An Indigenous Culture Rises Up in Bolivia
by Alicia Callisaya
My name is Margarita Virginia Sausa Arili. I am 18 years old and I come from a very poor family. I have six siblings. My mother is a Quechua from Potosi.
I live in the community of Collana. My father bought land in this area because in Potosi we didn’t have any land to farm. My father cleared the land from the native forests, but he passed away eight years ago. We don’t have a decent house, and we don’t receive help from anyone. I have worked ever since I was a young girl to buy my clothing and help my mother.
I am here studying because I want to escape from poverty and ignorance. I ask God to allow me to get ahead. People have told me, “Don’t study, you are a woman.” It doesn’t matter. Even if I don’t have enough to eat, even if I can’t dress well, I am going to graduate.
I want to live a better life and work to help my family.
* Margarita Virginia Sausa Arili was a student at Rio Colorado Technical Agricultural
High School, administered by the Bolivian Methodist Church. She is now a teacher married to another
teacher. She and her husband teach the children of the colonists (settlers) in
the Rio Colorado area.
** Translated by Peter Hudy, United Methodist Missionary, Director of the Rio Colorado Technical Agricultural High School.
Virginia’s story is not unique. The Methodist Educational Service in Bolivia serves 14,400 students nationwide. It offers a private school system for children of the middle and upper classes and a public school system, which functions in conjunction with the government, to teach students from poorer families. Through this latter system the Evangelical Methodist Church in Bolivia (Iglesia Evangelical Metodista Bolivia, or IEMB) serves less privileged families, such as Virginia’s.
Methodist private schools cooperate with Methodist public schools, especially in the rural areas, sharing equipment and infrastructure improvements as well as teacher training.
The Methodist Educational Service works with 33 educational units, of which 14 are fully owned and operated by the IEMB. Of these 14 Methodist-owned schools, nine are private schools in the morning and public schools in the afternoon, and the other five are public schools. These public schools are administered by the IEMB under an agreement with the Bolivian Government Ministry of Education, using IEMB property, equipment, and infrastructure. The other 19 schools are public schools on public property that are administered by the IEMB under another agreement with the government.
Sixteen of the 24 public schools are in the highland region of Bolivia, 15 being in the La Paz area, and one in the Oruro area.
One of the 24 public schools, the Rio Colorado Technical Agricultural High School, which Virginia attended, is located in the colonization area of the rain forest in the Beni area.
The remaining seven public schools are located in the eastern lowland region of Bolivia. These 24 schools serve a total of 4154 students in all of Bolivia.
In line with Wesleyan thought, the IEMB wanted to bring the word of God to the marginalized and offer them an opportunity to learn to read and write and thereby rise out of poverty.
Bolivian parents assign tasks to their children according to each child’s age and acquired abilities. The children become independent and self-assured, supported by the four pillars of training: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be.
Bolivia is a multicultural, multiethnic, and multilingual country. Bolivian peasants had no access or rights to education during all of the colonial period (1500-1824) and through most of the republican period (1825-1952). This began to change with the arrival of Methodist missionaries in 1906.
The Methodist Educational Service initiated its work in La Paz with the founding of the American Institute by the Rev. Francis Harrington in 1907, and later with the founding of the American Institute in Cochabamba in 1911. In 1922, after 15 years of educational service to the urban privileged classes, the Methodist Educational Service directed its efforts toward the poor in the marginal zones of the city of La Paz.
The Methodist Church in Bolivia opened the first school for rural peasants in Camata and later expanded into the town of Ancoraimes in 1930 with the founding of the Central Methodist School. At its peak, the school with its 30 sectional branches created some 52 community schools, of which about half were later turned over to the local residents for operation.
The Aymara people from the rural areas who migrated to the city and lived in the peripheral areas of La Paz were offered schooling in 1930 with the founding of the Los Andes Methodist School, currently owned and operated by the IEMB as the Nestor Peñaranda American Institute.
The economic crisis that afflicted Bolivia during the 1930s and 1940s forced the Methodist Church to cut back on expansion of schools. However, in the 1950s the IEMB once again started founding new schools in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia.
Between 1956 and 1960, the Foreign Board of Missions of the Methodist Church in the United States designated Bolivia as a “Land of Decision,” which facilitated economic and human resources for educational and evangelistic efforts. The educational system expanded into the far eastern parts of Bolivia, especially with technical agricultural and livestock-raising education. In 1959, IEMB started work with displaced World War II Japanese populations who had moved to Bolivia after the war. These schools are still func-tioning and growing under the Methodist Educational Service.
In 1963, the Ancoraimes Technical Vocational School opened at the site of the original Ancoraimes Central Methodist School, offering technical training along with high school education to the surrounding communities. At the same time, the Ancoraimes Girls School opened to teach girls and young women home economics and general subjects in a boarding school setting.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Methodist Educational Service opened new schools in newly colonized areas of the subtropical forests, rain forests, and eastern lowlands. These agricultural and technical schools continue to be important in each area.
In spite of these improvements in education in the rural areas, there still remain consequences of mistreatment and humiliation from the pre-independence colonial system.
To confront the violation of the most basic rights of these oppressed and exploited indigenous populations, the IEMB proposes to convert cultural conflict into intercultural compatibility as an instrument of social transformation.
Today, the Methodist Educational Service seeks to strengthen the cultural values and identities of the indigenous populations.
Forming Tomorrow’s Leaders
Training indigenous peoples is of utmost importance to the IEMB as a way to develop the country. Great political, social, and religious leaders have emerged as a result of the training received by peasants. Four recent bishops are indigenous Aymara who have worked not only for the IEMB but also for international organizations, such as the World Council of Churches.
The peasant child or the child in a marginal urban neighborhood has the right to an education, including Christian education. In the institutions under the IEMB, there is no division between public education and Methodism, which teaches love for one’s neighbors, for the truth, for justice, and above all for God.
* Alicia Callisaya is the Coordinator of the Methodist Educational Service, the Evangelical Methodist Church in Bolivia, and a graduate of the Ancoraimes Girls School and the Methodist Ancoraimes Technical Industrial High School.
**Translated by Dakin Cook, United Methodist missionary serving in Bolivia.
The Rio Colorado School
The Rio Colorado Technical Agricultural High School, a bright spot in education, is a small technical high school in the rain forest where children of homesteaders graduate with a high school diploma, a technical certificate, and computer skills. Despite the location, Rio Colorado achieves successes where most other schools fail. As a result, almost 70 percent of its graduates, young men and women who would otherwise have a difficult future, go on to study at universities throughout the country.
How It Began
The Rio Colorado school was born of changes brought about by the revolution of 1952: the tin mines were nationalized and many closed, leaving thousands of people out of work; agrarian reform was passed; and the government made a commitment to rural education.
The area was opened to settlement by displaced miners and others from the highlands. Communities were formed and each new homesteader was given 25 hectares (62 acres) of land. Elementary schools and local governments were established. Despite this progress, there were still twice as many children of school age as available spaces in schools.
On October 27, 1983, the first trees were cleared from the forested lands at Rio Colorado school under the direction of the Rev. Robert Caulfield, a United Methodist missionary working with the IEMB. Classes started on May 28, 1984, with 26 students from grades six to nine. Then, as now, classes ran all day, and students stayed in dormitories and went home only on weekends.
In 1992, the first computer classes were offered using obsolete computers donated by other Bolivia schools and friends in the United States. A technical writing course was added in 1995 that challenges the students to use the computer. Additional courses are offered in agricultural economics, Christian education, animal husbandry, and agriculture.
The Rio Colorado Agricultural School was built out of the rain forests through an international effort. All the buildings were constructed with assistance from Volunteer-in-Mission teams from The United Methodist Church in the United States. These teams contributed toward the cost of construction material, provided their own labor, and paid their own travel expenses. Additional labor was provided by the parents of the students who also cleared and prepared the land prior to the volunteer teams’ arrival. Classes were taught by Bolivians, Canadians, and people from the United States.
Today, there are about 170 students in grades 7 through 12. In a region where only one in 100 men and one in 200 women have a high school degree, the Rio Colorado school has made education available to all young men and women.
* Written by Flora Warner, retired United Methodist missionary serving the Rio Colorado Technical Agricultural High School.
The Methodist Andean American Institute, El Alto
El Alto is the poorest urban area of Bolivia, located on the high plain just above La Paz. Thousands flock to this community in search of opportunity. Living conditions are bleak, the geography is rough, and advancement opportunities are few.
The Andean American Institute in El Alto has been open less than two years. The first year, only 75 students attended. In one year, attendance jumped to 146 students. There are currently 65 students per classroom. Lack of space continues to be a big problem. The school currently offers kindergarten through fifth grade. It hopes to offer sixth grade classes next year, but funds are scarce.
Joni Tallacahua, an 11-year-old student at the school, earnestly hopes that he will be able to continue his education at the American Institute. All of Joni’s 10 siblings are also currently enrolled in school. The predominant language in Joni’s home is Aymara. At the school, all Joni’s classes are in Spanish. He hopes that one day the school will also offer Aymara so that he can learn to write in his own language. Although his mother never attended school, education is a big priority for his family. Joni hopes to be a doctor in El Alto one day.
Like many students at this school, he already works, selling with his father adobe building blocks and rocks for construction. According to Antonio Nina, the director of the school, by the fourth grade, 20 percent of his students are already an unofficial part of the workforce. Many boys work shining shoes, serving as conductors on buses, or helping their parents sell goods in the markets.
Working Together to Improve the School
Angel Manani is a fifth grade teacher at the school. He has worked in education for many years and was previously an administrator and supervisor at a school in Rio Colorado. He also works as a taxi driver to supplement his income and help support his four children.
Angel spoke frankly about the numerous needs of the school. “More classrooms are desperately needed. We want to open grade level by grade level because if we do not offer the next level needed, most of these children will not continue their education.”
We are surrounded by reminders that El Alto is a poor community. Students are asked to buy their textbooks, which cost about US $11. Because education is such a high priority for families here, most of the students do purchase books. However, seven students rely on photocopies.
In the past two years, the school has made much progress. Professors and administrators meet with parents who eagerly share how pleased they are with the academic progress of their children. Parents contribute to much of the needed labor at the school. They worked to improve the roads leading to the school and helped to clear the land for construction. Many parents, faculty, and administrators believe that the school would be best operated under the joint leadership of the government and the church since current funding from the church alone is not meeting the vast needs of the school. They want to offer computer classes and repeatedly ask for assistance to obtain computers and hire a computer teacher. They would also like to offer English classes.
* Written by Karen Maldovan, UMVIM volunteer.
Giving Back to the Community
Freddy Añaguaya Gutierrez is a 20-year-old student at the San Bernardo Technical Industrial High School in Turrini, a public school administered by the IEMB. He has seven brothers and sisters who all attend school here. His family is native to this community and are subsistence farmers. The farming conditions are difficult—the community lacks much-needed machinery and suffers from a continual water shortage. Freddy’s siblings also work as farmers alongside his parents.
Freddy studies a variety of subjects, everything from math and music to philosophy, health, and biology. His classes are conducted in Spanish, although Aymara is his native and first language.
Perhaps the most important function of this school is its ability to teach agricultural skills. Freddy said, “My parents know the seasons and basic crop rotations, but be- cause of my classes, I have been able to help with planting strategies.”
The needs are immense, both in the school and the community. To reach the school, one walks through a dry riverbed that serves as a constant reminder that water and irrigation projects are a constant need. The school itself has no library and badly needs materials.
Yet there is a confidence and joy in Freddy that cannot be shaken. In Turrini, he has the ability to grow and dream. He plans to stay in the community and hopes that his education will one day be of service to his family and his future.
* Interview of Freddy Añaguaya Gutierrez by Karen Maldovan, UMVIM volunteer.
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Dakin Cook, who compiled the stories, photos, and interviews for this article.
Date posted: Mar 11, 2004