Text & Photo by Sophie Pinchetti
Last weekend, indigenous youth of indigenous student organization OEPIAP organized a minga (communal work) in coordination with The Chaikuni Institute’s Sui Sui Program on the land which the regional government has promised them and where they hope to build their long-awaited and dreamed student centre.
Equipped with machetes, rakes, and blow guns, around 50 indigenous students attended the minga and began cleaning up the 0.6 hectare land, demarcating its perimeters with tape and wooden poles, and planting a few mamey trees with the help of Chaikuni’s Permaculture team. “I feel happy, we are working for the good of our people. Having our own land will facilitate many things, especially for our studies. It will be like our own home, and we will be able to study better there as well,” said Orfelinda Shunta Santiak, an indigenous Awajun student, paintbrush in hand.
“I feel happy, we are working for the good of our people. Having our own land will facilitate many things, especially for our studies”
The student centre will provide a stable place for indigenous students who have left their remote communities to come to the bustling city of Iquitos in order to pursue their dream of higher education and becoming professionals, as well as improve access to higher education for all future generations of indigenous youth in the Peruvian Amazon.
Acquiring the land has not been easy. It is the result of years of struggle – since 2012 to be precise – when OEPIAP signed an agreement with the regional government and University of the Peruvian Amazon, in which these authorities and institutions pledged to provide basic services for the students including accommodation and food. Years went by while these promises remained unfulfilled. Then finally, at the close of last 2017, and after a gruelling lobbying process which our Intercultural Education Sui Sui Program has been accompanying, the indigenous students succeeded in pressuring the regional government to comply with one of their many promises, and were granted a 10-year land lease where the student centre will be built. “We come from very far away and we have great necessities – that is why this land is so important for us”, said Leonarda Suarez Guerrera, a Ticuna student. “We have been struggling for this land and student center so that future generations that come after us have a real space and won’t be suffering like us, they will have a proper space to study, they will be able to feel stable in their studies as well as in the space in which they are living”.
“We want the regional governor to prioritize and approve the construction of the temporary malocas for the indigenous students”
The students are now eager to move to the allocated land plot as quickly as possible. Construction plans have been underway with the regional government for the building of two large malocas, which would hold up to 80 people and provide a temporary solution. “We want the regional governor to prioritize and approve the construction of the temporary malocas for the indigenous students” declared Edgar Peas Garciaz, President of OEPIAP and Kichwa student, emphasizing that the technical part of the construction has already been elaborated.
“With this student center, indigenous peoples from different regions and parts of the Amazon will finally have a better chance to give their children the opportunity to access higher education and become professionals”
“At the very least, I hope they fulfill this commitment to indigenous peoples”, affirmed Elisvan Greffa Yumbo, Vice-President of OEPIAP and Kichwa student. “Indigenous youth from different river basins in the Amazon have no place to live when they arrive to Iquitos. OEPIAP has always fought for this, claiming this right to education. After over 40 years of oil exploitation in indigenous territories which has generated significant income for the country, there is hardly anyone that is prepared as a professional or educated to higher education level in the communities. With this student center, indigenous peoples from different regions and parts of the Amazon will finally have a better chance to give their children the opportunity to access higher education and become professionals.”
The Sui Sui Program of the Instituto Chaikuni was happy to support the coordination of this minga and continues to support OEPIAP, an indigenous student organization representing more than 120 indigenous youth from 13 native peoples across the Peruvian Amazon, with whom we have partnered for several years. We are currently raising funds to enhance the student centre with the construction of fully equipped computer/study room and office which will provide adequate studying conditions for this indigenous youth in Iquitos.
Find out more about the campaign and donate here. Support this indigenous youth, they are the future of the Amazon!