By: Jorge Hernán Quispe Condori
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA, 4 September 2012 – She wants to be a teacher. “I like math, language and life sciences; but first I want to finish school, which is why I do my homework.” Ten years ago, this dream would have been unreachable for 17-yearold Yampara girl Severina Zárate Huamán, a speaker of Quechua. Now her dreams are within reach because going to school does not mean a several-hour-long walk.
Pisili School is in the indigenous village of the same name; it is located in the municipality of Tarabuco, three hours away from the capital, Sucre. Severina’s wishes – and that of 86 out of the 206 other students who go to the school — are on the roll. “I live in Angola, four hours away. I come to Pisili because there is no seventh grade there,” she tells us as we drive along in the Nissan Caravan mini-van.
Since 2005, the school bus has been picking up Severina and 34 other pupils from Angola and Pisili K’asa, while another bus has been covering the Kollpapampa and Churikanita route, taking a further 52 students to school. “Up until this last year, the children and youths of this region have had to walk to school for up to 5 hours in order to study. With this project, we can help avoid school dropout and increase the number of children in the classrooms,” says Felicidad Saavedra, a technician form the School Transport programme.
This project is co-financed by the Tarabuco Municipal Government (185 thousand Bolivianos) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which contributes 95 thousand Bolivianos.
Severina doesn’t speak much. She wears a black stylised ‘helmet’ with rhinestones, known as a montera, which is a hat that young single Tarabucan girls wear on special occasions, such as school days.
She wakes up at four in the morning, together with her parents, and then cooks with her mother until five thirty AM. “After that I have to wash up to go to school, because the mini-bus gets to the stop at seven thirty,” explains the brown-faced adolescent with a frank smile.
In Angola, the little school where she learned to read and write only goes up to sixth grade, leaving her with two options: quit school, or keep going to class in Pisili.
“The lack of higher grades, in this case seventh, was the reason for a lot of dropouts, especially for girls,”points out technician Saavedra. “The boys do not have this problem, as their parents will send them to boarding schools during the week.”
Severina wants to graduate from secondary school, and in her eagerness to learn more, every afternoon she listens to a youth radio programme called ‘Sembrando’ on Radio ACLO. During her recreation period at school, she play goalkeeper for her class’s indoor soccer team and although the team lost the championship in August, she still wants to serve as an example to her brothers and sisters.
While young Miss Zárate weaves her dreams, two other children recite the multiplication tables on the bus, and driver Damasio Quispe Vela (37) tells them not to put their heads out the window. Damasio has been working with the project for a year now; when he was a boy, he had to walk two hours to get to school.
The five-river obstacle
Bacilio Champi Mamani speaks with confidence: “Please, Bacilio is spelt with a ‘c’ and not an “s”, and that’s Cahmpi with a ‘p’ and not Chambi with a ‘b’”, clarifies the 19-year-old youth. He is one of the prides of his school in Pisili, and since May he has been doing a leadership course in Sucre, which is aimed at outstanding students from the department of Chuquisaca.
Born in the village of Kollpapampa, located four hours from Pisili, he still remembers those long walks between the hills and ravines that he and his classmates made at four in the morning in order to get to school by 8. “There were seven of us, but now there are only three, since the others left school,” he summarises for us as we ride the green bus that carries students from his village and from Churikanita, two communities that are located far from the school.
In this part of the country hailstorms destroy crops, but they also present a risk to schoolchildren. “When the rivers rise (there are five along the way to school) the water goes up to your waist, which is a problem for kids who are six or seven years old; more than one have lost their sandals trying to cross the rivers,” stresses the 12th grade youth.
Setting up the project has meant that he and another 51 students now get to school safely. “We used to be tired at school,” he admits. The school principal, Silvia Irala Caravallo, adds “The children were exhausted when they got here and didn’t feel like studying. Some parents took their kids out of school, arguing that their children spent more time walking to school than actually learning.”
A year after graduating, Bacilio is planning to study Business Administration at university. “I want to be a professional. If not, what has all this sacrifice been worth?”
At lunchtime, the students queue up for a bowl of peanut soup, to which they have each contributed something: 5 potatoes, one onion or one carrot. A cook prepares the daily school menu.
To kindergarten in a horse cart
Four years ago, Cristian Amado Vargas (8) loved going to school in a horse cart. The journey in the small cart, pulled by his mother, took an hour and a half. Now she stays at home to look after the family’s 12 sheep and 3 goats, while he goes to school by mini-bus and gets to school in half an hour. “When I was in kindergarten, we used to get up really early to get here,” remembers the round-faced schoolboy with small black eyes, dressed in a poncho or kunka unku.
When 3.30 pm comes around, the school bell rings. The students go out to the mini-bus and the larger school bus and in unison sing a song that perhaps reflects their dreams: “Pisili School/School of Life/School of Progress/School of Knowledge/ Forward we go/Seeking progress/For every student who wants to learn.”
In Bolivia, the school-aged population benefitting from the School Transport programme now totals 180,000 children; 364 students in Tarabuco alone. Each month, requests come in for new routes; the condition is that there be at least 15 students in the village for the bus to go there. One of the communities that presented a request is T’ula Mayu, where Cousins Victor (9) and Beatriz (9) Vargas live; they currently have to walk two hours to get to school each day.
“They are brave children and they represent those who want to learn, no matter what the distance,” says principal Silvia Irala.
About the Out-of-School Initiative
“Finishing School. A Right for Children´s Development: A Joint Effort” is part of the Global Initiative on Out-of School Children promoted by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. Since its launch in early 2010, it has targeted efforts in 26 countries, performing national studies, a panorama of each of the regions, a global study and a world conference to mobilize resources for equity. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this process translated into the production of country level studies on exclusion from education in Colombia, Brazil and Bolivia, and into the construction of this regional report using aggregated data for the other countries.
Click below to download the full report in Spanish, and the executive summary, tables and graphs in both Spanish and English: