Photography & Text by Sophie Pinchetti
On an early Sunday morning in the Peruvian Amazon, a 30-strong convoy of bicycles mounted by Amazonian indigenous students, our Intercultural Education Sui Sui program and groups of local cyclists took the motorbike-filled streets of Iquitos by surprise. Wearing t-shirts with the slogan “Conduce Tus Sueños” (“Drive your Dreams”), their cycle announced the launch of a new exciting pilot project which we have created in partnership with OEPIAP, a local indigenous student organization representing over 120 indigenous youth from 15 Amazonian peoples.
“Conduce Tus Sueños” is a project that seeks to promote the use of bicycles as alternative and ecological transportation for the indigenous youth. Leaving their remote communities to come to Iquitos with the dream of accessing higher education and becoming professionals, these young people face multiple challenges: a key difficulty is the lack of economic resources to meet their local transportation costs. Many of the students walk several hours daily to reach their respective educational institutions. “The bicycles were the students’ idea because of their need to travel around the city”, comments Stefan Kistler, Coordinator of our Intercultural Education Program Sui Sui, which provides vital support and monitoring to the indigenous youth of OEPIAP in order to improve their living and studying conditions. “Before there were a few students who would travel around by bike – and so we had the idea of starting a project with bicycles”.
With smiles all around, the launch event saw indigenous youth cycling at the front of the convoy joined by three local cycling collectives, including “La Manchita”, “Locos por la Selva”, and “El Grupo Chelo”, who regularly gather to cycle around the city or around the jungle. From the centre of Iquitos, the convoy cycled to Pampa Chica, the temporary base of indigenous student organization OEPIAP, where the initially procured 10 bicycles will be stored and managed by the students for their travel. “I think everyone is going to enjoy them and use them as transport. I had a beautiful time cycling with the bike”, affirms Orfelinda, an Awajun indigenous student from the Amazonas region. “It is a great idea for us because it is going to help us travel to our classes. Little by little, we will get used to the dangers and rules of transport. I really like the bikes, and I hope that there will be more as time goes on for our comrades here and those in the future”, told us Joel Impi, another Awajun student.
The indigenous students, in alliance with the local cycling collectives, also hope that the project will lead as an example for ecological alternatives and better living in the bustling city of Iquitos where a mad cacophony of sputtering motorbike engines can be found at every street corner. “This is a new initiative, a new focus”, declared Elisvan, Vice-President of OEPIAP and an indigenous Kichwa student from the Putumayo river. “The city is increasingly polluted – from noise pollution but also from the toxic gases emitted by motorised vehicles. This is a good and adequate alternative and it is well adapted to our environment. We also want to send a message to the authorities so that they implement adequate cycling lanes like they have in Lima, for example.”
Upon arrival to Pampa Chica, the students and our Sui Sui program welcomed the press, cycling collectives and Patricia Urquizo, head of the sports department of the municipality of Maynas, with some delicious juanes (a classic Amazonian dish with spiced rice and chicken wrapped in a leaf) and an introduction to OEPIAP and the pilot project. OEPIAP´s Vice-President Elisvan Greffa took the opportunity to voice the struggles indigenous youth face in the Peruvian Amazon. “We have always fought to claim our rights like that of higher education and intercultural education. In the authorities’ speeches, they talk about intercultural education, but this is not put into practice. It just stays as a discourse”, Elisvan told the audience. “As indigenous students, our aim is to prepare ourselves academically and thus contribute to our people, to our society, to contribute to the change that we want and that we are all looking for. When people organize, things can be achieved. This is our strength”.
Just before midday, we left Pampa Chica, while the students’ smiles and laughter continued as they cycled around their grounds on their new rides, the air full of promise and hope for the road ahead.
Are you excited as us about the bicycles for the indigenous students? We need your help! As of now, there are only 10 bicycles for over 120 students – it’s a start but it’s not enough. You can donate directly to buy more bicycles through our campaign on the Global Giving platform, as part of our project to build an indigenous student centre for the indigenous youth in order to improve their studying and living conditions.