To complement my previous post, I interviewed Maria L. Betancur, who serves as Assistant Director of Development and Operations for The Wayuu Taya Foundation, who so kindly obtained some time in her busy schedule to answer my questions. (Also, they have a brand new and beautiful website, wich you can visit here).
What is the main objective of the Wayuu Taya Foundation?
Our mission is to help improve the lives of Latin-American indigenous people while maintaining and respecting their traditions, culture and beliefs. From this mission we have developed the following objectives:
· Design and implement programs directed towards improving the quality of life of indigenous communities, respecting their autonomy and cultural heritage.
· Create community centers that allow the integration of health services, medical and nutrition attention, and preschool and primary education for new generations of indegenous children.
· Enable spaces that will allow indigenous women to work and generate income while maintaining their traditions.
Is there a specific reason why you decided to start working with the Wayuu people, instead of another indigenous community?
The idea of the foundation was born 8 years ago when the Venezuelan model and actress Patricia Velasquez donated a pump to draw water to the community Wayúu, where her mother comes from. After seeing the positive impact in the community, Patricia established the foundation and its programs. Since its inception in 2002, the foundation has concentrated its efforts on helping Wayúu, for being a very needy and very large population.
This year we will expand our work to Haiti where we hope to replicate the educational program Tepichi Talashi.
Which are the priority needs and the most urgent problems of our indigenous peoples, and specifically the Wayuu people?
We work in communities whose primary needs and problems include extreme poverty, high malnutrition rates among the child population as well as high child mortality rates, gastrointestinal disease due to lack of clean drinking water, and deficiencies in education that prevent integral child development.
Among the activities and programs developed by the Foundation, which one do you think has had a greater impact on those needs and problems?
All our programs are focused on the needs and problems mentioned above, but two specific programs have greater impact because they adress more than one of the needs found in the community.
Tepichi Talashi Education Program: "Tepichi Talashi", meaning "happy child" in the Wayuu language, is the name of the first preschool and primary school of the Wayuu Taya Foundation. These institutions have the basic facilities for over 300 children enrolled in the first cycle of formal education. The classes are imparted in both Spanish and wayuainiki. Students not only study, sing, learn to sew and play in the classrooms of "Tepichi Talashi." In addition, they are provided health care and proper nutrition. For this, a specialized medical group provides health care and basic hygiene to parents and children. Additionally, children who are members of the educational program receive breakfast and lunch at school.
The women's center Shukumajaya: Each wayunaiki word chosen by the Wayuu Taya Foundation to name its initiatives, links directly to the Wayuu world. "Shukumajaya" meaning beginning, in this wayuu indigenous dialect, is the name chosen to identify the first facility built by this organization, for indigenous women to gather and work together and protected from inclement weather. The Shukumajaya is a big bohío, or hut, where they can weave. The foundation has not only created a workplace, but also provides the necessary materials to make colorful handmade bags. These backpacks, known as "susus", are part of the craft tradition of the Wayúu. They are also the product of a patient creation and an imaginative mix of colors, of a thorough work that requires 20 days of work to produce each piece. Shukumajaya is also a social space which offers advice on family planning, nutrition and hygiene.
While working with indigenous communities, what are the factors that must be taken into account, in relation to respect for their traditions, customs, beliefs and social structure? How to collaborate with their development, without this means trying to impose a Western view of this concept, or invade their autonomy as a people?
The foundation's mission is to maintain and respect the traditions of indigenous communities while improving the quality of life of the community. This is fundamental to us, therefore we develop programs where their traditions are not only respected, but maintained.
For example, we have an educational program called "Technology for Education of Wayuu" (TEW), designed by the Foundation, with the use of computer technology, to support the training of Wayuu children as bilingual individuals (Wayuunaiki and Spanish), strengthening their identity and sense of belonging to their ethnicity, and promote leadership for the development of their communities. This innovative project was initiated in U.E. Jesus El Redentor, in order to stimulate self-learning capabilities of children through the use of multimedia software tools designed with elements of their socio-cultural environment.
We are in the process of developing a system of youth orchestras with FESNOJIV. This is the first system of orchestras in a wayuu community, helping the study and preservation of traditional music from this particular community. So far there are no mechanisms for Wayúu to write music, but with the implementation of the orchestra system, Wayúu children will learn to write music, to write what they're creating, and also can write the music they heard as children or that their ancestors listened, and has been passed on orally for generations.
How can ordinary people help with the work of the Foundation?
The UN has set eight priority goals to eradicate poverty by 2015, and both Venezuela and Colombia have committed to compliance. (These goals are: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV / AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, develop a global partnership for development). Of those goals, what are the most urgent in relation to development of indigenous peoples?
We believe that all goals are equally important but in terms of urgency, we need to attack some of them first, which will allow us to attack some others in the future. In the case of the Wayuu community, it is essential to combat gastrointestinal disorders created by the lack of clean water, and reduce infant mortality by focusing on improving nutrition of children and their good hygiene practices. By having a healthy community and without hunger, we will be able to focus in education. At the same time, we are helping women (central axis of the family Wayúu, since they are a matrilineal society) to generate revenue, and providing courses where women learn to give better care to their families, in terms of nutrition and hygiene their families. It is important to note the great work that local and regional authorities are doing to meet these goals and improve the quality of life of people Wayúu.