On the weekend of the 10th and 11th of December, in the Shipibo community of Santa Rosa de Dinamarca, we completed the interview process to award six scholarships in three Shipibo communities to study the five-year degree program of intercultural education to become fully qualified teachers at the National Indigenous University of the Amazon (UNIA) in Yarina/Pucallpa – the first and, so far, only indigenous university in Peru.
We are awarding these scholarships to young people who we believe have the academic and leadership ability – as well as the commitment to their culture – to become excellent intercultural teachers in schools in their indigenous communities, as a key part of our work to help preserve the Shipibo culture, which is increasingly under threat.
In Dinamarca, we interviewed five young people. The leading candidate was Ericcson, pictured above, who impressed us with his confidence and maturity, his excellent results at secondary school, his commitment to and knowledge of the Shipibo culture, and his proven leadership ability.
The choice for the second scholarship was much more difficult. It was a dead tie between Elias, the son of Maestro Elias who works at the Temple of the Way of Light, and Ishmael, a keen footballer who helped his community win the Shipibo world cup in January 2011.
It was so difficult to decide between them that we brought them both back to Pucallpa the following day to receive another interview from Professor Luis Márquez Piñedo, an expert in intercultural education and Director of the intercultural school at Puerto Firmeza that Alianza Arkana is supporting.
Luis had helped us with previous interviews in the community of Poayhán. He enabled us to decide that Ishmael was the preferred candidate, because of his greater knowledge of and commitment to Shipibo culture.
In the week before going to Dinamarca, we had interviewed students from the urban Shipibo community of Bena Jema, in the heart of the indigenous area of the main regional city of Yarina/Pucallpa. As in many parts of the world, large numbers of indigenous people are leaving their rural communities to migrate to cities where their children can have better educational opportunities and where there is more work available.
In the community of Bena Jema we had received applications from three students already at UNIA training to be intercultural teachers, and one application from a 23 year old young woman, Teolinda, who had already passed the University entrance exam in 2009, but did not then have the financial resources to be able to attend the university.
From the interviews with these four young people, it was evident that all had the ability to be good teachers. For this reason, we decided to divide the two scholarships between the four of them. This is possible because one of them only has one year to complete his course, another is half way through it, and the third is about one quarter completed. Without this financial support, it is very unlikely that these three students would be able to complete their teacher-training program.
Prior to these interviews in Bena Jema, Paul Roberts and Luis Márquez had completed final interviews in the community of Poayhán, about ten hours downriver from Pucallpa. The two candidates chosen here are very different from one another.
Ishmael is a mature 26 year old from the community of Poayhán who has already completed two years in a bilingual, teacher-training Institute that formerly existed in Pucallpa and that was later absorbed into the UNIA. He had to give up his studies because he did not have the financial resources to continue. He has set up a youth group in his local community to help defend the community against territorial invasions by illegal loggers, and is also involved in local politics.
Roberth is a bright, responsive, open 18 year old from the community of Poayhán. He is the grandson of a well-known shaman in the community, who has trained two of the Maestras who work at the Temple of the Way of Light. One of the unusual and impressive aspects of Roberth is that he wants to work with children at kindergarten level, which is normally seen to be womens’ work.
We are very pleased with the caliber and commitment of all these young people and believe we have put them through a rigorous and fair selection process, greatly helped by the advice of Professor Luis Márquez.
One disappointment is that we were only able to select one young woman to receive a scholarship. This is principally because much fewer young women than men applied, and those who did were greatly lacking in confidence, and did not inspire the sense that they would be able to complete a demanding five-year program of study, with the notable exception of Teolinda.
This indicates that we need to be working more with Shipibo young women to help them give the confidence and ability to become the professionals in teaching and other careers that their communities desperately need.
Wednesday, 28 December 2011