Educating Interculturally

On Thursday 26th November 2015 – during the week in Peru dedicated to activities related to intercultural education – Alianza Arkana, together with the Shipibo community of Santa Clara, hosted a visit of ten intercultural teachers and teacher trainers. The aim of the visit was to show and discuss the combined permaculture/intercultural education project set up by Alianza Arkana in the community just over a year ago.

llegando en San Francisco

The group of teachers were led by Profesor Eli Sánchez, a renowned Shipibo intercultural education specialist, who is also a key adviser for Alianza Arkana.

He is leading an initiative by ORAU – the Ucayali regional organization of the National Amazonian Peoples Organization, AIDESEP – to develop their own perspective on and practice of intercultural education, which is not just based on giving the minimum required number of classes in the native language, but which looks to go beyond this to strengthen indigenous cultural identity.

Speaking their native language well is an important part of Shipibo identity, clearly, but it also includes valuing traditional agricultural practices, stories, songs, legends, myths and crafts as well as the extraordinary knowledge of plant medicines that the ancestral Shipibo culture has cultivated over centuries.

Rusber completoWe were received in the community by the teacher in the primary school there, Profesor Rusber Picota Rodríguez, who is, himself, from Santa Clara.

He is deeply committed to educating the children in the only primary school class class in the community, which comprises all the six primary grades, to learn about their culture in depth.

Our Shipibo permaculture expert, Marcos Urquia, facilitated the event and opened it with a presentation on the permaculture project on four hectares of land attached to the school, which the community has made available for this purpose.

Marcos spoke first about the educational opportunities provided to the children by being involved in this project – learning about traditional methods of agriculture and also the possibility of including additional learning in mathematics – for example, by working out how many plants could be planted on land of a certain size if each plant required a certain space in which to grow – as well as in biology and environmental sciences.

He then went on to outline our ‘Grow and Cook’ program where food grown on the land, which is now already producing bananas and yucca and, in the near future, will produce many fruits and other crops such as corn, guaba, lemons, oranges, papaya, watermelon, pineapples, chiles and tomatoes, will be used to help provide nutritious breakfasts for the children – many of whom are going to school hungry and therefore unable to concentrate on their lessons.


After hearing Marcos’ presentation of the project in the classroom that was also the library that a previous volunteer had helped create, and which had been beautifully decorated by Profesor Rusber, we then went to visit the adjacent land, which was the most impressive part of the visit, to see in practice what Marcos had just been talking about.

Marcos exponiendo 2 Marcos en la chakra

After a short break in which we were served a bowl of traditional chapo (a soupy drink made with grated banana), we reconvened to hear a short inspiring talk by Profesor Eli Sánchez about his vision for a genuine intercultural education for Shipibo children and how he was working with ORAU to implement this, which generated an interesting and involved discussion.

Profesora hablando

I was very struck by the difference between this event, in its liveliness and engagement, and the event I had attended the day before, at which the State Governor had been present. In this event, the Director of the Regional Department of Education and all the heads of the decentralized Provincial Departments of Education presented their work in intercultural education.

We were told, mainly through numbers, of the advances in intercultural education that had been made throughout the Ucayali region, which contrasted sharply with the the poor education most children in rural Shipibo schools receive that all attending knew was the reality in contrast to the rhetoric we were hearing.

The event concluded with brief comments from Diego Villegas Kau and Dr Paul Roberts, respectively Director of Agro-Forestry and Director of Intercultural Education for Alianza Arkana.

ensalada de mango y pepino mazamora de doncella

We were then treated to one of the best and most nutritious lunches that I have ever had in a Shipibo community – mazamorra de doncella (catfish stew) accompanied by a salad of mango and cucumber, washed down with refresco de camu camu, a drink made with an Amazonian berry rich in Vitamin C. We ate this the traditional way in beautiful, small ceramic bowls decorated with Shipibo designs, using hard green banana skins as spoons.

madres preparando el almuerzo

The meal had been organized by Profesor Rusber working with a group of mothers from the community and all the children and their families joined us for the lunch.

Profesor Eli Sánchez will now take the learning from this project and include it in the proposals for similar intercultural educational projects that ORAU will develop.

I am personally delighted by this as we have always wanted our educational projects to be potential models for schools throughout the Shipibo nation and it is much more appropriate that this initiative is led by ORAU as the regional indigenous peoples organization than by a non-profit.

As we say about our work on the home page of our website:

“Alianza Arkana builds bridges. Communities lead.”


Posted by Dr Paul Roberts, Director of Intercultural Education, Alianza Arkana 29th November 2015








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