With our fundraiser to build an indigenous student centre in the Amazon now in full swing, we speak to Chaikuni’s Intercultural Education Coordinator Stefan Kistler and Student Monitor Sandra Soto to get the inside story on this important campaign. Working hand in hand with indigenous student organization OEPIAP which represents over 120 indigenous students from 15 Amazonian peoples in the Peruvian Amazon, they speak about the plans for the road ahead and the challenges indigenous youth face to make their dream of an indigenous student centre a reality.
How and why will this new student centre be different from the current temporary base?
Sandra Soto: The idea is that the new student centre will be created with the participation from the students from the beginning to end. As such it will integrate their culture, their traditional way of living and their vision of “buen vivir”. The current base is as you say; temporary. Students have no security for how long they can stay there. Living and study conditions are totally inadequate. A few examples? Up to five students share small and hot emergency “bungalows” designed for a different climate. When it rains, many of the houses are flooded. Over 100 students share 1 shower, 4 toilets, 6 lavatories, and 1 tap of drinking water. There is also no study space for the students.
In what ways will this centre benefit indigenous youth, in the short and long term?
Stefan Kistler: Once the centre is built, it will provide the indigenous students in Iquitos with a safe living space and an adequate environment for pursuing higher education. They will be able to leave behind worries such as “where do I sleep when I get to Iquitos?” or “Where do I get my daily meals?”. Instead, they will be able to focus on their studies. In the long term, the hope is that the centre will encourage more and more indigenous students to take the long trip to Iquitos and attempt pursuing higher education, bringing along the positive effects of an educated indigenous youth.
Where will the student centre be built?
Sandra: For many years, the student organization has lobbied and pressured the regional government for a permanent piece of land. There are several indications right now that this struggle finally bears some fruits. The regional government has indicated a piece of land on the outskirts of Iquitos, which hopefully very soon will be legally recognized as theirs.
What are the main challenges to build this centre?
Stefan: First, perhaps, it is important to mention the “invisibility” of the students. By this I mean to say that the general public in Iquitos doesn’t care much about a group of indigenous students, or they simply don’t know. As such, the students were standing quite alone in their struggle. They would obviously neither have the funding it would require to buy a piece of land and build on their own. Thus, the student organization had to interact with changing local governments over the years to place their demand. Current government typically wouldn’t recognize agreements signed by the previous one and negotiations started anew. In general, there is a lot of bureaucracy in a project like this, and government agencies tend to be very slow to respond.
Is there any other support for the building of this centre?
Sandra: It is important to point out that this fund-raiser goes towards the construction of a study centre. But the dream and vision of the students, for a student centre, is much larger and includes adequate housing facilities. OEPIAP has been pressuring and demanding the regional government to support the construction of housing facilities, and has obtained concrete promises from them that they will do so once the piece of land has been assigned. By raising funds to build the study centre, the Chaikuni Institute and the students intend to be proactive and pave the way for government funding to come after and complete the student’s dream of their own study and living space.
How will the funds from the crowdfunding campaign be used?
Stefan: For a while now, the students have been discussing with us their urgent needs and visions for building an adequate study space. This funding will first go directly to the building of a study centre, a traditional style Maloca (traditional Amazonian house structure) fully equipped with computers, internet, printing facilities, and adequate studying space. The aim is also to turn the centre into a site with permaculture projects. Finally, the intention is to provide alternative, ecological and cheap transport in the form of an innovative bicycle project. Obviously, much depends on how much funds the campaign is able to raise. Necessities are plenty, and if we exceed our expectations, the funds will contribute to housing and other infrastructure to complete the students’ vision.
Donate now on the campaign page and help us with this exciting effort! We have 10 more days to raise $5,000 from 40 donors and with your help we know we can succeed!