Aymara indigenous people learn to read as adults in Bolivia

PUCARANI, Bolivia (HPD) — Anacleta Mamani Quispe has no teeth, but she smiles happily: she learned to read and write at the age of 71 and although she only speaks Aymara, her mother tongue, now she feels empowered and wants to participate in a race for adults in his community in the Bolivian altiplano, near La Paz.

“I didn’t want to die without knowing how to read and write,” said the energetic woman who arrived at her village in her best outfit to receive her diploma.

Like her, close to a thousand indigenous people gathered on Sunday in the town square of Pucarani to receive their literacy certificate. Before the ceremony, the older adults read, did sums and exhibited their skills to the jury and shared a collective meal sitting in a circle on the ground, a traditional custom among the Aymara.

This year more than 20,000 illiterate adults throughout the country -mostly women from rural areas- learned to read and write with the government program “Bolivia reads” with which the country, one of the poorest in South America, has been able to lower their illiteracy levels, which in 1995 reached 23% of the population.

Currently, that level is at 2.7%, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Eloy Poma is a 62-year-old farmer and manipulates a laptop donated by the Ministry of Education. “I want to learn more, now I can use the computer and I can guide my community,” he said.

These farmers grow potatoes, quinoa, broad beans and raise llamas and sheep in the highlands, which this year have been hit by a prolonged drought that has ruined crops. “I studied for two years when I was a child, but I left school and forgot. Now I have learned again”, Poma recalled.

Wilma Mamani, 36, had to drop out of school to help her parents in the fields, but she relearned to read and write this year “to teach” her children. “Many times I felt ashamed that I couldn’t help them when they asked me about their homework,” she said.

Illiteracy is highest in rural Bolivia, especially in the poor western altiplano, a high, semi-arid plateau in the middle of the Andes mountain range at more than 3,800 meters above sea level.

Susana Falcón, Secretary of Education for the municipality of Pucarani, emotionally recalled the tears of a 90-year-old man who was able to write his name for the first time. The literacy teachers have also taught indigenous people who only know how to grow potatoes, a food native to the Andes that was brought to Europe by the conquistadors in the 15th century, to grow some vegetables in solar tents.

Between 2006 and 2017, more than a million poor older adults became literate, most of whom had dropped out of school to work or due to lack of economic resources. Others had never been.

“Many come on foot from their scattered communities, they are motivated to learn, but they fall asleep in class. Others forget quickly because they have Alzheimer’s symptoms,” said teacher Carla Montes.

The graduation ceremony was attended by local town leaders, teachers and students who danced Andean folkloric dances in the plaza and after the usual speeches they received their diploma and two chicks.

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