In the Peruvian Amazon, FORMABIAP has been a steady force for the advancement of intercultural bilingual education in a country where there are still many inequalities for indigenous peoples. Working hand in hand with indigenous organizations, communities and allies, FORMABIAP celebrates today its 30 years training teachers from indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon.
Its efforts represent the growing movement in Latin America to decolonize education, revitalize native languages and advance proposals towards indigenous autonomy. In honor of this anniversary and as an important ally of Chaikuni, we spoke with Never Tuesta, Coordinator of FORMABIAP on the importance of developing proposals from the bottom up and their dreams for the next 30 years towards greater interculturality.
CHAIKUNI: This week FORMABIAP celebrates its 30th anniversary. How do you feel?
NEVER: Very happy, because when we began the Program of Training of Bilingual Teachers of the Peruvian Amazon (FORMABIAP) in 1988 commissioned by the national indigenous organization AIDESEP, we were twelve people with different professions to meet this challenge. I remember that Lucy Tapnell Forero, who started as the director of FORMABIAP by the Institute of Higher Education Pedagogical Public Loreto, asked me if the Formabiap would reach at least 10 years and my response was that with the participation of the representatives of indigenous organizations with their cosmovision to advance the educational policy of the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon, we would not only reach the ten years but the thirty and many years. Now we are fulfilling those thirty years I dreamed about and I feel very happy.
CHAIKUNI: What inspired you to lead the FORMABIAP Program?
NEVER: I am a member of the Awajun indigenous people and I am also a Professor. In those earlier days, there were no professors of bilingual intercultural education. There were teachers trained by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), who were bilingual teachers but they focused on the language and not on the culture. Until 1985, I worked as the supervisor of education in the district of Imaza, province of Bagua in the region of Amazonas, an area whose population is made up of 90% Awajún indigenous peoples and 10% of settlers from Cajamarca and Piura. My great concern while working in this position was that we were fulfilling directives and educational programs which were totally alien to the cultural and linguistic reality of the children and teenagers, and didn’t take into account the needs and aspirations of my people. Due to these issues, Mr. Evaristo Nugkuan Ikanan, President of the national organization AIDESEP invited me to be in charge of scholarship program. The Board of AIDESEP then asked me to be part of the team leading socio-cultural, linguistic and educational research in the Peruvian Amazon, with the aim of demonstrating to the government the need to train indigenous teachers to work in their respective communities. Thus, in 1988 AIDESEP appointed me as coordinator of the FORMABIAP.
“Each one of us must have our educational policies in accordance with our reality. If not, everything is imposition.”
CHAIKUNI: How has the context for intercultural education changed in the past 30 years?
NEVER: One of the things that I feel joyful about and which I find very encouraging is to hear parents in the communities saying that they want their children’s education to be in their people’s knowledge, practices, language but also with knowledge of other cultures and peoples: this way, they say that they will have enough tools and our young people who finish their education can return to their communities, respecting us, developing our language and culture while also sharing in our norms and values, and being able to relate in this global world. Hearing this from parents in the community is a great change. The other thing that I would is that we have achieved greater visibility of indigenous peoples. We are promoting indigenous peoples to become part of the country’s politics, taking on different positions. The big problem that I see is that we do not have our own indigenous organization which could compete with these politics from the point of view of indigenous peoples.
“We believe that through education we can generate changes, but with a quality education, an education for indigenous peoples.”
CHAIKUNI: Do you think autonomous governments could be the path?
NEVER: Yes, because of all of this, we are now coming into a new step for autonomous governments, where you can implement your politics, your politics for education, health, how to organize, etc. Currently, we are being imposed models from above which are completely alien to us. Each one of us must have our educational policies in accordance with our reality. If not, everything is imposition. Yes, we have to enter politics but it is has to be politics from ourselves: what do we want, what kind of development do we want for our people, how do we manage the resources of our forests – our conception is totally different with the conception that it comes from outside. The conception from outside is to simply extract, extract, destroy everything. It is as if in the Amazon, there were no people. But we are people just like those living in Lima, we have the same rights, the same aspirations, the same needs to continue living. These autonomous proposals are the path, I feel. We must fight because if not, we will not exist as indigenous peoples.
CHAIKUNI: Can you tell us what education means within an indigenous community in the Amazon and why is it important?
NEVER: Education in the community happens through school. Community members have been made to believe that this education which comes from outside is the alternative in order to be “developed” through indigenous communities’ contact with the national society: churches, the state, and settlers. These schools are totally traditional school and very much alien to the reality of the community, and they do not have the capacity nor sufficient qualification to educate children within the conception of Western development. They are honestly utterly useless because they do not not prepare children for their community nor for the mestizo world. But the parents view it as something prestigious, as an institution, because people have been made to believe that this school will educate his children for this reality, for this dream to “develop”. Through the years, we realize that it has been a totally false/lie. Now even the communities are being critical of these schools. I can not tell you that we have changed the situation, this civilizational and homogenizing model is still very strong in the communities. But we will not generate changes if we do not have well-qualified teachers to work in our communities. We believe that through education we can generate changes, but with a quality education, an education for indigenous peoples. That is a great challenge for us.
“For me, interculturality is more about experience, it is practical life”
CHAIKUNI: Can you tell us about your experience as a young indigenous boy who wanted to study? What difficulties did you face?
NEVER: To go to secondary school, I had to go another province in the department of Cajamarca. In those days the trip from my community to this place took three days in motorboat [a slow-moving boat called “peque-peque”], one day of walking and another day by car. Leaving the community is one of the biggest shocks one can face. It was difficult, being far away and feeling de-rooted and alone. I remember the discrimination we had from our classmates for being from the jungle. It was very strong. We had to adapt to that reality, because we had no other.
CHAIKUNI: What is the best remedy or strategy to combat discrimination?
NEVER: The best strategy is to have your identity strengthened as a member of an indigenous people and learn about different cultures and traditions to establish a horizontal dialogue with the discriminator. From my own experience, the schools were training you to be a good mestizo, they did not strengthen much the identity as a member of an indigenous people. When I arrived to FORMABIAP, it was then that I began to think, I have to identify myself, I am from an indigenous people and I have to be proud of this people and thus relate to others in this way.
CHAIKUNI: What does intercultural education mean to you?
NEVER: For me, it is not something theoretical, it is not a concept that we have to discuss. For me, interculturality is more about experience, it is more practical life. But to put it into the practice of life, as a member of an indigenous people, I first must also know who I am, where I come from, who my ancestors are, what are my roots and I must also be concerned with learning about other peoples and cultures. Having this sensitivity enables one to establish this intercultural relationship.
CHAIKUNI: What is necessary in order for there to be more interculturality?
NEVER: We have to say “who am I”? Where do I come from and what are my aspirations forward as a person and as a member of an indigenous people: as an individual, what can I do for my people? And as a member of a national society, what can I contribute? I think everything stems from that, it has to come from the person. And we have to respect each other, we have the same rights and duties.
“In our education and upbringing, we are in constant interrelation with the environment“
CHAIKUNI: Can you tell us about learning with nature as part of intercultural education?
NEVER: When I speak of an education that takes into account the culture, I mean that since birth every indigenous person establishes a close relationship with their territory. In our education and upbringing, we are in constant interrelation with the environment. It is there that we learn, develop ourselves, feed ourselves, and strengthen our body and our spirit. We are in constant reciprocity with nature. That is the basis of what I mean when I speak of an education that takes into account the culture, because from there everything is born. By doing this, we are dealing with the environment and conservation, which is going to be future of the existence of indigenous peoples. The foundation of my knowledge comes from those years which I spent living in my community. In indigenous communities, education occurs throughout life and in constant relation with the territory.
CHAIKUNI: What inspires you to continue working today?
NEVER: I believe that changes can be made. I do not see that we will change the education of our country in the Amazon in another 30 years, but at the rate we’re going, we are going to make progress with the strength of organizations and communities. We have to respond to the peoples’ worries in all of the programs. We have to go back and talk with them, receive their input, etc. This what really inspires me to continue forward today, it’s the most fundamental.
CHAIKUNI: What are your dreams and hopes for the next 30 years of FORMABIAP?
NEVER: My dream would be that we expand the training in early and secondary education. I believe that if we manage to enter secondary school, we will be shaping children and teenagers who will have a stronger sense of identity, who will be valuing and recognizing what their people are, their knowledge, and their relation with their territory. This is a dream I have. The other thing would be to see that schools are a place where children can be happy and learn. I would like to see it being a friendly space where you can feel happy because in my life, the frustrations I had were during the first years of school, it was horrible for me. I would like to see a school that is not alien to the reality, problems and aspirations of the community, a school that responds to those needs of the community where it is located, and which incorporates parents in the processes of training their children. That is one of the other dreams that I have. Another dream is for there to be the participation of more indigenous professionals with other degrees in this Program, for example anthropologists, ecologists, etc.
CHAIKUNI: Like the indigenous students of OEPIAP…
NEVER: Yes exactly, they can participate in this process of training the next generations. This is another dream I have.
CHAIKUNI: What advice would you give to a young indigenous person in the Peruvian Amazon today?
NEVER: The first thing that I would say to them, so that they don’t have a very strong clash with this mestizo society, is that they need to have a really strong sense of identity and be proud of being indigenous. You need to know your culture and your language in order to have a strong identity and so that you can have that knowledge in order to be able to explain it to other people.
Find out more about FORMABIAP.