Strengthening youth in the Amazon region

Strengthening youth in the Amazon region

By Eufronio Toro Vaca

The rural youth of the Amazon region desire to remain in their communities but they are aware that they must migrate to the cities. Their aspirations, including education, employment and healthcare, cannot be met where they currently live. Added to these are the expectations of their families and communities. Yet even in the obligatory migration to the big cities, the hope endures of returning to their communities and contributing to their development – and the youth themselves foresee that this will take a great deal of time.

It is in this context that a collective of partners is implementing a bold project: “Caring for our Common Home: Raising awareness and intercultural, bilingual education in the educational centres of Fe y Alegría.” The partners include the Jesuit Service for the Pan-Amazon (SJPAM), Fe y Alegría of Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, and the Xavier Network, of which Canadian Jesuits International is a member. Together, the collective aims to strengthen the local, land-based identity of the students, teachers and communities by way of a pan-Amazon perspective. There are 26 Fe y Alegría educational centres involved, directly benefiting 11,664 students and 697 teachers, as they adapt the educational goals of the schools to the challenges particular to the locality where each centre is found.

Students in the Chipiriri Educational Unit display Amazonian fruit. (Photo: Neptalí Huayllani)

In preparation for this initiative, a mapping exercise of the schools was undertaken to identify the characteristics, concerns and alternatives for action of the educational centres located in the Amazon biome. The map was drawn along lines pertinent to the project: intercultural and bilingual education, and the care and defence of nature.

Currently, work is being done in gathering knowledge, elaborating a formative proposal, producing pedagogical materials, accompanying and training teachers, compiling the uses of the indigenous and Spanish languages, sensitizing and enabling teachers and group leaders, and undertaking actions of communal import.

To improve the quality of education of the students, teacher training is essential. Also fundamental for student learning is a close relationship between family and school. Furthermore, a close relationship between the school and the rest of the community encourages new perspectives in the development and enrichment of the culture of the youth. The students, especially the indigenous students, show interest in both the care and defence of nature as well as in the history and customs of their ancestors. They feel proud to be indigenous. Their hopeful dreams are pillars that fortify Vivir Bien, a concept understood as the harmonious co-existence between human beings and Mother Earth. These dreams also urge the growth of knowledge and skill for the construction of a just and equal society.

Endowed with marvellous cultural and spiritual wealth, thanks to the diversity of peoples who have adapted to the conditions in which they live, the Amazon region opens a new horizon for youth, so long as the education system bases itself on the values and knowledge of their own culture.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of CJI’s Mission News. Eufronio Toro is a coordinator of the Pan-Amazon Caring for Our Common Home initiative.

(Banner photo by Elvira Noe Moye: Students at Santa Maria Educational Unit in Trinidad, Bolivia, engage in group work)