A Discussion with the Franz Tamayo School Board, Fe y Alegría, Trinidad Pampa, Bolivia

July 26, 2012

Background: As part of the Education and Global Social Justice Project, in July 2012 undergraduate student Lisa Frank interviewed three members of the Franz Tamayo school board: President Ramón Santander Mamani, Vice President Xavier Blanco Rodriguez, and Secretary Moisés Azucena Cutile, who are also alumni of the school. José Paucara was also present. Under the Popular Participation Law, every school has a Junta Escolar (school board) consisting of mothers and fathers who make decisions about the school, community involvement, and various programs such as the school breakfast. This Fe y Alegria school receives students from the Yatiqañ Uta (in Aymara, Yachay Wasi in Quechua), a program of Fe y Alegría whose purpose is to provide a place to live and study for children from rural areas, so that they may attend high school. While living in the Yatiqañ Uta, they are engaged in agriculture, maintenance of the house, cleaning, and other comprehensive training programs. There are 56 students and three teachers in the Yachay Wasi in Trinidad Pampa. In this interview the men discuss the impact of national education policy, how education has changed since they were students, the support the school receives from the national government and NGOs, and their desire to expand technical education in the area.

José Paucara: First, here we have education through the institution of Fe y Alegría, which has helped us. Since Fe y Alegría arrived, we’ve overcome a lot, both on the educational and cultural levels, and we have also learned the organizing side. We learned values, leadership. We know that values education is done in the House of Knowledge [Casa del Saber] near here. The project includes plantings of citrus, flowers, and beekeeping. I think the institution Fe y Alegría has this ambition to grow, as well as education and training for young leaders. So I think that this school is one of the biggest projects they’re doing. We who compose the board, we are the ones working day after day, learning how to work with teachers, our brothers, and Sister Montserrat [Font].

We do courses and cultural events that are completely thanks to the support of Fe y Alegría. In this institution, we don’t have parties. We are more focused on education, because Trinidad Pampa has grown and we have 600 students. It is through the efforts of parents and the different communities we form one body and work together. We always have educational courses with the leaders, teachers, and Sister Montserrat. Fe y Alegría has led us to think about our future and the path we take in our lives. The new Education Law Avelino Siñani [an education policy] has already been in effect here for many years. We see that Fe y Alegría is shaping the future of Bolivia, because if you look, we are already advanced in the principles of the law Avelino Siñani, and we keep growing.

We give thanks to Fe y Alegría because they always seek teachers who have a calling to their profession, to teach, to give us all the good that can bring. Fe y Alegría always have the ambition and hunger to grow in education. But not only is there education, there are the production and planning workshops. We have plans for a chemical room, a laboratory, because we’ve already done production of shampoo, perfume, and other experiments, but these teachers have left the institution. But we also work with the Yatiqañ Uta; we’re one entity, not two separate ones.

Ramón Santander Mamani: Before the arrival of Fe y Alegría, the tradition here was to have a party for Teacher's Day, Mother's Day, any day. The difference since Fe y Alegría entered has been 95 percent. We are very happy, thanks to Sister Montserrat who is managing this school and is like a mother to us. We see that the sister is trying to coordinate with teachers, parents, and with the students, and that makes us very happy. From the time that Fe y Alegría entered, we’ve had zero parties and zero teachers drinking. So we greatly appreciate Fe y Alegría.

Also, licenciada [1], I would ask, in some way that we could do a collaboration or assistance with this institution, to further assist students, e.g. with scholarships. Our students already have the ability to study, but you know, licenciada, here in the rural areas they don’t have economic resources. They have good minds but lack the economic part, so they stay here. Sometimes you know that in the institutions here, money is everything, so if you're broke, you do not go. So in this part we are suffering here. We see, licenciada, as you've come in these moments, as president I ask you, in any way, for some scholarships for kids to get ahead. Imagine, licenciada, if you see a boy here and come back one day and see how he’s advanced.

We also would like to ask for more collaboration with teachers. We want a computer teacher. Our teachers are all professionals; we don’t have temporary teachers here. If a professor of physics and chemistry has not attended college, he cannot teach students here. We need teachers who are licensed.

Here in this institution, we do communal work. We call meetings of the senior council, that has all the authorities of the communities, and also the principal and sometimes [José] Paucara. There, we have an open meeting and make decisions.

Thank you very much. What do you do as the school board?

Santander Mamani: Well, we try to help teachers with the kids. You know there are so many kids that sometimes, a teacher can’t control them all. We also help with school breakfasts. We are working on planting vegetables for the kids to grow and use. We know that the institution requires much work, for example if a window breaks, or the roof needs to be repaired, so we take care of that. The Junta Escolar collaborates on cleaning, crops, etc. Sometimes we have a meeting, or a municipality here in Coripata call us with a project. For example, we want to make a good covered area.

Moisés Azucena Cutile: Good morning, I am Moisés Azucena, secretary for the school board. I want to thank Fe y Alegría, because I studied here and see how it has changed with the vision of Fe y Alegría, which has given us technical principles, and these have improved technical knowledge, training, and we have grown and learned through Fe y Alegría and the sisters [from the Congregation of the Daughters of Jesus]. They guide us and taught us that if someone is falling, you should help.

It is the job of the school board to do projects, helping the teachers with collaboration from the people and community. As the council has told us, this is the town that works. Fe y Alegría taught us, "Fall, get up, move forward."

Don Moisés, as an alumnus of this institution, what changes have you seen?

Azucena Cutile: As the president said before, the point was for students, "Come, come and gain points. Want to earn 10 points? Okay, bring me this," and we’d have to bring it. That was how it worked; it was all about getting points, which was easy. Now education means that every student shows what he has in his head, what he does, what he can do. My daughters are here at school, and they barely need dad now. He’s just the head of the household. They just get their stuff and say what they’re going to do. As a student I used to copy things out of books and summarize them, but now they don’t do that. The teacher just gives them one sentence and they start thinking. That is the change I've seen; it's personal. They form groups and discuss and draw a conclusion. Before it was not like that, just copying and copying.

Santander Mamani: What we see now in the students (I am also a former student, and now I have become president of the school board), for example, my son and my daughters are here, one is already in the graduating class now. She asks me, "You know, daddy …?" and she already knows the answer and just asks out of habit, but I don’t know the answers. There are many differences between education back then and now. Before for example, we’d do dictation. The teacher came and said, "Today, we will read a story," and you had to read a lot. But today, students draw on what’s in their own heads to make a story. We have seen in recent years with Fe y Alegría that education is not about copying books. Dictation is prohibited. Students work in groups, together, on how to analyze a text or give a presentation. In their own minds, they do everything. Before, the teacher gave us three or four paragraphs and would say, "Santander Mamani, you have to learn this part," but it wasn’t our own writing.

Just three days a week I came to school, with three sheets of paper in my pocket. I didn’t go because I wasn’t interested. The teacher knew and would say, "Santander Mamani, you’re behind because you don’t have any points." And I’d answer, "What should I do to earn points?" And the teacher said, "No problem, bring me 10 eggs," and then I won points for nothing. But now we see the changes. We see that these students are taking responsibility for what they think rather than giving gifts. Now we have the computer and record the points with the computer.

Xavier Blanco Rodriguez: Like what my brother says, why didn’t we have the ambition to grow and do something in life before? Because automatically, the teachers didn’t tell us or show us why we were studying, or what for. Now we say "Here we come to learn to read and to know," [but] before it was just to read. These changes have also happened in the Yachay Wasi and others farther away.

I have a child who is 13 years old but already has an idea of what her purpose is in studying: she wants to study auditing. The students graduate from here and thanks to Sister Montserrat, we have people with degrees in political science, medicine. And where did they come from? From the hands of the Jesuits. I tell you, though, this is an institution that we sometimes let get away from us. 

In what way? 

We are very conformist. We say, "Fe y Alegría is going to do it." But how will they do it if we don’t also chip in?

We do not get help from the Bolivian government. This school has been built with what Sister Montserrat received from NGOs. That is the basis for the board as well. We gain by contributing to the education of our children. Like our colleague has said, our children have questions we can’t answer. Before we didn’t have computers. Math was different, so it’s hard for us to help, although these are good changes. Here the parents provide for food and materials. All of Bolivia doesn’t benefit from the government. What we have is thanks to the company [Jesuits], the sisters, Fe y Alegría. You have to knock on doors asking for money.

Not long ago, we went to Coripata, where the government budgets money for us but it doesn’t come. They say that because we are with Fe y Alegría, we should ask them. But will the students graduating from here serve only Fe y Alegría, or all of Bolivia? They will serve all. How I wish that the municipality put more interest in us, to come here. All the schools that are around here do not grow, because we did not get help, but thanks to Fe y Alegría, what little funds they seek go here. We have a computer, thanks to our leader Sister Montserrat. Sometimes we are like sheep, following her, and she tells us what to do, but we learn from that. She says, "Every problem you have, it’s not so you fall. It’s so you get up and don’t do that again."

Santander Mamani: It really is very nice to work in this institution. It pleases me that those who have graduated from this institution are professionals and are quite satisfied. Indeed, there are students who have returned to work here as teachers. Right now we have a physical education teacher, Natalia, who was a student of this institution. But sometimes, for economic failure, they’re stuck here like me, as president and unprofessional. My mother left me when I was 9 years old, and I lived alone with my father, who had to work to support me. There was no way to study without working. But sometimes, we are given help to get out of here, to get to know different countries, and licensiada, this is important that you help us...

[Paucara continues to discuss the senior council. There are many municipal officers and education officials, who discuss problems and solutions, and also start projects. Trinidad Pampa is the example that everyone wants to imitate for their senior council.]

Can you tell me about some important projects or decisions by the senior council?

Santander Mamani: Our president says there is no discrimination, whether white or brown, but what happens is, if you don’t have an agreement like we do, he does not give you much. And with an agreement, same thing, because it’s Fe y Alegría that helps us instead of the government. All we have, to the dresses worn by students in cultural dances, we make with their own hands. And we always win when we compete with other schools. We have a band, too, and we get invited to Coripata, but everyone goes to Trinidad Pampa because we have the best.

What are some of the most important challenges in the work of the school board and the council?

Azucena Cutile: We, as a board, we change each year, so every year you have to go out further. We have stayed, but the new generation should leave, at least to get comprehensive knowledge and improve, so we ask for scholarships. We demand that they all be very good students. From the second to last year, they’re thinking more about what they’re going to do next, so you need more support at this time, so that more students leave and become more leaders, and Bolivia improves.

Santander Mamani: The truth is that we are passing by. This year we fulfill our mission, and then comes another board.

Blanco Rodriguez: Another challenge, not just of this institution but of the entire region, is the implementation of technical education. We have a block of the school designated, and we’ve already designed the space for workshops, and we are seeking funding. We’ve had pilot experiments, as in the Yachay Wasi, but these are small, and there are many kids who have skills and are interested, and it is also part of the new law, but we are still struggling to grow in this area.

Is there already technical education in this school, or just in the Yachay Wasi?

Blanco Rodriguez: Yes, there is. Parents also participate. Parents are involved in the cultivation of vegetables, with the babies of first or second year. The older [students], they cultivate themselves, but with a little help from parents. They till the earth, and the little ones make the transplant and care for plants.

Santander Mamani: And they themselves serve the vegetables. When the product is ripe, they enjoy it. It’s nice to see.

We all participate. It’s communal work—even parents who already have older children and young singles come. What we have is that we do not have a computer teacher. As God wishes. Look, how nice it would be to have a mechanic, carpenter, electrician, a bricklayer. We have already designed classrooms, but there are no funds. We also need tools. This block is now teacher residences. The problem is that we haven’t found the money, and we’ve been looking two years.

Before there was a professor of agriculture, but now there is not, so teachers themselves get to work with vegetables using what they already know.

Blanco Rodriguez: A few years ago we also had piglets and producers. From there, it’s emerged in the communities since they learn and have modules for production. The community starts these projects, but the idea was born at the school.

Santander Mamani: The students have experimented here, and they have brought their knowledge back to their own communities. Now they raise pigs, guinea pigs, and other experiments in their own houses.

Are there technicians within the community that can do this kind of teaching?

Blanco Rodriguez: Here no, but in Carmen Pampa there is a college not far from here with agronomists. The school itself has gone there to study. There are also veterinarians. They support the population.

Santander Mamani: But today, there isn’t a strong alliance. These are the same students that go to this school of Carmen Pampa, which is a private institution, and young people leave, but there’s no such support for them to leave and study. When the students graduate, they usually want to try to make money. There’s no collaboration, so they can’t come here, and anyways they’re very busy with their studies and work.

In closing, I wanted to ask about values education, if it happens here and how?

Azucena Cutile: In culture, much has been accomplished. Each student makes their own outfit for cultural nights, with the materials we have in the area. The teachers have always brought us this message of working with what you have.

Blanco Rodriguez: The school has a values education committee, a group of teachers with Sister Laura. The students are organized by grade and go on a trip. Recently, for example, they have gone to Cochuna. In Cochuna, they do the course of education in values, using strategies that are dynamic, games. In these spaces, they learn to share and go to see the place, e.g. waterfalls, how to care for each other. They’ve also gone to other places, like Cochabamba and Sucre.

Teachers receive a monthly training course on pedagogy and values every Wednesday, given by Fe y Alegría and the sister. They focus on responsibility, in theory and in practice. We demand timeliness, and Mondays the parents are always at the door saying, "Hurry!" It’s a job for all of us. There are always problems with the kids, fighting, but teachers ask, "Why do we have to do that? Why can’t we live in harmony?" And so they learn.

That’s also part of the lesson. Teachers give some theory, but in each activity like the cultural night, they show respect and values. In the drama, the singing, everything is related to values. Also the rescue of their own culture and language is part of the Aymara cultural nights. Those who speak Aymara present the plays in Aymara.

  1. Term used for a person with a bachelor’s degree.
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