An amazing and beautiful 7 hour boat ride on the Ucayali river brought me to the small and tranquil village of Santa Rosa de Dinamarca, located deeply in the Peruvian Amazon. In this village I met with Felix, a bright and energetic 17-year old student of the secondary school, who is graduating this year. Felix gave me a warm welcome and showed me around his school. The final class in high school has only 10 students and I was happy to hear that 4 of them are girls. I met with most of them and we had a very interesting and eye-opening chat about their lives, ambitions and dreams for the future, which provided a unique opportunity to get a better understanding of teenage life in a small remote Shipibo community hidden deeply in the Amazon rainforest.
Felix is a bright young guy who already demonstrates great leadership capacities but maybe that is not surprising given the fact that his father is the village chief, his grandfather a well respected and powerful shaman and his great grandfather one of the founders of the village. In a blink of an eye, Felix mobilized his friends for a gathering in the village square and I was pleasantly surprised by their openness and willingness to share their stories. I sensed an enormous excitement about the fact that they will all graduate soon. They were already planning a graduation party and discussed what kind of present they could give the school to show their appreciation and leave a positive impact for the other classes to follow. Isn’t that nice? They clearly want to make sure the school does not forget the Class of 2011!
I asked the students what they plan to do after their graduation, knowing the limited opportunities for further study around Dinamarca. Surprisingly, they all had very clear and outspoken ideas about that. Felix wants to study Agricultural Engineering, his best friend plans to become a mechanic, 2 others have had a lifelong desire to become teachers and two of the girls dream to be a nurse. I was very struck by these clear career plans because most of them will not have the possibility to make this happen. The sad reality is that on average only 1 out of 5 students from this school is able to continue their study. The main reason for this is the huge financial burden on the family. For nearly all study programs, the students need to move to Pucallpa for 5 years, 7 hours away by boat, which means they can no longer live at home.
And despite the fact that college fees are very reasonable, the additional indirect costs for (entry) exams, travel, housing, food, and payment for the final certification at the end of the 5-year study program are too much for most families in this community. I was touched to see that these young people are full of ambition and that they still hope to be able to follow their dreams even though chances are very small for them to get into university. But the community clearly needs these professions in the future!
For this reason, Alianza Arkana has developed a scholarship program to support some of these ambitious teenagers, who otherwise would not be able to pursue their academic dreams. Initially the scholarship program will focus on the Intercultural Teacher Training Program at the National Indigenous University in Pucallpa to ensure more qualified Shipibo teachers in primary and kindergarten schools in the future. Intercultural education programs that teach children from the perspective of both traditional and western knowledge systems are essential for the long-term prospects of the Shipibo communities and their environment. Obviously this is a high priority for Alianza Arkana’s educational work as it clearly supports its mission to protect and preserve the cultures of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest and to promote the empowerment of Indigenous Peoples.
Saturday, 03 September 2011