Comandancia village school, Rio Orosa - photo by D. Graham Girl copying blackboard, Santo Tomas School - photo by Heather Perez School children showing artwork, Comandancia school - photo by James Riach

Amazon Schools

Elementary Schools

Thanks to initiatives over the last 20 years by successive Peruvian governments, virtually all permanent Amazon villages have an elementary school which often doubles as a community center for meetings and events. By law, children are required to complete 6 years of education. In more prosperous villages and towns, school uniforms are generally required. School starts early, with classes from 7 AM to 12 noon, give or take an hour. In schools with large enrollments, classes may be staggered with some students attending in the morning, others in the afternoon. Schools in small communities usually have one teacher, who is thus responsible for 20-40 pupils scattered across 6 grades! Classes are taught in Spanish, though some indigenous communities have bilingual education (Spanish and the local native language).

The Challenges

Despite efforts by national and local governments, educational supplies and equipment for schools is often in short supply, and both student and teacher absenteeism is high, particularly in remote areas. The reasons for student absenteeism are varied, but include logistical problems for families who live at some distance from the school, poverty (where children may be embarrassed to attend due to lack of adequate clothing or school supplies), parents needing children at home to help with farming, fishing and home activities, or uneducated parents not seeing the value of sending their children to school. In most areas, there is no enforcement to ensure that children attend school. Teacher absenteeism may be due to lack of transportation, low pay, or the overwhelming demands of single-handedly managing too many students in too many grades. Many teachers are not from the communities in which they teach, and may be assigned to remote areas to pay back government support for their education. Many of these new teachers are city kids who feel lost and truly isolated, and when they do go back to the city for meetings or additional training, they may stretch out their absence for as long as possible - until very recently, lack of communications meant that most communities had no way of reporting when a teacher was absent.

Turning the Tide

Project Amazonas and its partners are working to provide local schools, teachers, and students with the resources they need. This includes supplying the very basic needs, but also providing recreational and artistic materials and supplies. We want children to look forward to going to school. We want the teachers to feel appreciated and valued. We want families to see that others think that their schools are important. Most of all, we want the children to have the same opportunities that you, the reader of this website, have, and to give them the tools be able to function effectively in the steadily modernizing Amazon.

How are we doing this?

We accept some donations of school materials, but encourage cash donations to purchase school supplies in Iquitos, the nearest source of such materials. We have limited capability to actually take supplies down to the Amazon (think of those airline baggage restrictions!), and school supplies in Iquitos are generally cheaper than similar items in the USA, so it makes more sense to purchase school supplies within Peru. We do encourage visitors to the Amazon, be they researchers, ecotourists, or educational groups, to bring supplies when they come, and to interact with the teachers and students of local schools. We work with community schools in implementing community and sustainable development projects, and focus much of our health education efforts on children in the schools. It does not take a lot to make a difference - $200 can buy necessary and discretionary supplies for an average school for a year - dozens of families may benefit as a result, and the long-term consequences may be profound. Why not consider "adopting" a school? Your annual support would mean a great deal to the community.

Middle Schools

Middle schools (grades 7-11, essentially) are not found in smaller river communities, but are only located in larger communities (usually on the main rivers) and in Iquitos. Most smaller rivers have no secondary school within reasonable distance. In consequence, students who wish to continue their education have to leave home and live with relatives, or board with a family in a distant community. This can be a major financial burden, and also results in long periods of separation for families. Project Amazonas has provided supplemental funding for students from remote communities who wish to continue their education - this helps to reduce some of the financial stress, and we also regularly take students back to visit their families when we have transportation going that way. Despite the difficulties for students and their families, some dedicated students do complete their secondary education - some of them come back to their home communities as teachers, start businesses, or find work in the cities. All of them, however, become spokespersons for their communities, and/or tribes, and thus help to combat the negative stereotypes that are too-frequently heard regarding people from remote Amazon areas.

Universities and Graduate Schools

The National University of the Peruvian Amazon (Universidad Nacional de la Amazonia Peruana - UNAP) is the state university for the State of Loreto, and draws its students from 1-million plus people who inhabit Loreto and adjacent regions. It is composed of over 20 different faculties, including schools of law, medicine, dentistry, forestry, biology, business, chemistry, education, and so on. Smaller private universities have also recently been started in Iquitos, including the Universidad Alas Peruanas, and the Universidad Particular de Iquitos. UNAP has masters programs in various fields and is currently working on development of a PhD program with an emphasis on natural resource management.

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