A large cloud of dust is raised by dozens of tiny feet charging towards me while I walk down the last street to get to work. Seconds later, a crowd of little excited Shipibo children embraces me in long hugs and kisses, as they have been doing every morning since I started volunteering with Alianza Arkana.
Since August of 2014 I have been teaching first to fourth grade at the elementary school of the urban Shipibo indigenous community Bena Jema and will continue to do so until August of this year. Thanks to the reliable and good work of former volunteers, the school’s teachers have trustfully given me several hours a week of class time to independently fill with a curriculum that I consider suitable.
The community of Bena Jema is very poor, in a state perpetuated by low-level education and food scarcity. My students come out of large families that do not have the financial means to equip their children with basic materials for school or provide regular meals every day.
The classes I teach are crammed with each 50 students, whose grumbling stomachs often limit their concentration and ability to sit still. It took me a few weeks to know how to tame the bunch of fidgeting kids, that would rather just spend all day braiding my hair or being tickled and chased. I was able to teach the kids about their personal hygiene, focusing on washing hands and keeping their teeth clean. Every child got their first, very own tooth brush and since then, making a line at the outdoor faucet for the morning dental hygiene has become an enjoyed daily routine.
A problem that I have been working on most intensively during my time has been the lack of reading and writing skills. Many children’s parents do not know how to read and write properly, creating an environment almost free of written words, which slows down the learning process of the children in a modern educational environment. Besides the afternoon reading activities and class segments, I am now setting up a small library of easy stories and tales for the kids to rummage in or take home for the day.
Starting with Earth Day on April 22nd, I introduced a new topic into my teachings: environmental awareness. Having only ever left their community for other urban districts, these children have never seen, nor really even heard about the beautiful rainforests that covered their ancestors’ lands not too long ago. The plastic wrappers of their lunch crackers float in masses through the heated air and wash away with the next rain into the nearest body of water, the river, the Amazon, the ocean. With experiments, crafts and video presentations I will try to open their minds to the world beyond the boundaries of Pucallpa, the decomposition of organic material and recycling of the waste we produce.
The work with the Shipibo children of Bena Jema is as challenging and exhausting as it is fun and rewarding. The kids have without a doubt stolen my heart and also enjoy spending their free time with me jump roping, reading and playing musical chairs, sometimes knocking on my door at 7am on a Sunday morning.
Charly has been volunteering with Alianza Arkana since August 2014 through a collaboration with the German organization Eco-Selva.