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From the heart of Champagnat to the heart of Datem

 

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Project of the Marcellin Champagnat University in favour of the peoples of Amazonia

09/10/2019: Peru

The Project A Teacher for Datem is the result of a daring commitment by Marcellin Champagnat University (Lima) on behalf of the native inhabitants of the Peruvian Amazon.

In fact, at the end of 2011, the University acceded to the request of the original peoples who, through their "apus" or charismatic leaders, asked us to commit ourselves to the formation of the present and future teachers of their schools. The scene of Marcellin with the young Montagne was intense, valid and challenging.

This providential request opened up the possibility for us to be at the side of these secularly neglected and marginalized populations of society and to take their side: to share, as friends and companions, what we are; to learn from them and to communicate our knowledge; to unite our present and our future with theirs.

We feel a powerful invitation, from evangelical generosity and compassion, to move towards joining our lives with the weak, those who move on the peripheries of life and culture. Our proposal is a commitment to solidarity and transformation. Not only to give fish, but also to teach how to fish: to make the original peoples the lucid protagonists of their own history.

Datem del Marañón

The Province of Datem del Marañón, located in the northern Peruvian Amazon, is one of the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the country. More than 75% of its population is native. The province faces a series of difficulties and problems: poverty, isolation (communications are by river), isolation caused by difficult access to the media, procrastination of politicians and the central government, contamination of its rivers by oil extraction?

The lack of suitable teachers is another of the great challenges of this region of the Amazon. Most teachers - including school principals - lack pedagogical training and qualifications. Native communities demand teachers who speak their own mother tongue (especially in the case of initial and primary education), but there are no competent professionals available. Universities are reluctant to work in this area because of the geographical, climatic and social difficulties involved.

The project

At the beginning of 2012 there begins this beautiful adventure of the Project "a teacher for the Datem". Since then, more than five hundred young people and adults from the eight original peoples living in the Datem have come together: Achuar, Awajún, Chapra, Kandozi, Amazonian Kichwa, Shawi, Shiwilo and Wampis. A small group of mestizos living in the area completes the cadre of students.

The students meet twice a year (taking advantage of official school holidays) to attend the face-to-face stage of their training.

To attend the classes, the students travel along the rivers in small canoes, on trips lasting one to seven days, to reach the town of San Lorenzo del Datem de Marañón, the capital of the Province, whose population reaches about 5000 inhabitants. Students usually travel with the whole family.

Year after year, a large group of Marist volunteers goes there on a journey which includes a plane, bus and boat. It is a two-day trip from Lima.

Volunteering

Although the University guarantees the rigorous development of academic programmes with the required teaching personnel, the development of the processes of the accompaniment of learning falls to a Marist volunteer, duly appointed and prepared.

The diversity of the origin of those who take part in the project is a challenge, but at the same time, an immense richness. In the years that the Project has been operating, more than 200 volunteers have participated (several of them more than once). They come from Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Spain, among them there are brothers and laypeople, teachers, graduates and young students of UMCH, as well as teachers from Marist works in Peru. The ages range from 18 to 70 years of age.

Taking part in the project as a volunteer brings a rich experience of shared life and mission. The experience of living in community is probably even more enriching than the development of academic activity itself. We strive to build a family where everyone collaborates in the care of people and things, participating in moments of friendship, prayer and reflection, sharing dreams and concerns. Housing and food are simple, but there is nothing lacking. The scarcity of means is compensated by the passion and enthusiasm of the participants.

Teacher training

Every year a group of about 50 volunteers moves to San Lorenzo Datem del Marañón. Together with them, a group of teachers from the indigenous peoples develops the subjects of the different native languages, some of them still in the process of normalization, and even at risk of extinction.

The studies are carried out in a semi-attendance way. The large group receives, during intense daily working hours  from Monday to Saturday, the subjects specific to the study plans corresponding to each professional career.

In the group period, the subjects are taught, the most significant learning experiences are offered and work is directed which must be carried out privately. The process is then complemented by the learning that takes place in their own workplaces. In spite of difficulties of all kinds, student dropout is almost nil.

Together with the subjects and experiences of the formation of the early education and primary education teachers, we offer pastoral and human care to all students taking part, with a high proportion of non-Catholics. Likewise, the young children of the students are cared for by UMCH students in the affectionately called "escuelita" or "little" school.

The fundamental objective of the experience is to give recognition - after 8 years of study - to about 500 bilingual native teachers. The official professional degrees they receive are the Licentiate in Initial Education (or Primary Education) and the Licentiate in Primary Education.

This year, 2019, and after 8 years of training, the first 30 qualified teachers have graduated. Those following on promotions are much more numerous.

Looking to the future

The Marist presence on the Datem is a common dream, a collective project, where we give and receive, teach and learn, share present and future with our Amazonian peoples so far from almost everything, but so close to the heart of God and Mary.

The Marist Volunteers carry out an enriching triple experience: service, learning and fraternal living together. Each year we build a bridge of solidarity and brotherhood that goes from the heart of Marcellin to the heart of the Datem.

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