In his first address as President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, the country’s indigenous president, stated that his people, who constitute the country’s majority population, were not invited in 1825 to the founding of Bolivia. Despite a few constitutional provisions guaranteeing indigenous rights, indigenous people still remain at a serious disadvantage in every significant aspect of civilian life. DVV International promotes efforts to overcome cultural and economic deprivation through adult education. Efforts in this direction include rural boarding schools where components of general education are combined with agricultural and vocational training. As most of these schools serve indigenous populations, they attach great importance to the recuperation of traditional languages and culture. In the following article, Betzabéth Zambrana Urizacari, director of one such boarding school in northern region of the Altiplano, describes her school‘s approach.
CETHA, the Centro de Educación Técnica Humanística Agropecuaria “Ildefonso de las Muñecas”, is an education centre for youth and adults located in the com munity of Titicachi, which lies in the Andean valley of Muñecas Province in Bolivia’s Department of La Paz. CETHA operates under the jurisdiction of the municipality and educational district of Chuma, and serves three municipalities of Muñecas Province – Chuma, Ayata, and Aucapata. A number of students from Camacho Province also participate in activities at the centre.
The area’s inhabitants are of Quechua and Aymara origin. The mestizo population in the capital cities of the municipalities is mainly composed of elderly individuals who maintain close bonds with their families and “residents” in La Paz. Although few in number, they are struggling to regain leadership and political power over the indigenous communities that form the majority of the population. The population of this region belongs to the so-called Mollo culture that proceeds from the Seigneury (Señorío or Kurakasko) of Kallahuaya.
The economy of the region is based on subsistence farming. Maize (corn), potatoes, fava beans, and oca are the main crops. Harvests rarely yield more than what is necessary for family consumption, leaving little or no surpluses for the market. The people also engage in livestock production. Each family maintains on the average of 15 to 25 sheep and goats, as well as a few pigs and pack animals. Guinea pigs and chickens are also kept as a source of food.
Although significant progress has been made in terms of organization and social participation, much remains to be done. In general, the people are not well informed and lack the self-assurance and confidence to take on municipal govern ment positions or to serve on surveillance committees (comités de vigilancia). The structures of social organization are very weak in the region. Local leaders lack training, and individualism is on the rise.
In spite of gradual progress, women in the region still face severe marginalization and discrimination. Eighty-five percent of the female population is monolingual and speaks only Quechua.
CETHA offers general education opportunities, vocational training, and training in farming practices and animal raising. Activities are developed in two different settings according to different focuses, depending on the needs and interests of the participants. The settings and focuses are summarized in the following table:
CETHA’s educational focuses are geared to the promotion of local development and community education. They are characterized by the following general features.
The calendar of learning activities is designed to correspond to farming cycles and patron saint festivals (fiestas patronales), and to accommodate daily schedules so as to facilitate attendance on the part of both women and men. Based on these criteria and on participant suggestions gathered during evaluations, the team in charge of scheduling activities works out a proposal, which is then submitted to the assembly for deliberation and approval at the next assembly.
As the different farming rhythms make it difficult to accommodate everyone simultaneously, this procedure was established to allow sufficient time for all members of the Aymara and Quechua communities to study the proposal, give their opinions, and reach a consensus.
Materials produced by CETHA
Source: Betzabéth Zambrana Urizacari
The idea for community classes emerged in an environment characterized by con formity and misinformation to overcome the widespread impression carried over from the days of the former landlords (patrones) that indigenous peoples are not allowed to think for themselves or analyze their situation. The classes are designed to create spaces where participants can come together to reflect on national reali ties and develop a sense of critical awareness. Every month when the cycle of in-person classes takes place, a four hour workshop is held around human rights and Bolivian reality.
Comments such as the following illustrate the value that participants attach to the classes:
“The community classes are very helpful to me. More and more I am overcoming the fears that have kept me from taking action. Now I know that all of us have the same value. I have come to feel that I am equal to people who live in other places, and that I am worthy because I am a person.”
“What we learn in the community classes is very positive. It has helped me guide my community in the process of organization. In my function as a community extension worker I conduct the same activities that we do here. The activities appeal to the people. We have given a lot of thought to the organization of our community.”
The community classes follow an approach based on participatory group dynam ics. A variety of different methods are used, including ongoing dialogue which serves as a kind of mirror, allowing the participants to reflect on their ideas and feelings. The impressions they gather become the building blocks of their work. In some cases videos dealing with the topics of discussion provide useful points of departure for analysis.
Before national or municipal elections take place, the entire election process is simulated at the centre. Participants form electoral courts (which oversee and regulate the electoral process), set up voter registration sites, and appoint electoral panels. They practice every step of the voting process – voting by secret ballot, tallying the votes, and documenting the tallies – to ensure that the individuals who are actually elected to serve on the electoral panels will be well-prepared to carry out their functions. The forums are organized well in advance of elections. Each participant selects a political party and gathers information on that party’s political platform and agenda. All the facilitators take part as well, and everyone contributes as much information as possible from a wide range of sources including newspapers, radio broadcasts, political campaign literature, materials published by political parties, and information from public debates. Some participants take on the role of journalists and have the chance to practice their language skills as they cover the election. Debate forums provide a positive context for the students to learn and become better informed.
Culture Nights provide opportunities for common cultural expression. In the words of the participants:
“The Education Centre Ildefonso de las Muñecas is a place for us participants from different sectors of the province to meet in order to study together and share our experiences. At the Culture Nights, for instance, we organize ourselves into groups to celebrate and preserve our customs, our dances, our traditional dress, and the typical, autochthonous music of our Quechua and Aymara region.”
The region is rich in cultural heritage. Muñecas is a remote province, and there is little contact there with the city. As a result, the inhabitants still maintain many autochthonous traditions steeped in cultural meaning. Although current genera tions follow those traditions, they no longer fully understand the deeper meaning behind them. The Cultural Nights bring people together in order to reconstruct and investigate the meaning and significance of ancient cultural practices.
Source: Betzabéth Zambrana Urizacari
At CETHA we hold it to be a contradiction for students not to dedicate as much time to the study of their maternal language (Aymara or Quechua), which they know only in terms of the instrumental and functional aspects, as they invest from primary through secondary school and beyond in learning Spanish grammar, syntax, phonetics, and literature. Shouldn’t this be the correct approach in a multi lingual country? What does “bilingualism” really mean? We have spent much time reflecting on questions like these.
During the first years of CETHA’s existence, we facilitators were struck by the vehemence with which participants rejected the idea of taking time to learn Aymara or Quechua grammar. Their attitude was: “Why should we spend time studying something we already know?” and “There should be a ban on speaking Aymara or Quechua at CETHA. We need to practice Spanish”.
Our work, however, is based on the conviction that language is more than just a means of communication. It is the medium that structures our thoughts, our culture, and our understanding of life. As such, it merits deeper study and consideration.
The Independence Day celebrations on the 6th of August in Bolivia play a vital role in rural education. The festivities are a test of prestige, so to speak, for the teachers at the “nucleus” schools (rural indigenous schools that teach grades 1 through 5) and the satellite or “sectional” schools (grades 1 through 3). Agendas that include the singing of patriotic hymns, sports events, parades, and poetry recitations of fer teachers an occasion to show how well they have taught their students about citizenship. Ever since CETHA’s first years of operation, the centre has been invited to take part in the festivities that are held on the eve of Independence Day and on the national holiday itself. According to Orlando Chura, one of the centre’s facilitators, the decision was taken after lengthy discussions at a CETHA assembly that the centre’s students should participate in the parade wearing their traditional attire, the “Runa p’acha”.
“All of us, both the students as well as the staff, decided to wear the “Runa p’acha” on the 6th of August. Considering that what we are commemorating on this day is our nation’s independence, we have the right to wear our own traditional garments and to feel proud, not ashamed, of our origins.”
It greatly surprised the entire community the first few times everyone wore ethnic attire. Wiphalas (square indigenous emblems used as flags), zampoñas (reed flutes) and Runa p’acha were the last things people expected to see on a day like the 6th of August when everyone normally made an effort to show how integrated they were in national life. Girls had been accustomed to dressing in city skirts. Boys wore two piece suits and sunglasses. It has been gratifying to note these past few years that girls from the rural indigenous “sectional” and “nucleus” schools now march in the parades dressed in their “Runa p’acha”; new Whipalas enrich the festivities.
It was very difficult to organize the first education fair, for the students categorically refused to participate. In the end, the facilitators were only able to win over three or four volunteers. The rest of the students stood by and watched passively, leaving the facilitators to make all the arrangements. The community’s response was very positive. The occasion was used to sell surplus garden produce from the centre’s agricultural programme. During the final evaluation of the event, prizes were given as an incentive to those who had participated.
The exhibits at the fairs are prepared as group efforts. The group in charge of the centre’s agriculture and livestock stand constructs three-dimensional scale models (maquetas) portraying the programme’s work. The students paint pictures on cloth and paper depicting situations having to do with environmental issues, soil conser vation, or the health and care of animals. Farm produce and seeds are offered for sale as an additional feature of the agricultural and livestock stand.
The students in charge of organizing the display for the general education pro gramme make puppets as a tool to help convey messages concerning human rights issues, the situation of women, or nature conservation, and also to give a visual idea of the work conducted at CETHA. They elaborate wall newspapers and flyers, instruments which have proven very useful in the centre’s work. In addition, a com mittee is set up to organize learning games for both children and grown-ups.
Students from the vocational education programme show their skills in the various crafts and trades, using techniques which lend themselves to live demonstrations. This is particularly the case in the area of metalworking. The exhibit is also used as an occasion to generate publicity for the programme and advertise the serv ices which the centre is able to offer the community in the areas of metalworking, blacksmithing, and welding.
Closing Ceremony of the school year
Source: Betzabéth Zambrana Urizacari
During ceremonies held at the close of the school year, students synthesize what they have learned over the course of the year in presentations that they make before an audience of higher and lower indigenous authorities and leaders (kurakas and sullka kuracas) from the entire canton and the various local communities. Members of the communities and the students’ families are also invited to attend the ceremo nies. The idea for this type of activity arose as an effort to overcome the formalism of speeches and more speeches at official functions.
All the topics chosen for the presentations in each subject area at the different levels revolve around a central theme. The students deliver their presentations on their topic in an objective manner. The following table of the topics chosen for presentations at the last school closing function is intended to give an idea of how a typical ceremony might be organized.
“Water” – a contemporary topic of great import and a critical issue of common concern – was selected as the central theme.
The idea of producing in order to create something – for the enjoyment involved, to grow in the process, and not just for the sake of winning and competing – this is our philosophy, with thoughts of Warisata in mind, the first indigenous school that nurtured the capacity to dream and transform our complex and contradictory reality using resources of our own, the most important of which is our ability to think and to transform our world.
“To produce is to live” is the motivating motto of Justo Pastor Condori, CETHA’s agricultural facilitator, who is also in charge of the centre’s farming operations. Many different approaches and methods have been applied in an effort to improve the productivity of the centre’s vegetable gardens. Cultivating the steep slopes with their impoverished, sandy and stony soil has demanded a great deal of creativity, coordination, and horizontal (instead of top-down) relationships in order to pro duce enough food to meet the consumption requirements of the centre. Everyone contributed to achieve that goal – students and facilitators alike. Ideas and initiative were never lacking.
An excursion was organized for the students to visit the Inca citadel of Iskanhuaya so they could gather a first hand impression of the farming techniques that had been developed by the inhabitants of this ancient stronghold. They used their observations to design and build an irrigation canal to bring the water that was so critically needed for the crops. Orlando Chura, the agricultural facilitator and technical advisor who was the driving force behind this project, described the process as follows:
“The construction of the 110 meter long canal involved a great deal of work. It was a hard job, but the efforts of the advanced-level students made it possible for us to persevere. We learned together. The work appealed to the students, and to a certain extent it surprised them that I worked as hard as they did – or even more. Little by little they are modifying their patterns of thinking and are coming to realize that we are all equal.”
One of the methods that worked very well to improve yields was parcelling out the land to the different student levels. Each level further divided their parcels among themselves so that every student was responsible for a small plot of land. The day the students took charge of their plots was a festive occasion.
Crop yields vary from year to year, but the following table showing harvest figures from one of our more recent years gives an idea of the extent and significance of farming activities at CETHA.
* The arroba is a unit of weight that varies according to location and agricultural product. One Bolivian arroba is equivalent to approx. 11.5 kg.
There have been years when the students have managed to achieve higher yields owing to the application of many hundredweights of fertilizer that have to be trans ported down from higher-lying areas where they can be bartered in exchange for maize and vegetables. Yields tend to be lower in rainy years due to increased slug infestation. To keep the problem under control, nocturnal competitions are organ ized to collect the slugs, handpicking being the only effective organic solution.
Raising small animals began as an initiative to improve nutrition at the centre. In 1999, the decision was made to purchase a piglet with funds earned through the sale of produce at the education fairs. It was an opportunity to put kitchen scraps to use as feed, and at the same time to introduce students to concepts of animal husbandry as a way to contribute toward improving the economic situation of their families.
At an assembly of students and staff some time later, the decision was made to use the proceeds from the sale of the first pig raised at the centre to purchase two Yorkshire piglets. The piglets, a male and a female, were acquired from the agricultural centre CECAP Don Bosco (Centro de Extensión y Capacitación Agropecuaria). As our breeding project turned out to be very successful, we began to offer stud services for sows in the neighbouring communities. Meanwhile, the centre regularly receives visits from members of the community with estrous sows. When a sow serviced by our boar produces a healthy litter, we receive one of the piglets. In this way we have managed to improve the centre’s food supply. Proceeds from the sale of purebred piglets have enabled us to enlarge our pens and purchase dietary supplements for our pregnant sows. Justo Pastor, facilitator and technical advisor in agronomy and biology, described the project as follows:
“Pig raising is a profitable activity. All it takes is planning, building and maintaining the pig pens (chiqueros), and knowing how to keep the pigs free from parasites. Several students have bought piglets from us. Their families are very satisfied with them because Yorkshire pigs grow faster than the native criollo pigs. Students also say that the experience has helped them see that it is possible to organize productive projects. It is an activity to develop and to plan.”
Ecological education, Source: Betzabéth Zambrana Urizacari
Learning at CETHA “Ildefonso de las Muñecas” takes place by doing and by pro ducing. This type of learning promotes not only agricultural productivity and cultiva tion techniques, but also “intellectual” production. Everyone is capable of doing intellectual work. It simply requires exercise. Writing, drawing, and creative skills are therefore fostered in every subject at the centre. Students have ample opportuni ties to create, develop, and propose projects with support from the facilitators and technical advisors in courses such as “History of Our Communities”, “Medicine Native to the Altiplano”, or “Stories of Our Communities”. Among other activities, the students organize wall newspapers, write articles and stories for the semester magazine “Puririsunchis”, make predictions to improve the timing of sowing, and create banners with mottos in Quechua to decorate their classrooms.
Students learn the skills of carpentry, tailoring, and metalworking according to the principle of “learning by doing”. In the process they create useful items that help improve the quality of their lives. Theory is combined with practice toward this end. The programme is sequentially organized so as to foster the progressive building of capabilities and skills.
During their final year, students craft their own hand tools. With the assistance from the carpentry department, tailoring students make tailoring rulers. Carpentry students build wooden hand planes, carpenter’s squares and gauges and other tools for workshops of their own. Metalworking students fashion tools of their own design to use after they complete their training. Metalworking is an area where many students develop plans to set up workshops in their communities. Since metal working tools are relatively inexpensive to make, many students preparing to work in that trade already own a complete set of basic tools by the time they finish their training. As one graduate from the centre stated:
“Thanks to the skills I have learned, I have been able to pay for my studies. I do welding. What I earn from my work, little though it may be, is always a help.”
Source: Betzabéth Zambrana Urizacari
Planning sessions are held with the entire faculty at the beginning of each administrative year. Monthly evaluations as well as the final evaluation serve as the main point of departure. Careful consideration is given to student opinions, ideas, suggestions, and criticisms.
Since the first part of 1995, the students have constructed a mesa directiva, (board of representatives) which is comprised of six officers – a president and five secretaries. This facilitates coordination with the centre’s administrative staff and involves the students in joint planning of the centre’s operations and activities.
“The ‘mesa directiva’ is very important to us because it is a way for us to learn how to manage our organization and become good leaders in our communities. Serving with responsibility, honesty, and courage to always defend our rights.” (Mesa Directiva 1995)
“Yanasi means ‘community work’. In the days of our forefathers, all the members of families and communities helped each other out with their work – with the aporques (an Aymaran farming technique of hilling the soil around plants), the sowing of seeds, the raising of animals, the building of their homes, paths, and roads, and with all the other chores that had to be done. But today these cultural values of mutual assistance are becoming lost.”
(From an essay written by a group of middle level students at CETHA)
When people in a community work together to attain a goal that benefits the community as a whole, it is called “Yanasi”, as the middle level students explain. This concept is being replicated at CETHA, but in a more structured fashion with the intention of contributing new elements that will help to recuperate this ancient practice which has been gradually disappearing in the communities. The activity of
Yanasi was made part of the operative plan adopted by the mesa directiva during the first month of classes. The following comments illustrate the students’ appraisal of this activity:
“Yanasi is very important to us because it gives us an appreciation of the customs of our Quechua and Aymara culture.”
“I am happy about it. In Yanasi I have learned how to do things I need to do in my house that I didn’t know how to do before. Now I have new ideas (on how to handle construction problems).”
“By practicing Yanasi I have realized that others depend on me and that I have a lot to contribute, because I have good construction skills. This has helped me to feel appreciated, knowing that I can teach the others what I know.”
A Few Final Observations on Community Education
Our concrete work experience allows us to make a few observations on community education from the perspective of youth and adult education, above all in a rural context.
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