Network of Wayuu Indigenous Women

Linked to our presentation of Noelí Pocaterra – Venezuela on January 26, 2006.

The Wayuu Women’s Network and University of Zulia Indigenous Children’s Education Project – Venezuela

In 1985 the Wayuu Women’s Network established a partnership with the University of Zulia to address a growing concern over the acculturation of Wayuu children, loss of language, culture, and religion, and an ensuing breakdown of family and community protection of children.

The project was initiated by Noeli Pocaterra, founder of the Wayuu Women’s Network, and vice-president of the Venezuelan National Assembly. The children’s project’s main focus is to provide Wayuu and neighbouring indigenous children with a high standard of bicultural education to provide them with the tools to thrive in their own and the dominant culture.

The project also trains teachers at the University of Zulia (both Wayuu and non-Wayuu) to work effectively in local community settings. This involves adapting curricula to fit the daily lifecycle of children and their families, many of whom work during the day, as well as drawing on the strengths of traditional Wayuu teaching by eliciting the help of traditionally trained Elders.

Girls are especially targeted in the program as a vulnerable sector of the Wayuu population. Many of these girls are hired as domestic servants by wealthy Venezuelan families, and a high percentage of these girls experience work related discrimination and abuse due to lack of regulation and protection measures.

Youth voice is encouraged in the program in the form of youth clubs that were initiated by students from the University and local community members. These clubs meet once a year to discuss issues of mutual concern, as well as participate in traditional activities organized by their Elders and youth animators. The success of the yearly meeting has grown to such an extent that it has now become a regional meeting for indigenous youth, and is partially supported by UNICEF Venezuela. Many of the youth “graduating” from the Wayuu educational program have gone on to become leading social advocates in their own communities.

Wayuu Indigenous Children’s Project at Work

During a Cholera epidemic in 1998, Wayuu youth organised children’s teams to help educate other children (Wayuu and non-Wayuu) about Cholera prevention and treatment thus reducing the incidence of the disease in many of these communities. Children have also been questioning traditional practices that are harmful for children such as early marriage, as well as socio-economic issues such as the poor working conditions of their working merchant mothers who often face life-threatening discrimination as they bring goods to Venezuela across the Columbia border.

Elmis, 14, Wayuu

Our grandparents say that the only way that relations with the criollos can be equal is by maintaining and defending our culture and our values. We must continue producing and distributing that which we produce communally, like we have done until now. Of course we have to learn some ways of life and work that the criollos offer us to improve our lives. But we are not going to give up being Wayuu for this.

Renilda Martinez, President, Wayuu Women’s Network

In the work, we have had to reevaluate the place of the child and youth. Children’s place has been impacted by official schools, by television, and by countless other things that do not permit the maintenance and recognition of our knowledge and practices. Today we are trying to recapture those mechanisms of transmitting values and education. We believe this to be a fundamental pillar for all processes of the child’s development.

The Wayuu Women’s Network and the University of Zulia Indigenous Children’s Education Project is one of the “good practice” partnerships featured in Children as Partners: Child Participation Promoting Social Change found in CAP resources.

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