Dispatch 3: Fighting Poverty With a Rich Education
This is the third part of a blog series to see the previous post click here.
“Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living on marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation” - UN Statement, June 1998 – signed by the heads of all UN agencies.
Spending time in the Yanesha communities has made it clear that Yanesha students have extremely limited access to clean water, a high school education, consistent medical care, and opportunities to escape the boundaries in which they are constrained. Together with two long term Reachglobal staff and short term teams I have been working to reach out to these forgotten youth in three different Yanesha high schools. We have been using English, values classes, and sports ministry to communicate that Jesus is the hope for their generation.
These Yanesha students did not have primary schools until fifty years ago when two long term staff from Wycliffe Bible Translators advocated for the education of Yanesha children and trained Yanesha teachers in coordination with the Ministry of Education to establish schools. Only within the past 20 years have they had secondary schools in their communities. Very few have access to post-graduate institutions or trade schools due to lack of funds and long distances and university study is almost always out of the question. Many students live over an hour away from the nearest secondary school forcing them to commute to school every week staying in the communities where they study if they are fortunate enough to have family there who will house them. Access is one of the largest factors as to why approximately 70% of Yanesha students do not graduate secondary school. Other factors include: unplanned pregnancies, lack of resources, and priorities of working on family farms being higher than finishing school.
We have been combatting the absence of education with Yanesha students in specific areas such as sexuality during their values class. There is an incredibly high rate of high schoolers who face unplanned pregnancies causing them to drop out of school, further limiting their access to jobs in the future. For the girls, this often increases their dependency on men in their community which, over the years, has created a complex power structure that remains today. For the boys, often times it initiates a harmful pattern of leaving women without providing for them and their children. Only when these students are able to understand the consequences of their actions while honoring their bodies and concerning themselves with their futures will they be able to end this cycle.
What about their parents? Culturally speaking, the Yanesha are a passive people group. Therefore, talking about sex and sexuality is taboo. It is also possible that parents never had anyone explain things to them or they are too ashamed about the topic to start a dialogue with their kids. Some of the students have heard of sexual abuse from parents or teachers (an epidemic amongst impoverished peoples) while others have experienced it.
What about the teachers? The teachers in Yanesha communities have low pay grade and the possibility of being transferred year to year creating an inconsistent and unstable environment for students. The high school teachers in Yanesha schools are not Yanesha themselves meaning they do not share ethnic heritage and many of their students’ long-term struggles. The educators commute from surrounding towns to teach Yanesha students but, sometimes they don’t show up for work leaving their students unattended all day. But, in my time in the schools, I have encountereda few outstanding teachers who genuinely care for their students well being.
The school day in Yanesha schools only lasts until 1:30 (to beat the heat) so the students have a lot of free time in the afternoons. We utilize that time to build and grow relationships with the students. They love playing volleyball, soccer, and going to the river (sometimes jumping off bridges into the water!). These children value the time spent together and sharing life with them is always so fun.
The Yanesha people are marked by the poverty they withstand daily. The problem begins when we, looking from the outside in, fail to see past that. One cannot blame another person for the reality they were born into. These students have intrinsic value. They matter just like you and I.
During my time spent in the Yanesha communities, I am constantly reminded that Jesus is the hope for their generation. I am grateful to be a small part of eradicating poverty. If you would like to join me in this mission by supporting the Yanesha students financially, donate directly to their Training Center through ReachGlobal|EFCA Designation: Other, Fill in 5273 Yanesha Training Center.