Indigenous Youth Living in Two Worlds
Our partner organisation FENAMAD (Federación Nativa del Río Madre de Dios y Afluentes) supports indigenous students in the Peruvian Amazon who have to move to the city for their studies. The organisation also supports secondary school students. Higher education provides a great opportunity for the young people themselves as well as for the indigenous communities. That is why FENAMAD works at various interfaces and supports the young people and children in accessing education and in acquiring further social and intercultural skills.
Photo report from the project in Peru
More and more indigenous young people are moving to the city to study. However, it is a big challenge for them in many ways. They often have very limited financial resources, which means that they cannot afford stable housing and healthy food. And often there is no adequate care available to them. In addition, they repeatedly encounter discrimination.
JJosé Antonio Dumas and Katya Mallea from FENAMAD coordinate and manage the education project in Puerto Maldonado and Pilcopata. FENAMAD supports the indigenous students in their balancing act between living in their community and studying in the city. For the time of their studies, the students can live in the “Casa Miraflores”, a residence which is provided by FENAMAD and which offers the young people a safe space where they can live and study. In addition, they receive individual support from Katya Mallea (r.), a psychological specialist, who helps them develop their self-confidence and plan their future. Personal tutoring and artistic workshops are also available to them.
Half an hour’s boat ride from Puerto Maldonado is a community garden, which is looked after and maintained by the young people under the supervision of a former student and graduate farmer. The route across the water is normal in the Peruvian Amazon, often even the only possibility to reach certain spots. Depending on the water level and the weather, they visit the garden twice a week in small groups.
After the boat ride, the trail leads through the rainforest for half an hour.
Once in the garden, they immediately get to work. Many young people used to help with gardening in their village communities when they were young and therefore know their way around.. The picture shows them gathering turmeric, which they use in the kitchen. Through gardening the young people learn to take responsibility for their own existence among other things.
They also grow plantains, which are an important ingredient of the Peruvian cuisine, especially in the Amazon lowlands. The yields from the community garden provide a balanced diet for the students. It also provides them with an occupation close to nature and their culture and is an important counterbalance to life in the city.
The education project would not be possible without close cooperation with the village communities. Therefore, FENAMAD regularly visits the communities to identify their problems and needs and to look for solutions together with them. For these visits, the path often leads across water as well.
On our last visit we went with FENAMAD to Puerto Luz, where an extensive meeting with the whole village community took place. We exchanged ideas about the young people’s studies and their lives in the city, far away from their families. Studying in the city is also a political issue for the whole community and a beneficial result for the community is expected. This meeting clearly showed how important FENAMAD’s support services in Puerto Maldonado are for these young indigenous students, a fact which was also confirmed in the various conversations with the parents and the teachers of the secondary school.
During the visits to the village communities FENAMAD talks to the young people and their parents. In these conversations, questions and problems, but also expectations and wishes are discussed. In this way mutual trust has developed in the last few years and the project has become well established in the indigenous communities.
Some students come from communities that can be reached in five hours, but in other cases, the journey takes several days. Depending on the water level of the river, it can happen that the students are not able to visit their families for several months. In addition, transport is very expensive.
FENAMAD now also supports secondary school students in Huacaria, a community where Machigenkas, Wachiperis and Quechuas live together. There is no secondary school in Huacaria itself. The nearest one is in Pilcopata – too far away for the young people from Huacaria to attend school regularly and without problems.
That is one of the reasons why many indigenous young people from Huacaria do not get beyond primary education. The municipality, together with FENAMAD, is therefore looking for a way to stop these frequent cases of dropping out.
The solution is a residential house in Pilcopata for the students from Huacaria but also for those from even remoter communities. EcoSolidar has financed the construction of this house, consisting of bedrooms, toilets and showers, a kitchen and a “maloka” (community house) in the middle.The “maloka” was built by the parents and their children in community work. Thus the involved parties intend to counteract the fact that many children drop out of school, either because the ways to school are too long or because the families are too poor. Now the young people can live in Pilcopata during the week, where the secondary school is also located, and return to their communities at the weekend. The community is prepared to organise the supervision and preparation of meals for the young people and FENAMAD is providing a tutor for school supervision.
In Amalia, a very small community, there is a primary school that was built by the community itself. This primary school is currently attended by 12 children. These children should later have the opportunity to attend secondary school. FENAMAD assists the community as an advisory and mediating counterpart.
Amalia can only be reached by boat or by walking through the rainforest for several hours. FENAMAD works with full dedication; in cooperation with the communities and the students, they are able to take a holistic approach.