According to the official data, there are twenty-four different indigenous peoples within venezuelan territory, and consisted of about 300,000 people in 2001. Our indigenous population is present in the whole territory, but its majority lives in the federal state of Zulia, where their lands are located. Venezuelan constitution recognizes their ancestral rights over those lands they have inhabited since before our independence.
On the other hand, we do live in a country wich economy is mainly (not to say solely) oil-based, our most significant area of oil explotation, by far, is also placed in the border between Colombia, and Venezuela's federal state of Zulia, and there are also coal mines within that area, called The Goajira Peninsula, where the Wayuu people inhabits. According to UNICEF, the Guajira ranks second among the poorest places in Latin America after Haiti. Wayuus, being the largest indigenous group of those 24 mentioned (they represent around 54% of all indigenous population of the country), doesn't have stable access to potable water, suffer of an overly high rate of children mortality (two to three children die everyday of malnutrition), and lack of well-supplied schools, health facilities and hospitals. Moreover, the oil exploitation has had a terrible environmental impact, damaging even more the life conditions of this indigenous group. Illnesses due to polluted water are everyday matter, and agricultural development has became impossible since water scarcity doesn't allow anything to grow.
The power of one, in this case, an actress.
Patricia Velásquez is a wayuu-descendant model and actress, who has performed in runways in Paris, Milan and New York, and has also portrayed in a number of movies, like The Mummy. In 2002, Patricia founded the Wayuu-Taya Foundation, a nonprofit organization, which objective is, according to its website, "to help improve the lives of Latin-American indigenous people while maintaining and respecting their traditions, culture and beliefs." They have -obviously- began their activities in the Maya region, aiming to help wayuu population on its fight against poverty.
The Roof Project.
The main program that the Wayuu-Taya Foundation has created, is called The Roof Project, wich is a center (a Life Center, they say) that comprehenses "an ambulatory care hospital, a preschool with a supplementary feeding clinic, and a women’s center where local women are taught and paid to make handcrafts while maintaining their culture." The goal, as one can see, is to help women to create sustentable work, respecting and relying on their own culture and handcrafts. (They have a shop in their website, and one can see the amazing bags, called Susu, that wayuu women make).
Shukumajaya means Beginning.
This picture belongs to the Wayuu-Taya Foundation: it's the first Roof they've built in the Goajira, and those are indigenous women who weave this simply amazing bags:
This one is called "Amanee", which means "kindness", and those awesome, awesome women take twenty days to make one of this.
Ok, girly-talk is over now. I promise.
Wayuu Taya Foundation has also built five classrooms, where there was no school before, and children attended classes under a group of trees, and now there are 310 students who attend that school. Within their programs, wayuu people are provided with education, healthcare, formation for nutrition (to help reduce those high mortality rates from malnutrition). Women are taught to achieve sustainable work from their own crafts, and children are taught to write and read in spanish and wayunaiki. The Foundation has very clear that in order to help indigenous population, the first step is to respect and recognize their culture, religion and beliefs, make a team with them and work in cooperation, instead of trying to impose occidental ways of thought.
Want to know more? Go to http://www.wayuutaya.org