“The Right Path”
In Colombia, thousands of children walk long distances just to access education, encountering, along the way, gangs, crime and violence, which can make it difficult to focus on learning. However, in addition to confronting such obstacles to getting an education, indigenous children from Colombia’s Wayúu community face the challenge of preserving their traditions, heritage and culture.
One of the largest indigenous communities in Colombia, the Wayúu people represent 45 per cent of the total population in the department of La Guajira. There, many public schools are ethno-educational centres, aiming to preserve Wayúu culture through education, and promote the use of Wayuunaiki, the Wayúu language.
Originally from Venezuela, but now living with her mother (who speaks no Spanish, the official language of Colombia) and three brothers in the Uribia municipality, is an 11-year-old Wayúu girl, Elyañis del Carmen González, who recently enrolled in school.
Going to school is very cool for me because I didn’t have the opportunity before due to a lack of space in the schools where my culture is preserved!
At present, this soon-to-be class 5 student loves her computer class and aspires to be a Spanish teacher, so she can help her family, as well as other children in the community.
Yet prior to being in school, a typical day for her did not consist of keyboards and/or notions of a career as an educator. To the contrary, Elyañis would routinely rise early to help her mother, Isabel, with cleaning and completing chores around the house. On some occasions, she would even accompany her mother, who earns a living as a domestic, to work.
However, this would all begin to change when she was identified as an out of school child by the “Todos al Cole” (All in School) initiative, a joint project by Education Above All’s Educate A Child programme and Fundación Pies Descalzos, working to increase access to quality primary education in Colombia. The Todos project uses door-knocking campaigns and school-feeding programmes, trains teachers in psycho-social support, and assists parents, like Isabel, in enrolling their children in education that preserves Wayúu cultural traditions, whilst offering Spanish language instruction.
Fabio Passo, one of Elyañis’s teachers, says that the school employs a range of strategies to promote Wayúu culture, such as the development of curriculum in Wayuunaiki and specific projects and workshops during culture weeks.
Beaming with pride, Elyañis asserts, “Now, I’m going to school… The teachers treat me well and I’m happy to learn!”
I knew education was the right path…. I really want the best for all my children
When thinking of her daughter in school, Isabel says, “I’m very proud of her… I had some worries about her being comfortable at school, [but] I knew education was the right path…. I really want the best for all my children – to be excellent, finish school and improve their lives.”
Clearly, there is plenty of room for children like Elyañis to access an inclusive education experience that upholds her culture, heritage and identity.