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  • Women on a Mission

Women on a Mission to Visit the Mentawai Tribe of Siberut Island - the Last Shamans of Indonesia

For Immediate Release

Singapore, 30 September 2019 - An independent, self-funded team of eleven women from around the world under the banner of Women on a Mission (WOAM), a non-profit organisation headquartered in Singapore that supports and empowers women survivors of war and abuse, will embark on a twelve-day expedition on 4 November 2019, to visit the Mentawai tribe, also known as the ‘Flower People’ of Indonesia.

The Mentawai are the native people of Pulau Siberut, a little island off the western coast of Sumatra. They have a mainly oral tradition and have been living in the heart of the humid forest of the island for millennia. Despite the campaigns of evangelisation and settlement during the past century, some groups were able to maintain their traditional way of life, far from the modern world, building their umas, the community long-houses, eating sago and hunting monkeys with poisoned arrows.

Pulau Siberut is located just below the equator along Indonesia’s famous Ring of Fire, one of the most seismically active regions on the planet. In the 17th century, explorers called it “the Island of Good Fortune” despite the fact it is an isolated ribbon of land, about a hundred kilometres in length, entirely covered in a thick tropical, swampy, malarial forest.

The expedition’s objective is to raise $100,000 SGD for Women for Women International – UK, a charity which provides women survivors of war and conflict with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency. WOAM, now in its seventh year of operation, has raised well over $1,000,000 Singapore dollars to date, to support organisations that advance the position of women around the world.

In addition to Women for Women International, the team also champions and raises funds for the following Singapore-based charities: AWARE - Singapore’s leading gender equality advocacy group; UN Women; Aidha - a Singapore NGO empowering domestic workers; and Pertapis Home for Women and Girls. The past nine WOAM expeditions have been to regions of the Himalayas, the Middle East, Africa, Mongolia and the Arctic Circle.

Brita Fernandez Schmidt, Executive Director of Women for Women International - UK stated,“The women we work with live in some of the world’s most dangerous places – it can be hard for us to imagine their daily challenges. I find it so inspiring that WOAM push themselves far outside their comfort zone in order to raise money and awareness for women survivors of war. Each trek they take on is just as challenging as the last, and WOAM members truly go the extra mile to leverage their networks and raise incredible sums of money, which make a real difference to the women we serve.”

For this next expedition to Siberut, WOAM’s 10th to date, the team will need to cross the thick tropical jungle for the unique opportunity to live with and experience the everyday activities of the Mentawai, whose customs will seem very alien in contrast to the lifestyles in the modern world.

The team will begin their voyage in Padang, Western Sumatra in Indonesia, then transfer to Muara seaport and take a three-hour speed boat ride, crossing the Mentawai Strait to the tiny village of Muara Siberut. Then by local canoes, the team will head upstream on the Madobak river through beautiful jungle panoramas, to Buttui where they will spend their first night in Aman Ipai and meet the newly enthroned shaman of the Sararakeit tribe.

From there the jungle trek begins. The women will walk about eight hours daily deeper into the jungle, through narrow paths, over fallen trees, sometimes through swamps and shallow rivers. They will occasionally come across a small hamlets of local tribes. The expectation is that there will be no other tourists along the way, just the team, its porters and guides, and perhaps a few reptiles or jungle crested cockatoos, cassowaries and wild boars.

The reward at the end of a long day of jungle trekking will be to reach a small "dusun" or jungle hamlet, inhabited by one or two nomadic tribal families. For the next few days the team will share their daily life. They will sleep on a wooden floor under mosquito nets and take part in the many activities of the tribe, such as cutting sago trees; looking for sago worms in the stumps and preparing sago flour - the basis of local food; fishing with the women of the clan; collecting herbs, leaves and bark to prepare medicine; helping them tend to small gardens; and following the wild boar and monkey hunters for many hours deep into the jungle. The women will also experience the ceremonies and the rituals of the shamans in the clan, which include talking to their ancestors, and the trees and plants around them, trance dancing and story-telling involving black and white magic.

After a long hike to return back to Padang, the team will then visit a women’s centre for survivors of domestic violence.The WOAM team will meet with the social workers running the centre to learn about the issues facing women in this region of Indonesia. Additionally, the teammates will conduct leadership development and entrepreneurship workshops so as to share their own diverse life and career experiences with the women at the centre.

Ultimately, WOAM’s objective is to inspire women to want to leave their comfort zone, their families and homes for a certain period of time, while pushing their limits in an effort to rally support for a worthy cause. At the core of their culture is a passion for adventure and a deep respect and love of nature. They seek to travel and explore the world, and as a result make new discoveries, flourish as individuals, but most importantly, contribute to society. By travelling in such challenging conditions, WOAM hopes to bring international attention to the need for societies, governments and corporations to get involved and help end violence against women.


About WOAM

WOAM is a non-profit organisation headquartered in Singapore, which combines challenging, self-funded, expeditions and treks to remote and majestic locations around the world, with inspirational fundraising events and workshops in Singapore and abroad, to raise awareness and funds for women survivors of war and to support and empower women who have been subjected to violence and abuse. WOAM’s strategy is to organise and promote yearly campaigns and challenging expeditions to increase visibility, and to raise money for specific charities. The organisation partners with existing established non-profit institutions that already have well run programmes and structures in place dedicated to serving the underprivileged with a particular focus on women's issues.

About Women for Women International (WfWI)

When there is an outbreak of war or violence, women suffer most – they experience trauma, sexual violence and the death of loved ones. After the conflict is over, the world’s attention moves on, but these same women are left to rebuild their families and communities. Women for Women International supports women who live in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Women enrol on the charity’s year-long training programme, where they learn how to earn and save money, improve their family’s health and make their voices heard at home and in their community.

Since 1993, the charity has helped more than 500,000 marginalised women survivors of war in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan. With your help, women can graduate from the Women for Women International programme with the skills, knowledge and resources to become successful entrepreneurs. They will pass on their knowledge to their neighbours and children, creating a ripple effect.

Team Profile

Eleven intrepid women of diverse nationalities and backgrounds form the team of this ‘Women on a Mission’ Expedition to Indonesia 2019. While they are all incredibly well accomplished in their careers, they are equally passionate about supporting charitable causes and helping the less privileged. To read the team bios please click here.

To see pictures of the team’s journey, ‘LIKE’ their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and Instagram:

To support the team please donate via their fundraising page here.

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