A Discussion with Flora Cosme Aruquipa, Bartholomé Margalef, and Arguedas Ulo Churata, Educators at the Yatiqañ Uta, Trinidad Pampa, Bolivia

July 25, 2012

Background: As part of the Education and Global Social Justice Project, in July 2012 undergraduate student Lisa Frank interviewed three educators working in the Yatiqañ Uta. Flora Cosme Aruquipa has worked four years in the Yatiqañ Uta as an elementary school teacher and has worked in that field for 14 years. She is from the Quisivi province in the Bolivian Altiplano. Bartholomé Margalef joined the Yachay Wasi team in 2012; his interests lie in alternative education and out-of-school training. He is of Spanish origin but was raised in Latin America. Arguedas Ulo Churata, Flora's husband, also has been at the Yachay Wasi for four years. He is a primary teacher working with sixth graders, as well as the high schoolers living in the Yatiqañ Uta. José Paucara was also present. Fe y Alegría Bolivia's Yatiqañ Uta (in Aymara, Yachay Wasi in Quechua) is a residential education program that aims to give children in rural areas the opportunity to continue their education through secondary school. While living in the Yachay Wasi, the students engage in cleaning, agriculture, and formation. In the Yachay Wasi in Trinidad Pampa, there are 56 students and three educators. In this interview the educators discuss the role of student representatives in running the Yachay Wasi, integrating technical training and cultural knowledge into education, and the positive impact the school's routine and distribution of daily housekeeping responsibilities have on students.

What type of work do you do here?

Flora Cosme Aruquipa: Production of vegetables—livestock, too—and maintaining this place. The students are organized into brigades to take care of the bathrooms, electrical maintenance, water, the kitchen.

Bartholomé Margalef: We work on the agricultural and productive parts. We also have bees, oranges, and we do a bit of carpentry and welding.

What does education have to do with social justice?

Cosme Aruquipa: Aside from having this type of work and education, youth also are trained as leaders. They are strengthened so that they have roots in their area, to be leaders, to help their family and in the school.

Margalef: It’s very related. For one, there’s the goal of allowing both girls and boys to study. What we lack is maybe political formation. There is civic education, but it’s missing a more critical vision.

Do you talk about politics here?

Margalef: We try. For example we have television for the kids to hear the news, but sometimes it doesn’t sink in. Also the TV news is not really the best. Community radios are better—Radio Yungas, Coca, Panamericana. The television news is just distracting. But sometimes, if the news is interesting, they do pay attention.

Cosme Aruquipa: We have taken steps in student organization. They have their representatives here in the house, which are chosen by them. They have their leaders, who are not always dependent on us but mobilize themselves for an activity. They’re always working together; we’re just here for support.

Can you tell me more about the student representatives?

Cosme Aruquipa: They are chosen by the kids. When classes begin, they see a need to organize themselves, so they elect their representatives: a president, a secretary of sports, finances, celebration, and projects.

Margalef: Also for discipline, cleanliness, nutrition, and study.

Cosme Aruquipa: They are involved in every area here. Also they do all their work in groups, and the leaders help us organize that.

For example with studying, at 7:00 p.m. we opened the hall where they do homework. There's one over there seeing if there is a problem or something, and they are responsible to enforce the rules, keep people working quietly, or answer questions.

The president organizes when we have some kind of work, or a need. "Yatiqañ Uta" means “Our House.” They buy what’s needed, organize the projects, and we’re just there if they need us. They decide how we will use their funds, and we work all together. For example, it’ll be time for the parades soon. The president brings his representatives together to decide how we will work that out. And for me, they tell me what they’re thinking, and I support them.

The secretary of finance is the one who keeps track of how much money we spend and receive.

For the cultural secretary, on Saturdays we do an activity where the students show their creativity and their movements, dances, comics, etc.

Margalef: Skit, drama, comedy. And Friday afternoon is for sports. There is one representative for the girls and one for the boys to organize that.

Cosme Aruquipa: They are organized in teams, by bedrooms, both girls and boys. They call and invite their peers.

Two make the menus for the week and decide what to buy and what to cook. They figure out how much, for how many young people, how many rolls of bread we need. It’s a way to learn.

There’s someone in charge of giving out tools and keeping track of them. We also have a librarian who checks out books for the students and helps them find what they need.

They are organized into brigades too, right?

Cosme Aruquipa: Yes, we have two students who divide up the work. They all switch off. If one does management this week, next week they’ll do cleaning.

Margalef: There are two older girls who are about to graduate who do this, arranging the rotations.

Cosme Aruquipa: They do it every quarter. They can tend to get bored, but they come back. But we also want to give the opportunity to all.

What are some key challenges of working in this house?

Cosme Aruquipa: Breeding birds.

Margalef: The challenge is to get the kids involved. It’s not as hard now because they’re organized, but it used to be difficult. Now they’re involved, and the parents also participate and support them. Sometimes you get a problem where the parents say, "I do not want my child to work." Then they start telling your child, "Do not work." That was happening in former years, but now it seems that people are already aware that it is better for the kids to do things. Because if not, they come home and don’t do anything. But before that happened, they wanted their children to be like princes, in a luxury home, but not so much now.

The challenge now is whether Fe y Alegría wants to take more steps towards technical training, and if the parents will appreciate that. That's the missing step. Since 2005, they wanted to do that, so why is it not happening?

What do you think of what the new education law says about technical training?

Margalef: Well, I’ve heard they tried to revive more of the indigenous aspects of the country and the Aymara culture, but that didn’t become part of the law, sadly. I can’t say much more about the law because I haven’t read it.

Cosme Aruquipa: I’ve read some parts. It's good because it is a step along the lines of what we are already doing. The law says, "Live well." I think we're living well. There are always stumbles, but we are on track. I hope to be more successful and build from what we have in reality. For example, the young people here: most do not speak Aymara; then we have to recover that language.

Margalef: Well, for many years the school was the opposite. When the kids came before and spoke Aymara, they whipped them and mistreated and discriminated against them, so in the end the parents, although they speak Aymara, did not want their children to suffer and didn’t speak in Aymara.

Cosme Aruquipa: It’s not valued.

Margalef: And now, it should be reversed, that they should talk to them in Aymara more.

Cosme Aruquipa: Now it's the opposite. They want the kids to learn the Aymara, because before they didn’t.

Margalef: Yes, but it is already too late, because parents no longer talk to their children, and children speak Castilian with their parents. Before they reprimanded them; now they don’t repress it anymore, but it's too late. It’s sad because Aymara has lasted so many centuries, and now, in one generation, it will disappear.

Do you do any kind of education in traditional values or culture, or language?

Cosme Aruquipa: Yes, a little.

Margalef: Music and dancing.

Cosme Aruquipa: Yes, sometimes I also speak Aymara. And they speak it, but the problem is that they are afraid. But now when I speak, I’ve gotten them to respond to me in Aymara. They’re all Aymara, everyone.

Margalef: Almost everyone understands, but many can’t speak. They have seen their parents talking with other people, with their grandparents, but they don’t speak it. Right now there’s this policy, but there aren’t qualified educators to implement it.

Do you think that the kids want to learn?

Margalef: I do not know, but I think so. The thing is, for many years it has been undervalued, so now it’s hard. You have to promote it in many spaces.

Cosme Aruquipa: But little by little we are doing it. We are becoming aware and making them see reality. We always instill in them this reflection, that we are who we are and we accept that. Now at school they will also start with Aymara, so that helps. It’s required now in the primary grades. I'm really happy because I speak Aymara, and it’s easy for me. There aren’t materials, but those of us who speak it, we begin with some words.

Is there an effort here, or elsewhere, to make parents keep using the language and teaching their children?

Cosme Aruquipa: No. But one thing that has been done is that discrimination has decreased. Here we have a black student and before people would say, "Oh, a black, you're black," but in society there’s less discrimination now. When I came to the Yungas they mistreated people; some even wore face paint or flour to be lighter. Here in this sector it’s not like that; we have one here and he does well, like everyone else.

It’s important to grow stronger, to have more desire to work, and to strengthen our identity.

Do you think that there is an effect from having an indigenous president?

Margalef: I think so, but I don’t think they’re seizing this historic moment. People could advance much more, but it’s hard. This is a time when you could have a lot more progress, maybe. For example, in the application of the Education Law Avelino Siñani, it’s slow. In the end, there are many people in the administration who don’t cooperate. In other words, there was a change of government, but many of the officials are from the former regime. They keep their jobs, and you can’t throw them out on the streets despite the change in leadership.

Cosme Aruquipa: Some don’t accept the new educational model. But here, we do, and we are fortunate to be trained. Many, most approve of the changes, but you’ll never get everyone on board.

Returning to the issue of values education, what does Fe y Alegría do in this institution regarding values?

Cosme Aruquipa: We are involved with the youth here in recovering their values. That is our strength here. Also, people from Fe y Alegría come. Professor Plácido does this work at the school, too.

At first it was a novel idea, difficult, but you discover things that you may not have done as an educator. You’re a mother to them, and a friend, guide, which some kids here do not have in their families, so we’re here. We are fortunate to have them here, so they can aim for a better future. It’s worthwhile being here for that.

Margalef: We could implement more things. I think in the space, you could greatly improve alternative education. But there’s a lack of coordination with the whole team. There is already an option to do so, but we need someone to say, "Let's do it, and put resources into it," and Fe y Alegría has not yet started that. For example we can do more for education in values, more workshops, look for people who are qualified for that—repair shops, perhaps the feminine side of things. We have enough work for boys but not for the girls. We could do weaving, computing. There are several things that could be implemented more.

Cosme Aruquipa: Last year we made fabric, but this year we are in production. They've made scarves, rugs.

Margalef: And why not continue with that?

Cosme Aruquipa: We have the production, but they'll do weaving again.

How do you decide what kind of trades are going to be taught here?

Cosme Aruquipa: Sometimes it is by weather. Last year there was no water for the production of vegetables, but now we have the animals and the vegetables, thanks to the weather.

Do boys and girls engage in different things or do the same work?

Cosme Aruquipa: The same. There is gender equity. In the kitchen, in the bathroom, in different spaces it is the same. Only in electrical maintenance and welding it’s just the boys, not girls. In production, planning, it’s all equal.

Margalef: But the girls could do welding; it’s not strength work.

Cosme Aruquipa: If we had more materials and more subject areas, we would do better.

[Don Arguedas Ulo Churata arrives.]

Arguedas Ulo Churata: We can strengthen the work of gardening and raising animals. It requires constant dedication, although maybe we don’t do it very well in technical terms. But we have fruit, we could sell lettuce, chard, the ajido. The carrots came out a bit wrong...

Margalef: Deformed.

Ulo Churata: We also help keep up the house and our land Waykuni. We are here in a semi-tropical climate and constant work is needed, which the kids do.

In those four years, we have learned a lot. When I arrived, I didn’t even know how to plant lettuce. We learned by doing it. With the animals, the initiative came from the students. They said, "Why don’t we have a few piglets, or chickens?" We agreed to that, and they were making money. They organized it. Sometimes, the men and women work separately. But in the end, they raised the funds. Perhaps they can invest in something for the house. They have planned what the house needs most. For cultural nights also, they use some funds for refreshments or something. These aren’t individual ideas; they always think about it together.

With regard to what is needed here is to maintain the house, it’s very interesting. The students are organized into two brigades, cleaning and administration. Sometimes they tend to forget their chores, because the houses they come from don’t have a pace of life like what’s here. We visited some families, and there is a certain disorder.

Margalef: A certain disorder? No, it’s a mess. In some, it's a total disaster.

Ulo Churata: So for them the change is hard, but they assimilate.

Cosme Aruquipa: The first year it’s like that, but the second, third years—they’re changing and improving.

Ulo Churata: The parents do value that.

Cosme Aruquipa: They also appreciate how their character has changed. Selfish guys have come, very egoistic, but parents tell me, "Now, he greets me, appreciates the things I give, takes care of his sister. He’s a different boy now."

Margalef: Well, mostly because it's a pretty intense process of socialization. The rooms are shared with ten or more. In the room, daily life, when studying, everything is shared. Some who were shy, they have to communicate. I think that on the one hand, the students of the boarding school have an advantage over others—to lead a disciplined life, with order, do their homework. Others go from the coca fields to video games, then don’t do their homework. But here, it’s a community life, with discipline, cleanliness, and study. I think we provide more, intellectually speaking, than elsewhere.

There is also health education, right?

Ulo Churata: Yes, we talk about personal health.

Cosme Aruquipa: Sometimes we also invite the Health Center.

Ulo Churata: As for the deeper issues, caring for teeth, first aid, the staff at the Health Center to come to teach that. We coordinate with them, based on what needs there are...also nutrition.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Cosme Aruquipa: We also take them on a trip in September, to a place they’ve chosen.

Ulo Churata: We do not say, "Let's do that." We wait to see what ideas they have. We agree. All activities require an adult to accompany them for monitoring, for example in the kitchen.

Cosme Aruquipa: Finally, good kids have come here and are now professionals. There are teachers, doctors, architects. And when they go, they also return, sometimes when they’re much older. They come here to rest, to see it. Or on the street, we see them and tell them to come visit. Some have lived here for seven years. It’s their home so they return.

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