Indigenous Peoples - Healing through education
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report, published in Peru in August 2003, the political violence between 1980 and 2000 affected urban and rural areas differently. Rural areas and poorer departments had the most number of victims. Four out of ten casualties lived in Ayacucho, and of these four, three spoke Quechua. Most of them had no higher education, and those with secondary education were few and far between.
More than half of the 25,000 victims were males, aged between 20 and 49 years. 75% of those who suffered sexual violence were Quechua-speaking females. Many children lost their parents during the conflicts as most of the victims were heads of family. At the moment, many of these children, who have been traumatized, displaced and orphaned because of the conflicts, are trying to rebuild their lives. Rebeca Sevilla, EI Co-ordinator, was invited to take part in a NOVIB (Netherlands) mission to Huanta (Ayacucho). There, they visited the José María Arguedas school, built by the Parents' Association (APAFA). Most of its members are people who were displaced during the fights and have no intention of going back home. Edwin Aguilar Chavez, the headmaster, said, "We teach 200 children at primary level, with an equal girl-boy balance in the classes. Our first promotion will finish this year, and we would like to build more classrooms so that we can offer them a secondary school education. If they go to another school, they will not be able to keep up and will run the risk of dropping out very soon because they will not receive adequate attention. These children have problems, not only at school but also at home. Some sleep on the floor or don't always have food to eat. Certain parents or guardians cannot even read or write, nor speak Castilian." He went on to proclaim proudly that all teachers in the José María Arguedas school speak Quechua and that lessons are taught in both languages, even though some parents would rather that their children learn only Castilian. Understandably, since they cannot think of returning to the land they had to abandon, they want a different future for their sons and daughters. The school's equipment is somewhat basic. Furthermore, the teachers' pay is in no way related to the amount of pressure and the workload they have to bear. Classes have on average 35-40 children. As employees, their salaries vary between 70 and 140 dollars per month, i.e. almost half (and sometimes less) than those of other teachers in the same category, and in some cases, because they have not been given tenure. The teachers' organisational skills and dedication are impressive. Extra tuition is given to the pupils who are most behind in their classes, and a computer room is available for pupils in the higher grades. José María Arguedas school's teachers are members of EI's Peruvian affiliate SUTEP. The latter managed to secure payrises for them during their last strike. Furthermore, SUTEP aims to secure tenure for those who do not have it, and to find ways to prolong the attention span of the students, who are traumatised by war and whose familiy's livelihood have been affected. In its report, the Truth Commission recommends that the education sector be reformed so that it can provide a quality education for all, i.e. to promote an education that insists on respecting the differences between peoples and between their cultures; to adapt the school environment, in all aspects, to encompass the diversity of the peoples, their languages and regions. This proposal will only become a reality if the government and the civil society, including SUTEP, support the Integral Compensation Programme proposed by the Commission for the victims (financial compensation, compensation concerning health, education, the restitution of civil rights etc). EI is committed to this cause. The full report of the Truth Commission is available in Spanish and English on the following website: www.cverdad.org.pe This article first appeared in Worlds of Education Issue 8: Jan-Feb 2004