YOu are me & I am you
At a young age in the wake of the devastating loss of her own baby during childbirth and having seen friends suffering similarly, Carmen Cumba decided to learn the ancient ritual of Pakarina (child birth) to prevent more mothers and children from dying unnecessarily during the birthing process.
Carmen spent years apprenticing and studying the ways of the Partera’s (midwives) and also those of Yachak’s (shamen) learning as much as she could about plant medicine even though she could not read or write. Through a thirsty curiosity, stubbornness, tirelss dedication and a lot of hard work she now has one of the largest organic medicinal plant gardens in the Andes that serves as her pharmacy where she, much like a pharmacist, expertly gathers all the right ingredients straight out of the ground to create remedies for whatever might ail you. She turns no one away. People have been known to travel hours to consult her for health issues they cannot seem to remedy through other means.
For decades, Carmen and her fellow Parteras and Yachaks have been treated with skepticism and often a total lack of respect by Western medicine. While this is starting to change as the Ecuadorian Health Ministry has started to work with the indigenous medicine community, there is still a gap in how they are treated and compensated. Carmen has become a leading advocate for helping to bring fair treatment to her fellow midwives and healers in the hospitals and medical community where they typically do not get paid for their time or services. Carmen believes that both Natural and Western medicine should be used appropriately and in tandem.
Using her garden as her pharmacy, she is considered an authority on plant medicine locally and regionally. Even the Red Cross has consulted her. She wants to share her knowledge before it is lost as fewer and fewer youth in her community are interested in learning this ancient knowledge as they have opportunities to pursue higher education in fields such as technology. She knows that as more people understand how natural medicine works, it will become normalized as a part of overall health practices.
Carmen and her fellow midwives share their knowledge through seminars, training programs, tourism and even a few published books even though she and most of her colleagues cannot read or write. However, one must travel to this remote part of Ecuador to participate in most of these programs.
We asked Carmen on our last day with her back in January of 2019 what she hopes and longs for in her life. She expressed that she wants to share her knowledge with the world. She said she dreams of building a place where scientists and doctors both indigenous and western can come together to share and teach each other what they know, what they’ve learned and what they imagine. This project is in part about helping these dreams become a reality.
This is the story of Carmen Cumba.