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COLOMBIA
Indigenous preschoolers get intercultural education
Susan Abad
9/16/2010
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New initiative seeks to preserve ancestral teachings for the capital�s indigenous children.

Preserving the ancestral teachings for the thousands of indigenous youngsters in Colombia´s capital might seem like a challenge. But Bogota´s municipal government has launched an initiative to ensure that indigenous customs and education are not lost through a new initiative which is offering the youngest members of their communities an intercultural education.

The project was launched three years ago and has an annual budget of US$1.5 million. The Mayor´s Office is now trying to expand the initiative, which includes five pre-schools — of the Inga, Muisca, Huitoto and Pijao communities — to attend to 450 preschoolers.

Intercultural education
Both Western teachers and indigenous elders teach the children at these indigenous community centers or “malocas” as they are known, where native customs, spaces and objects are everywhere. Some have small gardens and meditation rooms.

At the Uba Rhua nursery school, which meaning “spirit of the seed” in the Muisca language, traditional hammocks are hung, there are clay pots and baskets where the children can “relate to this world through the customs of their people,” said Gloria Orobajó, the educational coordinator there.

“The customs and thinking of indigenous peoples are present in this form of education, through teachings about agriculture, weaving, ceramics, metalworking, music, dance, traditional medicine and language, among other teachings and arts,” added Orobajó, a language expert.

Rigoberto, who teaches traditional medicine for the program, says that the children are learning an important lesson when they are taught about native plants.

“Those who learn to love plants learn to respect everything there is on earth,” he said.

On Saturdays, adolescents come to the centers to learn indigenous music and dances. Another group of girls – from the very young to pre-teens – meet regularly with women from the community to learn about reproduction and puberty.

“These initiatives are helping to create an intercultural society,” said Bogota town councillor Ati Quigua.

Violence spurs growing indigenous migration
But the work has not been easy because Colombia´s war has forced even more indigenous citizens to flee for large cities, and the project has trouble keeping up with the demand.

“Many have had to abandon their lands, fleeing the violence,” said Emily Quevedo, who heads the city-run Early Education for Indigenous Peoples Project. “Many of these people are widows with small children who are living in very difficult situations.”

She cites the 2005 census that estimated some 15,000 people in Bogota – a city of 7 million – identify themselves as indigenous, “but the figure must have gone up considerably since then.”

Quevedo says the project seeks to ensure that the young indigenous Colombians “don´t lose their ancestral principles, values and identity.”

Government role
The Mayor´s Office is now pushing the central government´s Education Secretariat to expand the teaching program for school aged children.

“Children´s cognitive processes indicate that what a child learns in the first five years of his life is highly important and transcendental. That´s why what they learn at those ages is so important,” said Quigua. “We think that after, in primary school, they can be in the necessary intercultural programs because even though ancestral knowledge is important, the children are living in an urban environment, which gives them another set of particular needs.

“The active participation of political and traditional authorities from each of the communities has been fundamental,” she said, adding that native leaders lead workshops, lectures and other oral traditions, ceremonies, such as payment to the earth.

These activities “guarantee that the proposals of indigenous preschools respond to what is collectively conceived and built, making this affirmative action one of the premier models of alternative education for early indigenous childhood in urban Latin America.”

Leidi Neuta, a sociologist and member of the Muisca community, said the project “is very important because we are educating the seeds of the community.”

“They are part of the recovery of our culture,” she said. “They will ensure that our ancestral teachings and knowledge will not be lost.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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Young indigenous children are taught about their native customs and traditions. (Photo: Susan Abad)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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