The Embera Katios
The Embera are one of the last surviving indigenous people on the American continent, inhabiting mostly Panama and Colombia. And although the Embera culture is a monument to human diversity, they are now living pretty tough circumstances.
Every morning on the busy streets of Medellin, Colombia, Embera indigenous
women in bright, colorful dresses lay their mats on the sidewalks and begin selling their native beaded jewelry and beg for spare coins from pedestrians. Their babies and little ones can usually be found napping beside them or playing near the busy roads. Some who walk by will give an empathetic coin, though many will pass judgment on these women for being lazy or for exposing their children to the streets. Many believe the plaguing rumors that these displaced people are using other people’s children to get money for drugs, or they are hired by organized crime groups which take the money they receive.
Most of the people who walk by these families on the streets do not know or understand the true reality and history of the lives of these indigenous people.
For generations, Embera people have lived in the jungles and rural areas of Colombia on ancestral lands where they raise animals and cultivate the ground. Now, however, because of violent wars between armed groups who have planted landmines on their lands and threatened their villages, these indigenous families find themselves displaced in the city and forced to severely adjust their way of life.
They have had to resort to begging, not because they are lazy or because they are working for the organized groups, but because they speak minimal Spanish, have little to zero education, and are just trying to earn a few dollars a day in order to pay the 5USD-a-day rent for their families and buy a little food to sustain their children so they do not completely starve. The indigenous women bring their children with them because there is no one to watch them at home, schools are now closed, and the streets where they beg are safer than the prostitute-, gang-, and drug-infested alleyways where they live.
The global pandemic dealt the displaced Embera people another huge loss and stripped them of one of the few means they had to meagerly provide for their families. They were unable to beg daily for food or money or sell their jewelry on the streets, and their children no longer had access to any source of education or governmental aid.
Enter “The Embera Bead Project” – Helping displaced indigenous families one bead at a time
In 2019, the Embera Bead Project began as a way to help the Embera women make and sell their traditional beaded jewelry for a fair wage and safely provide their basic daily needs. The project was helping dozens of families and Embera men and women were beginning to see hope for a better future for their children until the Covid-19 crisis hit and tourism ceased.
Now, the world is slowly beginning to emerge from the global pandemic and the Embera Bead Project continues to work diligently towards lifting the Embera families and their future generations out of deeply rooted poverty. In 2020, the project began an online store to sell the Embera’s beaded jewelry through a partnership with Restaurants on Mission, a non-profit organization which helped provide weekly food packets for dozens of these families throughout the quarantine.
The Embera Bead Project is also excited to partner with Real City Tours and offer a unique opportunity to meet these displaced families at the end of the tour, listen to their stories, and learn about their traditional craftmanship. Every free tour through Real City Tours helps the Embera men and women meet their daily needs, along with providing additional money for basic necessities like food, diapers, and medicine for their children.
All funds earned by the Embera Bead Project are put directly back into the hands of the Embera jewelry makers and any additional proceeds are invested towards weekly workshops in beading design, job and skillset trainings, as well as Spanish and reading classes. The Embera Bead Project endeavors to help these indigenous artisans become self-sustainable, gain skills and abilities which will allow them to find employment, with the goal of empowering them to uplift their families out of the cycle of poverty.
How can you help displaced Embera in Colombia?
Help break the taboo
Bob Dylan once said “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand”. There are, unfortunately, a lot of misconceptions and ignorance among locals around the circumstances that are pushing the Embera people out of their territories and forcing them to find a way to survive. Therefore, it is important to help Colombians change their condescending attitude towards them and break over-simplified assumptions such as the one that indigenous people are on the streets because they are too lazy to work.
Come visit and hear their stories
Every day in Medellin, Real City Tours offers an insider view to the streets, the foods, and the history of this beautiful city. Through these tours, you can be involved in getting to know these displaced people, hearing their stories, understanding their lives, and helping empower them to change their futures. You will be able to see the beautiful artistry and craftsmanship of the Embera people and have the opportunity to purchase some of their beautiful, one-of-a-kind designs.
Invest in their futures
Just through the purchase of one pair of earrings, not only do you help Embera earn their daily rent and feed their families but you invest in the future of the displaced indigenous people. All profits earned by the Embera Bead Project go directly towards giving the Embera a fair wage and empowering them to change their futures. Your support of the Embera Bead Project aids in fighting poverty and restoring hope for Embera families one bead at a time. Find out more here how you can be involved in the Embera Bead Project.