part of the team participating as translators, guides, and research assistants. The team always answered their questions and demonstrated how to use various instruments such as the glucometer and blood pressure cuffs. Microscope sample-slides were shared visually exposing them to the microbial world.
Furthermore, the research study was presented to numerous agencies and stakeholders that include the military, missionaries, medical personnel, and various Yanomami political figures before even reaching the Yanomami territory. The team was open and honest in presenting the importance of the research, the manner in which the research was carried out, and how the samples were stored and analyzed.
The team recognized that, in addition to carrying out the study, there was a responsibility to provide aid for the Yanomami communities. Medicines and supplies were brought in and distributed under the supervision of the medical doctor. Medical clinics were held to tend to the sick and wounded. This strengthened the relationship the community showing that the team cared for their health and well-being .
Team listening to leaders in the Cosh village
Medical doctor Roger Cariban and parasitologist Orlana Lander provided medical aid for the expedition team as well as the Yanomami people. It is difficult for many communities to gain access to basic healthcare and much needed medicines. During group discussions, the Yanomami anguished over the loss of loved ones that had perished due to the outbreaks of introduced diseases. Therefore, they were grateful for medical provisions that arrived to their village. Roger is a veteran field doctor capable of working in the harshest of conditions and Orlana's expertise in microscopy were crucial in diagnosing parasitic infections. One of the most memorable medical encounters happened just a few hours after the team landed in Cosh. An 8 year old boy had been playing near tall grass around his home when the fer-de-lance snake struck his right ankle injecting its deadly poison. The villagers quickly summoned the medical team which acted quickly administering anti-venom. The boy writhed with pain as the swelling crept up his leg towards his pelvis. It was a long, somber and intense night as everyone knew the lethality of this snake's poison. However, the anti-venom took hold and prevailed. The boy survived and his parents were grateful for saving his life.
Patients seen and clinical presentation in the village of Cosh4
Team assessing the medical supplies in a medical clinic
Tending to boy bitten by a fer-de-lance
< 1 yr
6- 9 yrs
Low back pain
Malaria P. Vivax
Hortensia presening the poster to villagers of Wanapuwei
At the Good Project base field testing equipment and taking inventory.
07/28 - Caracas, Venezuela
08/26 - En route to Yanomami-land
The team arrived in the village of Wanapuwei taking the first few days to explain the microbioime project.
Aerial shot of the awe-inspiring canopy of the Amazon in Venezuela. The team takes the three-hour flight into Yanomami territory
Collectively, the team has over a century of experience working and living in the Upper Orinoco of Venezuela. Yet, each expedition brought unforeseen challenges, obstacles, and setbacks. The Amazon, in all its glory, is an untamed, unpredictable, and powerful place. One must prepare to endure torrential rainfalls, cross dangerous rapids, cope with the harsh sun, battle disease, and survive cold nights. While the jungle provides food, shelter, and medicine, it also harbors venomous snakes, poisonous plants, predatory beasts, and parasites transmitted by flies and mosquitoes. The almighty Amazon - we must respect it, fear it, and admire it. The journey to this majestic land is always, without fail, an adventure. Below is a pictorial time line of our expedition from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Wanapuwei, Amazon.
The team conducting field simulations of the sampling protocols.
09/8 - Wanapuwei village
Hortensia working with Yarima. The villagers were very excited and curious over the research project. They shared many laughs and were happy to help whenever possible
09/12 - Wanapuwei village
09/4 - Orinoco River
Research team meets up in Caracas
The ferry town of Puerto Paez was flooded so porters were hired to shuttle the team safely across.
The team left Cosh and is enroute to Wanapuwei. The trip took three days covering about 120 miles. They passed numerous villages along the way as well as other missionary posts.
08/28 - Village of Cosh
Over the course of several days, the team sampled various villagers for the microbiome project.
Months before departure - Bethlehem, PA
08/5 - Puerto Ayacucho
09/10 - Wanapuwei village
08/4 - Caracas to Puerto Ayacucho
The team is loading the boat for the return journey. They all made it home safely. David stayed behind to spend time with his family. He returned safely home to his family around mid-October.
UPDATE: Yarima's voyage back to the United States6
One of the main expedition objectives was to bring Yarima back to the United States for a visit. Unfortunately, she was unable to begin this process due to bureaucratic complications as a result of the Venezuelan economic crisis. It was a great disappointment for both David and Yarima when he had to leave Venezuela without his mother.
Due to dwindling resources and the limitations of the registrar offices in the Upper Orinoco municipality, the team was unable to obtain the necessary paperwork to begin the passport and visa process. Telecommunication, for obvious reasons, is difficult in the remote Amazon so the only way to begin this complicated and difficult process is for Yarima to leave her village. Given the scarce fuel supply and resources, there was no guarantee that Yarima would have been able to return home if faced with long delays in the city. This was a chance David could not take. The Good Project team is regrouping and reworking our strategy to safely bring Yarima to the United States.
Yarima expressed a great desire to see her family in the United States and to spend time in a world she had not seen in over twenty-five years. While her visit would reunite a family, her trip has another deep symbolic meaning. Yarima represents a society that is under threat from illegal gold mining, epidemics of introduced diseases, climate change, and deforestation. As her voyage to the United States will capture the hearts of millions worldwide, this would be an opportunity to raise awareness through cultural exchange and dialogue. Yarima and the Yanomami people are protectorates of the rain forest by simply being who they are.
The team was able to directly connect to the campus of Northampton Community College of Pennsylvania via satellite. The Good Project, in collaboration with NCC Science Club and NCC Center for Civic and Community Engagement, held three live Q&A sessions by calling in via satellite phone and broadcasting on Facebook Live7. This provided a unique opportunity to engage directly with students and followers while still in the field. They answered questions that involved topics such as Yanomami belief systems, conducting research, and traveling through the Amazon. This provided valuable insight on the current situation surrounding education and health in Yanomami communities.
Throughout the expedition, experiences were shared by sending short messages using the Garmin InReach Explorer. Technology has allowed the Good Project to continue its work in education, raising awareness, and sharing the unique culture of the Yanomami people.
This expedition could have not been possible without the support of volunteers, family, collaborators, students, Good Project staff, donations, and sponsors. We would like to pay a special thanks to the following for their instrumental role in making this project a success:
Center for Civic and Community Center at Northampton Community College.
Don and Mariana Dawson
The Emch Fund
Dr. Larry Weiss
Dr. Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello
Mayor's Office of Esmeralda
Ministry of Popular Power for Health, Venezuela
Ministry of Popular Power for Indigenous People, Venezuela
Mission Padamo and Aviation Services
Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research
The Yanomami people. We would like to thank the villagers of Cosh and Wanapuwei who worked side by side with the team. We are grateful for Nelson and Yerson for guiding us in the hard journey. The Yanomami taught us so much and we are truly grateful for being part of their legacy and history.
We would like to acknowledge you! The Good Project supporter and donor. Your contribution was crucial in making this expedition successful. You continue to believe in our cause in supporting the healthcare, education, and cultural preservation of the Yanomami people. From the bottom of our hearts and the depths of the Amazon...
1 To read more about this study click on the below:
2 To learn more about how the microbiome influences your health click on the button below:
3 The Good Project was not involved with the IRB process at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research. It supported the study by providing funding and logistical resources
4 This table was translated Spanish and adopted from the medical report written by Dr. Roger Cariban. To access the original medial report send your inquirty to firstname.lastname@example.org
5 To view the map on Google Earth click on the button below:
6 To read more about Yarima's return and to support her trip click on the button below:
7 To watch one of the Facebook Live videos featuring a live Q&A click on the button below.
The Good Project
3835 Green Pond Road
College Center 236
Bethlehem, Pa 18020