Barbara Fraser
Young students share a book in a poorly equipped school along the Urituyacu River, in a remote part of the northeastern Peruvian Amazon.

Remote Amazonian Villages in Peru Lack Schools, Teachers

Barbara Fraser

Before dawn on school days, about a dozen Urarina children climb out of mosquito nets, dress and leave this tiny village for the muddy, nearly 90-minute trek to school in the nearest town.

Messy at best, the trail becomes dangerous during heavy rains, when the students must balance on narrow logs to cross overflowing streams. Parents keep their kids home on those days, and some don't enroll their youngest children at all because of the daily hazards, which include poisonous snakes and painful insect bites.

“We have children here who don’t attend school, not because their parents don’t want them to study, but because of the distance,” village leader or apu Roger Macusi says.

When they do attend, the kids say, teachers and classmates tease them for arriving disheveled or dirty.

As a result, Santa Lucía’s young people generally drop out before finishing grade school—foreshadowing a future of marginal, low-wage jobs if they decide to leave the remote Urituyacu River valley in Peru’s northeastern Amazon region, where they were born.

Santa Lucía de Tipishca has nearly 20 young children, enough to justify a primary school of its own, but Macusi says the community’s requests have gone unanswered.

Peru’s official intercultural, bilingual education program falls short along the Urituyacu River, especially in the Urarina communities, which tend to be smaller and have less infrastructure than those of the Kukama Kukamiria, the largest indigenous group in this area.

“The intercultural approach is more rhetoric than reality,” says Ricardo Cuenca, a researcher who specializes in education issues at the Institute of Peruvian Studies (Instituto de Estudios Peruanos), a social sciences think tank in Lima.

Upriver, in Guineal, the teacher showed up in March to register students, then never returned, apu Simón Inuma Manizari says, adding that this happens year after year.

In mid-June, two months after classes should have started, small solar panels and computers from the One Laptop per Child program, which is meant to give students in developing countries access to technology, were gathering cobwebs on a dusty table in the abandoned school.

In other communities, parents complain of teachers who show up only sporadically for work, or school records that incorrectly indicate that children are not enrolled.

Besides shortchanging the children, school attendance problems cut into the families’ income. One of Peru’s long-standing rural social programs provides a subsidy of about $35 a month to families in exchange for a commitment that their children will attend school and get regular health checkups.


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