Deep Dive 2015: “We are all teachers”
Last week, “a team of passionate fellows, young and old, embarked on an amazing mutual learning experience,” in the words of Chinese fellow Biyun Hong. Biyun and the Deep Dive team visited Mañiuco School, where 98% of students are Mapuche people, the indigenous people of Chile. The UFRO campus started helping the school as a Social Service Project in 2011 and has been working tirelessly for it ever since.
“Just about an hour drive on a bumpy and muddy road outside of Temuco, Mañiuco School is a typical rural underprivileged primary school, lacking resources and basic amenities like clean running water, cellphone signal, and reliable internet,” Biyun wrote on her journal. “Mañiuco School is no different from any other school in the sense that the students who reach adolescence face the same troubling issues such as consumption of alcohol or drugs, lack of a mature understanding of sex and sexuality, or low awareness on personal safety or self-protection. The difference is that usually families are expected to take on a large portion of the responsibilities regarding educating such issues, yet due to the cultural taboo or lack of awareness of the families themselves, the teachers of Mañiuco School are assuming many of these responsibilities and facing these difficult challenges everyday.”
Fellows listened to the concerns of teachers and came up with a program to address them. Throughout the week, the fellows and children worked daily on issues such as sexuality, drug and alcohol prevention, first aid, identity construction, proper use of social networks, music and expression, all the while sharing language, experiences and, above all, learning.
“What moves us is that we are always trying to instill the concept of global citizenship in our work and in this case, it was really important for us to help the children rescue their Mapuche culture and be proud of it,” said Chilean fellow Natalia Arcos, who coordinates the Mañuco social service project.
On the second day came a huge highlight for the fellows and the school: the inauguration of the Mañiuco School Library. This was the culmination of several months of dedicated efforts by many members of the Melton Foundation – starting from a crowdfunding effort, collecting old and new books from various sources, and setting up the library physically in the school. “The UFRO Fellows had prepared a video about the process and invited a few officials from the city of Galvarino along with all the teachers and the students of the school to see the video. This was followed by teary eyes and words of gratitude,” says Indian fellow Hari Ravikumar. “The Mañiuco School Library Project is a great example of how a team of dedicated Fellows can bring a huge change in the lives of 80 children living in a remote corner of the world, mostly neglected. In those moments, every Melton Fellow in the room must have felt the power of the MF network in a physical, visceral sense.”
Ana Maria Cabrera, a teacher for 33 years at school, says this was a unique experience. “To have the opportunity to receive people from other parts of the world is something flattering and also motivating, first for the children, who find this very exciting, so tell their friends, their parents, that they are learning new things; and for us it is a window into global education, because we understand that there are other views and approaches to teaching,” she tells.
The fellows, in turn, had much to gain from the experience as well. “I believe that we, as a group, are probably learning more than what we can give to the school – teachers and students,” wrote BMS fellow Himani Siva Prasad in her daily report.
“It’s a very friendly atmosphere,” added German fellow Olaf Schiller. “I see teachers and students in the school community who want to develop, learn new things and, at the same time, are proud of their roots from which they face the world.”
Fellows learned about the history of the Mapuche people, and were able to visit their traditional dwellings and take part in traditional ceremonies, food and dance.
“This was certainly a great experience for our foreign fellows, who could talk, answer questions and compare their own contexts with the difficult environment of rural communities and indigenous people around the world,” said Chilean fellow Francisco Andaur.
The group will give continuity to the cooperation and find new ways to work together after the Deep Dive as well. “This integration of knowledge, cultural rescue and permanent dialogue, is for us what really matters in our work. They learn from us and we from them; it is a perfect win-win situation, because everyone gains experience, skills, and a wider perspective,” says Patricia Ortiz, Program Director at the Melton Foundation.
But what seems to have left the strongest impression from both sides is the human connection that was created across cultures and generations. “When I saw those kids full with love, giving their hearts in a performance, I realized how much we mean to these children. This was the most meaningful way they had to say ‘Thank you’. The children are learning from the Senior Fellows, they love the new library and will have a much more comfortable place to study, and we are part of their lives. That was my Melton moment, to realize that I’m part of what makes this possible,” wrote UFRO fellow Ana Camila Vergara.
“It was a great experience to talk to the teachers too and feel so connected with them, because at the end of the day we are all teachers,” Hari said. “We have similar problems, we have similar joys and sorrows. It was a very good feeling.”