Eliane Lima Dos Santos (Eliane Potiguara)

Ashoka Fellow
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Fellow Since 1991


This profile was prepared when Eliane Lima Dos Santos (Eliane Potiguara) was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
Eliane has organized the Group of Indigenous Women Educators, known as GRUMIN. So far, there are twenty-six regional coordinators implementing a basic program of education and consciousness-raising among women in hundreds of villages. The women are given an eighty-page booklet that in simple, clear terms and pictures explains the history of indigenous people in Brazil, and their contribution to the country's history. For most of the women, it is the first time they have been made aware of events occurring outside their communities and given an opportunity to reflect about their own situation as women and native Brazilians. In the process, the older women are encouraged to share their knowledge of the indigenous group's history and traditions. Craft workshops are organized to keep local customs alive.The idea behind the group is to strengthen self-esteem and foment awareness among Indian women who are the bearers of tradition, heads of families, and pillars of their communities, but who have been discriminated against both as native Brazilians and as women. They are learning that they are citizens with the right to a good education, decent medical care, and a reasonable amount of land on which to engage in their traditional subsistence activities of farming, hunting, or fishing. And by learning how to operate within the Brazilian political system, these women will be more capable of ensuring those rights for their families."The result of this educational process is that women realize that they are proud of and want to preserve their cultural traditions and values," says Eliane. "They also realize that their survival as a people and as native Brazilians is threatened by the lack of economic alternatives." Eliane works with the women and the other members of the community to find income-generating activities rooted in their traditions and based on their skills. For instance, Eliane's ancestral village in the northeast of Brazil is bringing back traditional fishing--an activity that allowed her great-grandmother to add protein to the family diet and other goods to the household through the then prevailing barter system. Through the years this activity declined: the wood used in making the traditional canoes was gone, and competition from professional fisherman became intense. Today Eliane is revitalizing this small industry with better boats and techniques so that once again it will enrich both the local diet and economy.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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