Empowering People in the Amazon Rainforest
By Virginia Kellogg
Imagine a group of 35 teachers sitting around a fire at dawn, drinking guayusa tea, and imagining the future of intercultural education together. Imagine that out of this encounter there grows an ongoing exchange between educators in the North and South, with each group sharing their own unique wisdom and working together towards one common goal: creating a future characterized by social justice & intercultural understanding, a world more full of possibility & promise. What you have just imagined is the International English Minga (IEM)—a three week journey to Achuar Territory in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest.
This summer—from July 14 to August 4—Twenty Achuar teachers from different communities throughout the rainforest will meet with the North American team in the Amazonian community of Wachirpas. Participants are trained by the team of ten students and 2 professors of the University of San Francisco (USF) of California in English as a Second Language (ESL) skills that they can then take back to teach in their communities. They will also help to develop an international curriculum which is in harmony with daily life in the rainforest and the traditions of the Achuar.
“Minga” is a Quechua word that is used by indigenous people of the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Basin to describe a cooperative, communal work party which may last until dawn. In a minga, work is repaid with food and drink and is followed by a night of music and dancing. Recently, this concept of minga has been expanding into the field of education, specifically English language education. During the IEM, teachers, students, and professors from many different cultures work together to collaborate, create superior pedagogy, and promote clearer communication at a local and international level.
The idea for this project sprang from the experience of Lily Hollister and Kyle Solomon as volunteer English teachers in Southeastern Ecuador in 2009 and 2010. Lily is the daughter of our very own Virginia Kellogg here at Leadership That Works. The Achuar coordinators, Jiyunt and Tiyua Uyunkar, are working within their community with men and women of all ages and creating the first-ever English language curriculum designed by and for the Achuar people to meet their needs and fully deliver their gifts in this global age.
By learning English, the Achuar people will be able to determine and author their own destiny as they confront the challenges of preserving their land and water sovereignty. At a time when the Ecuadorean government is putting millions of acres of rainforest at risk with proposed oil drilling, this project helps to encourage sustainable land use through eco-tourism. In turn, the American teachers will return to their classrooms with a deeper understanding of place-based education, impressed by the bio-diversity of the Amazon rainforest, and filled with a fresh, new perspective on indigenous cultures. The initiative brings the Achuar into fuller partnership with the wider world in a culturally responsible, inventive way.
As Lily reminds us, “The best people to carry forward this message of hope and to disseminate this knowledge are educators of every stripe: schoolteachers and shamans, university professors, coaches and scholars. My dream is that this minga will lead to many others, and that from this work a sense of empowerment can take hold, and inspire a world of fresh possibility.”
At Leadership that Works we are so proud to be a supporter of this project. We are committed to supporting innovation that leads to self-reliance and empowerment of all people. We take a stand for people to take charge of their own lives so they can be stronger leaders in their communities. This International English Minga serves as an example of what committed people can do when they see what is needed and take charge to make it happen.
We encourage you to donate to this project as well. Visit http://internationalenglishminga.blogspot.com