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the School and El Monte

the School and El Monte

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in all posts, Peru, PRATEC | 2 comments

Wayku, trucks ready for school trip, photo by Udi

We arrive early in the central square of Wayku, the Quechua Lamas village that is found below the town of Lamas, and wait for the trucks to arrive for the school trip. The square is next to the local bilingual secondary school (Spanish and Quechua) and the students wait outside sitting and chatting dressed in their uniform and packing their lunches in bags and rucksacks. We talk to a few of the students, but mainly we talk to Leonardo, who works at Waman Wasi in the surrounding villages and schools and who invited us to come today.  He introduces us to some of the teachers coming along today. One teaches computers at the school and is a local Quechua Lama. We had heard of these bilingual schools before, where classes are held mostly in Spanish and some in Quechua. We wondered about how these formal bilingual opportunities for children coming from Quechuan communities offered an intercultural environment, how different cultural contexts were combined within the school – and in particular, how Quechua ways of knowing were integrated and cultural practices cellebrated.

Terapoto, school trip truck, photo by Udi

Waman Wasi, part of the PRATEC network and also started initially by Grimaldo, has been practicing the approach outlined in the previous post working to strengthen and promote the values and practices associated with the chacra as well as to ways of knowing and being of Quechua Lama peoples of this region more generally. Wama Wasi had also been trying to encourage the local schools to open their doors to the communities they were inserted in, involving more the parents and grandparents in the teaching, and especially their knowledge. To this end, Wama Wasi had also been running a number of workshops with local teachers over the years to sensitise them to the surrounding cosmovision, for even if many of these teachers may themselves be Quechua Lamas, few retain the connection to this way of seeing and being in the universe.

Leonardo and Gregorio, two Quechua Lamas working in Wama Wasi who generously showed us around during our stay, spoke of how challenging it has been to engage with teachers who have been trained and culturally assimilated into another way of thinking that has tended to devalue local ways of knowing and being. A similar challenge was conveyed to us by Elena Pardo in Cusco, from CEPROSI (Centro de Promoción y Salud Integral), also a part of the PRATEC network, who works with Quechua communities of the high Andes. This challenge was further narrated to us by Jaime Luna Martinez, the Zapotec activist and anthropologist we talked to in Oaxaca, who is similarly trying to bring to the school the ways of knowing and being of the local Zapotec community, especially around the notion of comunalidad (see the post on this).

The two trucks arrive 30min late, they are returning from an earlier trip that day, organised by Wama Wasi with local schools, to go to the local salt mine, a few hours away by road and then an additional 8 hours on foot up to the mountains.  It is a key spiritual place for the Quechua Lamas. The salt mines, like the forested mountain region we are about to go to, is part of the Quechua Lamas ancestral hunting and gathering territory. Once a year villagers go to the salt mines to get a years worth supply of salt. The mine and the territory around it, is now threatened with being appropriated by the state under a policy of ‘conservation’ that excludes traditional uses, such as hunting and gathering medicines, and thus the caretakers of the land. This, we are told a number of times during our visit, is happening across Peru and especially to these upper Amazon mountainous regions. There was also talk that the salt mine, used collectively by the Quechua Lamas for thousands of years, was going to be taken over from this collective use and privatised by an international mining company for their own use.

The school trip was also headed to what used to be Quechua hunting and medicine gathering territory, the region of el monte, the mountain, which alongside the chacra, the field were much work life happenings cultivating a variety of plants, and the river, make up the trinity of places in Quechua Lama cosmovision. This particular el monte, lying by one of the region’s central attractions, the large Ahuashiyacu waterfall beyond Terapoto, is now a biodiversity park looked after by the local university. This dates back some two decades, coinciding with the period in which the state was fighting against the guerrillas emerging from rural areas.

The Quechua Lama computer teacher called the students to attention and read out the register so they could jump to the back of the truck. 30 students, 3 teachers, a few parents and a couple of grandparents later, the troupe packed shoulder to shoulder, standing up at the back of two small pick-up trucks chatting and excitedly screaming as we pulled away and hit the road. Kelly and I imagined health and safety procedures and professionals back in Europe and the US eyes open in disbelief staring at the unfolding scene, tightly gripping regulation manuals and consent forms. Driving across the undulating green landscape with our merry band we did not feel the clenching of officiousness, bureaucratic care or fear of litigation, instead there was the blowing wind rushing through faces smiling with the raw enjoyment of a day out. We were going to El Monte!

El Monte entrance, grandfather blowing smoke, photo by Udi

El Monte is the territory of spirits, the souls of plants and animals and of the forest itself who must be supplicated to provide for those entering it. To enter El Monte, the Quechua Lama need to be purified, their bodies prepared and made ready to enter this place of spirits. At the entrance of the biodiversity park one of the grandfathers stood on the other side of a small stream preparing dozens of small hand rolled cigarettes. The Quechua Lama computer teacher once again read out the register and the students filed through accordingly. As they passed by, the grandfather blew smoke on them, purifying them to enter into the forest. The whole troupe filed past, each person undergoing the same procedure, including ourselves, and entered El Monte covered in a haze of tobacco.

El Monte entrance, grandfather blowing smoke2, photo by Udi

The students quickly made their way through the forest and in a few minutes we arrive at a clearing where the administration of the park and a small zoo are located. Here we are all received by the park keeper, a non- Quechua Lama ecologist from the local university. The children proceeded to ask him a number of questions about biodiversity, the park, its animals and what they ate. The questions had been prepared earlier, perhaps in the classroom, and had been written in their notebooks. The students meticulously wrote down the answers to the questions. Of note amongst the biological and ecological answers given by the park keeper were the sharp distinctions drawn between things that were living ‘biotic’ and non-living ‘abiotic’, as he put it. After several rounds of questions and answers, and breakfast, we set off to walk through the park. Immediately the majority of students rushed ahead with the park keeper and the computer teacher.

El Monte, the park-keeper-ecologist, photo by Udi

We stayed with a smaller and slower group of some six students who were walking with Leonardo from Waman Wasi and with the grandfather, realising that this was the actual teaching about the forest we thought the trip had been organised for. We had been waiting for a coordinated encounter of all the students with the grandfather and the forest, the intergenerational transmission of knowledge! Instead as we later learned, the whole idea to invite grandparents had come from Waman Wasi, not from the bilingual school. Rather than a coordinated and integral part of the trip, the grandfather element was very much a late add on, an afterthought, to the ‘real learning’ to be had on biodiversity from the park keeper. We had come to the trip expecting to see interculturalidad, interculturality, a strong principle across Latin America that seeks not only a bilingual education but a form of education where people learn to be grounded in and in between two cultures, the dominant ‘western’ culture of subjects, disciplines, of maths and ecology and computers, and the indigenous ways of knowing, in this case, how to be in the forest, walk through it, hunt, gather medicines, know its plants and animals and their behaviour.

El Monte, the grandfather, photo by Udi

What we witnessed instead were the very real challenges of enacting such an education. These were not only challenges of organisation but also around the value and respect that teachers and students place on indigenous ways of knowing. Further than that we also observed how formal schooling instils certain deep habits of literacy that make it harder to engage with indigenous ways of knowing and learning. As I wrote previously on the post on literacies, technologies and techniques that mediate the world, whether the written or printed word or the computer screen, subtly shape our experience and how we make sense of the world and relate to others. We saw the sharp contrast of different kinds of literacies operating in the trip to El Monte. The group with the grandfather also asked him questions that they had written down in their notebooks and also wrote his answers down, rarely looking up as they did. By contrast the grandfather animatedly demonstrated through stories, or walking through the forest, or imitating the calls of animals, or reenacting a hunt or gesture, his knowledge and way of knowing. He knew and conveyed his knowing through his body and voice. Yet he was surrounded by his grandchildren’s generation who could read and write well, but did not know the forest through their bodies. They were forest illiterate.

El Monte, literacy, photo by Udi

After the school trip we talked to Leonardo and shared some of these observations, he was surprised that we had noticed these things too and spoke of the challenges of enacting interculturalidad in practice in schools and engaging the interest of teachers and students. There are so many other mediating technologies now that call young people away from knowing the forest with their bodies; tv, mobile phones, digital music on demand anywhere. Even in El Monte. Every so often the sound of the breeze and swaying trees was interrupted by something much more prosaic, Lady Gaga coming from a student’s mobile phone. We spoke with the grandfather later in the trip and also back in his home in Wayku. Though he is happy and excited to talk to the younger generation and be asked to go on trips like this, he lamented that very few young people are interested in learning the Quechua Lama ways of seeing and being in the forest. So in days to come we wondered how many would still know the forest and have the deep relation that he had, how many will be able to know and imitate the calls of the birds in the fiestas?

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Development = Cosmovision and Crianza… Learning from PRATEC

Development = Cosmovision and Crianza… Learning from PRATEC

Posted by on Feb 1, 2013 in all posts, Peru, PRATEC | 0 comments

We are sitting in the beach-front barrio of Barranco under a once again grey Lima sky relaxing in a cafe after another danger-taxi-ride through the aggressive traffic. We have just had a 90min meeting and interview with Grimaldo Rengifo Vásquez one of the founders of PRATEC (Proyeto Andinas de Tecnologías Campesinas) a grassroots network of organisations working with indigenous communities throughout Peru through a perspective that values and seeks to strengthen Andean knowledge and practices. The organisation was started in 1986 by Grimaldo Rengifo Vásquez, Eduardo Grillo, Francois Greslou and Marcela Velásquez development and agronomy professionals who were dissastified with the development models that had were being unquestionably applied across Peru and elsewhere.

As Frederique Apffel-Marglin wrote in a wonderful article about PRATEC in 2002.

In the course of their professional activities they eventually came to the conclusion that development itself was the problem. This realisation did not come swiftly; it emerged slowly after a lifetime of professional activity in the service of development. At first they thought that things were not working because the methodologies that they used were faulty. They worked hard to devise better methodologies. They lived through many phases and fashions in development: community development; participatory development; appropriate technology; sustainable development; women and development. They tried everything available, always striving to capture the reality of Andean peasant agriculture and of peasant life in general. At long last they came to the conclusion that no methodology would ever deliver and that the problem lay in the very idea of development. It is at this juncture that they left their professional activities and their secure jobs and founded PRATEC, a non-governmental organisation. In other words, they deprofessionalised themselves. They had come to the realisation that development had failed. The evidence lay scattered throughout the Peruvian landscape in what some of their colleagues have called ‘the archaeology of development’, namely ruined infrastructures, abandoned to the elements after the project officials had left, uncared for by the peasants for whom they were intended and left to deteriorate. The evidence also lay in their experience of repeated efforts to devise better methodologies and the final realisation that within their professional perspective and constraints it was impossible to approximate peasant reality and therefore make development relevant to their lives.

From Fieldwork to Mutual Learning: Working with PRATEC. Environmental Values 11 (2002): 345–67

I especially like this image of an archaeology of development, the ruined traces of failed schemes dreamnt up elsewhere with different visions of the good life, now scattered across the landscape overgrowing with plants and home to birds and insects.  I guess that the PRATEC team considers the landscape of development ideas to be similarly littered with half-baked schemes, now laying useless on the ground at the mercy of the elements, designed in the distant offices of some large organisation far away from the day to day lives of the peoples here in Peru. And in the picture below, just how many different cosmovisions, different models of how to develop towards the good life!

An indigenous map of Peru found in the offices of PRATEC in Lima, photo by Udi

In our meeting with Grimaldo he conveyed to us the story of the emergence of the organisation in the mid-1980s amidst a climate of violence and conflict in the country following from the guerrilla uprisings. Decades of development projects, the effects of this conflict and of state-supported neoliberal encroachment on indigenous lands and resources had left these populations in a desperate state, destroying the cultural base or social fabric that had sustained these communities for thousands of years. The conflict with the guerrillas alone, Grimaldo told us, had killed 70,000 people, the majority indigenous.

From this period of the 1980s on, Grimaldo said that a new period of rebuilding had started amongst these groups and PRATEC had been a partner in this process. In Grimaldo’s case, and in the trajectory of PRATEC, this has involved coming to understand a different culture and cosmovision (a way of seeing and being in the universe) from his own. For Grimaldo the cosmovision of the Peruvian Andes was different to the  Amazonian campesino culture where he was raised but also from the academic agronomy in which he trained in university. The fundamental and sustaining base of this Andean culture is agriculture and a cosmovision of crianza or nurturance that characterises people’s relationship to nature.

Choba choba, or communal work at the chakra, Lamas, photo by Kelly

We often came across this word crianza, we heard it in the town of Lamas, where the local project Wama Wasi, part of the PRATEC network, works with Quechua Lamas communities in this upper Amazon region. We heard it in our conversations with Elena Pardo in Cusco, from CEPROSI (Centro de Promoción y Salud Integral), also a part of the PRATEC network, which works with Quechua communities surrounding this region of the high Andes.

We loved this term crianza, it has a depth and beauty to it conveying the heart of this cosmovision that is widespread in this region. It also has deep resonances with Kelly’s previous post on Maize and milpa in Mexico, and on the buffalo in Alberta. In our understanding the term crianza means that people help create and sustain, or nurture, nature whereas nature in turn helps to create, sustain and nurture people. The relationship is one of kinship, of the same family, and as such quite different from a habitual way we have come to understand ‘agriculture’ where crops are ‘produced’. For here in ‘agriculture’ there is no sense that the ‘agri’ the crops, are also ‘producing’ us. This relationship, practice and understanding of ‘nature’ being outside of us and manipulated by us for our our ends, and increasingly purely commercial ends, is replaced by a sense of mutuality and reciprocity. I help the plants grow because they help me grow, and we are both part of a larger life collectivity which is, in this cosmovision, our mother earth, a living being that keeps us all alive.

The uniqueness of PRATEC has been to practice a deep listening and learning from the indigenous communities they work with. Rather than begin with the view of ‘experts’ schooled in a particular cosmovision with keywords such as ‘progress’, ‘development’, ‘poverty-reduction’, ‘increasing yields’, ‘growing GDP’, ‘crop production’, PRATEC has instead payed attention to the values and cultural practices that have sustained the life of these communities in these places for thousands of years. Coming to know these values and practices, such as that of crianza but also those surrounding the chacra, the actual field or place where the nurturance is practiced and which makes up most of the community’s working life, was the first step in the trajectory of PRATEC and its founders. We will write more on the chacra in a later post though just briefly we could observe how central this was for the Quechua Lamas communities we came to know and how similar to the Mexican milpa this was (see Kelly’s posts on Maize and Milpa).

PRATEC’s next stage, as Grimaldo narrates in our interview, involved disseminating this particular understanding of close listening and knowing to others. To this end they spent a period of over fifteen years conducting courses across Peru to different groups of professionals and students. This gradually led to a consolidation of a group of people across the country, development and agriculture professionals, teachers and community activists, who were keen to practice this alternative approach to development. PRATEC’s next phase of work has then been guided to strengthening these local practices and systems so as to fulfil not an external expert’s conception of the good life, or of development, but to actualise what this means for the people themselves.

All of this has involved a great deal of unlearning and of re-learning from the people who work at PRATEC, comprised amongst others of university educated agronomists, agricultural engineers, educationalists, and others. Like Grimaldo, others we talked to in PRATEC describe this process of questioning the assumptions they learned in these academic and development institutions and in the cosmovision that sustained the forms of knowledge and values that were reproduced here.

So pervasive and powerful has been the force of this cosmovision promoting a particular kind of technology-driven and market-oriented development and progress, that one important strand of PRATEC’s work with local communities involves redressing the de-valuing of indigenous ways of life which has been happening since the arrival of the Spanish five hundred years ago. What has been interesting to note is that though many of PRATEC’s founders and those they work with now started in the field of agronomy most of them now are actively involved in working in the area of education. As Grimaldo says the latest stage in PRATEC’s trajectory has been to work with schools and with education policy as a way of strengthening local ways of knowing. Important in this shift is also the work of Elena Pardo in and around Cusco, someone who does have a background in education and worked for many years in the Ministry of Education before starting CEPROSI. Here in Peru, as in Mexico and Canada, we found the school as a key institution for the dismantling or the reproduction of a particular cosmovision. How PRATEC and its affiliated organisations work with schools is the topic of the next few posts.

Network of PRATEC projects across Peru (from http://www.pratecnet.org)

PRATEC’s approach to development, some label it ‘post-development’, is both well-known across Peru and internationally and is both respected and controversial. It challenges thinking about who the experts are, who should have the right to impose development (particularly with certain ideas of progress) on a community, what kind of development or conception of the good life ought to underpin these. When we visited one of PRATEC’s many umbrella organizations (this one called Waman Wasi) in the upper Amazon region of Lamas, we were told how the area is filled with different development initiatives by numerous organisations, each with its own set of experts, advice and models. Some offer incentives for the Quechua Lama to grow coffee or cacao for export. The rationale is that the Quechua Lama ought to enter into the global monetary economy to meet their needs, as they are money poor. For Wama Wasi, whom we spent time with, this approach does not recognise the self-sufficiency of these communities and the food security they already have, nor how the chacra embodies a cosmovision that sustains a whole way of life, not only materially, but also culturally, in terms of family roles and relations, and spiritually. Though they are money poor their sense of the good life, buen vivir, is found not in having and owning stuff, but in relation to crianza, to the chacra, and to other elements of their cosmovision that supports their being in the world.

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