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Defending the Wampis and Awajún Indians

In the heart of the Peruvian jungle, in the Upper Marañon area, live the Amazonian peoples Wampis and Awajún, two peoples besieged by deforestation and whose life and culture are seriously threatened by the deployment of mining and oil activity. In addition to these two threats, the environmental risks arising from them, such as the contamination of rivers with mercury and other heavy metals, often go unnoticed. All of this endangers the main livelihoods of these populations who fish, gather and hunt but who are increasingly being forced into agricultural and subsistence production due to the increasing deterioration of the forest.

This reality is compounded by other factors such as the increase in population and the new needs arising in health, education and transport, which makes the situation of these indigenous peoples even more critical. The Wampis and Awajún children and young people are victims of a situation of extreme exclusion. They face daily sickness, severe deficits in nutrition and hygiene and, especially, a lack of learning expectations and opportunities for the future.

Entreculturas has been working in this area for many years in collaboration with two local organizations: SAIPE (Agricultural Service for Research and Economic Promotion) and the international movement for the promotion of education Fe y Alegría. SAIPE seeks to defend the territory of the Awajún and Wampis peoples as the basis of their life, identity and culture. To that end, it promotes the training of leaders, intercultural dialogue with the State and the implementation of sustainable production processes that guarantee the food security of the approximately 50,000 indigenous people of the Alto Marañón. On the other hand, with Fe y Alegría we work hand in hand to ensure that the forest is not a place to flee from, but a space of pride, hope and development for hundreds of indigenous children and youth, their families and their environment. At Entreculturas and Fe y Alegría we believe that the key to a different future is education. An education that not only respects ethnic diversity, but also incorporates it as a key to success and allows young people to acquire skills that they can later apply in the development of their peoples.

To this end, we are promoting the creation of educational spaces that meet the real needs of the context and that thus contribute to reducing illiteracy rates, malnutrition, gender inequality and the vulnerability that all of this entails in order to confront those who want to take advantage of their resources and the natural wealth of their habitat. An example of this is the “Jungle School” project, an initiative through which we accompany three Fe y Alegría educational centres: Fe y Alegría 55 Valentín Salegui School, a secondary school located in the district of Imaza, province of Bagua; Fe y Alegría 62 San José School, a primary and secondary school also located in Imaza; and Fe y Alegría 74 Nieva Institute of Technology, located in the district of Nieva, province of Condorcanqui.

The illiteracy rate in the Upper Maranon region is very high: 65 per cent of the local population has not managed to complete even primary education. Likewise, the number of out-of-school children is more than six times the national average, and the high level of school dropouts is very significant. In addition, there is a lack of teachers with pedagogical skills, which makes it very difficult for students to learn.

The State offers basic services that are generally of poor quality and do not incorporate an intercultural approach, imposing standardized educational models and programs that do not respond to the reality of the context. Nor do they provide for measures to address the alarming rates of anaemia and malnutrition, two issues that greatly limit children’s potential and cognitive development. “A child or young person who suffers from malnutrition will not be able to assimilate learning, cannot advance, cannot progress,” says Nelly Sempertegui, Director of Instituto Superior Tecnológico Fe y Alegría 74.

Another factor to take into account is that most of the Wampis and Awajún indigenous families live in very isolated communities, from which students have to walk three or four days to get to school. In the case of girls, moreover, the situation of vulnerability is greater during this journey, in addition to the tendencies of a macho culture that relegates the female gender to the role of caregiver, mother or wife at a very early age, which is why many girls either do not go to school or do not even finish primary school.

In the Fe y Alegría schools, an integral and intercultural education is promoted that allows the children and young people of these communities to recover their self-esteem and recognize their values and abilities. Special attention is also given to the issue of gender, encouraging girls and young women to enjoy their right to education and to have opportunities for the future. “Here they teach us to be brave women, peace makers, that we can move forward, that women should not be left behind,” says Liz Apikal, a student at San José de Fe y Alegría High School.

In addition, the “Escuela Selva” project is particularly committed to adding a vocational training dimension that will enable young people to acquire good qualifications and diversify their options for decent work. The students are trained in different areas such as innovation in food industries, agroforestry systems, use of renewable energies and sustainable farming and livestock production. Finally, much emphasis is placed on improving teacher training to enable quality education for students.

Despite the seriousness of the situation in the Upper Marañón, there are hopeful signs that the struggle for greater respect for indigenous rights is bearing fruit. More and more indigenous organizations are present in the different spaces of participation at the national and international level, achieving greater visibility for their demands.

From Entreculturas, we believe that it is essential to demand that the rights of indigenous peoples and the care of the environment are respected, so we work so that the forest is not seen as a place to be exploited, but as a space in which many generations have grown and developed and on which – although we often forget it – the subsistence of practically all humanity depends. The deterioration of the forest is a global problem, which affects us all: the defence of the rights of indigenous peoples is also the defence of our right to a healthy environment, to respect for diversity and life. And, in this sense, education must actively contribute to the construction of a critical conscience, which questions the model of development and which makes possible the transformation to more sustainable, equitable and peaceful models.

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