Teachers who can speak to their students' hearts must speak their students' heart language. 

Meet Glinda, age 31, from the Awajún community. Her desire is to promote quality education for the children of her community. “A títulos will permit me to access greater professional opportunities as a woman. It is particularly difficult for indigenous teachers—and even more so for women—to access education. There are very few women studying to be teachers and few complete their studies if they do try. As a result, there are very few female teachers.”

If you are familiar with SIL LEAD, you know that we are constantly talking about the benefits of classrooms having local teachers who know the mother tongue and culture of the children they teach. The indigenous languages of the Peruvian Amazon are seriously threatened because of pressures toward Spanish and a lack of mother tongue school books. Children who no longer hear their language in school are rapidly losing not only the ability to speak their heritage language; they are losing their ability to read their language. So much is at stake!  

Several years ago, changes to the laws governing Peru’s educational system increased the risk that thousands of teachers would be fired and lose their pensions. These changes, which required all teachers to have teaching certificates (títulos), disproportionately affect indigenous teachers.  While it is good for teachers to be fully certified, the process is financially beyond the reach of many indigenous teachers even though they have already completed all four years of their coursework.

By some estimates, the jobs of one-third to one-half of the indigenous teachers in the Peruvian Amazon were at risk.

Although these teachers were able to complete four years of university coursework, the prohibitively high cost of completing their thesis requirements has made it impossible for many of them to earn their títulos. It is particularly difficult for them because of the very low salaries indigenous teachers are paid and the great distances that they tend to live from the institutions where they studied. These teachers are passionate about teaching the children from their language communities, and often tried to complete their thesis requirements.

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Nehemías is from the Shipibo-Konibo community. He studied at the Universidad Nacional Intercultural de la Amazonía but needs a scholarship to complete his thesis requirements.

“My purpose and aspiration after receiving my títulos is to help my community, family, and indigenous children that so desperately need bilingual education so that they can learn in their mother tongue.”

In order to help address this challenge, in 2016 SIL LEAD partnered with a local indigenous nonprofit organization, AIDI (Asociación Indígena de Desarrollo Integral). Together we designed a pilot project to provide scholarships to indigenous teachers so that they could afford to complete their thesis requirements. AIDI carefully selected teachers who had demonstrated good character, academic capability, and teaching skills. Because of the lack of indigenous teachers in Peru, AIDI believed that these teachers would be given teaching positions within their communities once they completed their thesis requirements. We were confident in AIDI as it had worked closely with a number of past and present SIL members and had also partnered with SIL Peru.

SIL LEAD was able to raise approximately $40,000 through donations from individuals and the Hull Foundation. As a result, 21 scholarships have been awarded. A number of the recipients have completed their thesis requirements and have been awarded their titulos while others are still progressing well toward that end. The project is currently being administered locally by ARIAP (Asociación Raíces Indígenas Amazónicas Peruanas), a new organization that was formed by a some of the members of AIDI with whom we were working most closely.  SIL LEAD continues to oversee the project's finances and to disburse scholarship money as milestones are reached.