In Peru’s Amazon, It Will Take More Than Soap And Water

As the pandemic deepens inequalities, UNICEF is working to protect indigenous children

By: Carolyn McCaffrey
01 July 2020
Ana lavando sus manos
UNICEF Perú/2020/Linares S.
Ana, 11 years, washes her hands in the indigenous community of Santa Rosa de Tamaya Tipischa in the Peruvian Amazon.

“Just like this,” said Miguel Pacaya. “You do the same on both sides. Then you do this.”

Over a bucket of water, Miguel was showing his daughter Ana, 11 years, how to wash her hands with soap recently delivered by UNICEF. They live in the indigenous community of Santa Rosa de Tamaya Tipischa in Peru’s Amazon, around six hours by boat from the nearest city, Pucallpa, in the region of Ucayali.

Though surrounded by rivers, just one in four Amazonian indigenous communities in Peru has access to a safe public water supply [1].

Limited connectivity also cuts many off from information that can be lifesaving in a country that has become one of the pandemic’s hotspots, with 285,213 cases and 9,677 deaths confirmed to date [2].

Delivering kits and information

To help protect children like Ana, UNICEF has been working to provide hygiene kits and messages to targeted indigenous communities in Ucayali. The kits contain soap and hand sanitizer, as well as cleaning supplies for the community. These kits have travelled for almost a week by road from the warehouse in Lima to Pucallpa, during a national lockdown that has closed borders and grounded most forms of transport.

empaquetando suministros
UNICEF Perú/2020/Lanza V.
At the warehouse in Lima, Martin Rios and William Valer from the UNICEF team prepare the supplies for indigenous communities in Ucayali.

From there, Fredy Vargas and Jerly Ventura, UNICEF´s Community Engagement Consultants in Ucayali, make sometimes days-long trips to the communities by boat. “We meet with the leaders in a space chosen by them, respecting social distancing,” Fredy said.

“There we share information about COVID-19. We also teach them about proper hand washing.”

conversando con la comunidad
UNICEF Perú/2020/Linares S.
Fredy Vargas, UNICEF Community Engagement Consultant, discuss safe hygiene practices with indigenous community leaders in the Peruvian Amazon.
Jerly capacitando a la comunidad
UNICEF Perú/2020/Vargas F.
Jerly Ventura, UNICEF Community Engagement Consultant, discuss safe hygiene practices with indigenous community leaders in the Peruvian Amazon.

To date, UNICEF has delivered hygiene kits and messages to 25 communities in Ucayali, reaching 4,595 people, including 2,667 children. This delivery was possible with support, in part, from local partner ATV. More families will receive kits in the coming weeks.

“Providing information in their own language really makes a difference,” said Hugo Razuri, UNICEF Health Specialist.

“In a country as diverse as Peru, facing a crisis this serious, we have to ensure that everyone gets the information they need. In these communities with limited access to health services, prevention is key.”

Around 850,000 children in Peru grow up speaking one of 48 indigenous languages, including the Shipibo-Conibo spoken in Santa Rosa [3]. For them, public information, developed and delivered in Spanish, isn’t always accessible. Along with the banners that Fredy and Jerly, a native Shipibo-Conibo speaker,  use on community visits, UNICEF – in collaboration with the national government, sub-national governments and the United Nations in Peru – has produced and disseminated a series of radio and video shorts on COVID-19 in five indigenous languages and two regional forms of Spanish.

Banner Shipibo
UNICEF-supported banner with safe hygiene tips in the indigenous Shipibo-Conibo language.

Beyond health and hygiene

While reinforcing protective behaviours is critical to slow the spread of the virus, the needs of Peru’s indigenous peoples go beyond health and hygiene. Six out of ten Amazonian indigenous children in Peru live in monetary poverty, in communities that have had an historic lack of investment in public services [4]. Along with advocating for an equitable response, UNICEF is working with the government to help ensure indigenous students receive an inclusive and intercultural education, post-COVID-19.

“The pandemic has highlighted existing inequalities in Peru and they’re deepening”

Said Ana de Mendoza, UNICEF’s Representative in Peru.  “By listening to and working with indigenous communities, Peru can ensure children like Ana have opportunities to grow up healthy, protected and learning – now and going forward.”


[1] National Institute of Statistics and Informatics, Census of Indigenous Communities, 2017.

[2] Ministry of Health,, 30 June 2020.

[3] National Institute of Statistics and Informatics, Census, 2017.

[4] UNICEF calculations based on National Institute of Statistics and Informatics, National Household Survey, 2018.