Saturday, December 13, 2008

Training indigenous teachers and mothers in Paraguay

• On average indigenous children receive only 3 years schooling

• Only 58% of teachers in these communities are indigenous and most of these have little or no teacher training

• 91% of teachers do not have materials in their pupils' native language

• Illiteracy is 8 times above the national average

The harsh consequences of this are that communities are losing their language and cultural identity and children are not receiving the quality of education they need to prepare them for their future.

After a plea for help from an indigenous community in 2005, FEISA began a pre-school teacher training programme with an emphasis on learning through play – a revolutionary concept for indigenous teachers who tend to use traditional rote-learning methods.

We soon realized that what these communities most lack is training and resources as the remoteness of the schools and high expense make provision of these very difficult. We made sure that all resources were appropriate to the indigenous context and produced worksheets to develop pre-writing skills, mathematics and literacy, all in their native language, Enxet (photo 2). The aim of the programme is to provide a holistic education to enable children to grow in all aspects of their development. At the request of the community, who asked us to provide Christian education, we also produced the first ever Bible materials for children in Enxet based on the Creation story (photo 3).

This year we extended the programme to a new Enxet community, El Estribo, working with 9 indigenous schools training pre-school teachers and volunteer mothers – 17 people in total (photos 4 and 5). Along with the training, the schools were also provided with all the teaching resources and furniture they needed - many children were sitting on planks of wood for lack of tables and chairs.

The response of the teachers and children has been encouraging and heartwarming. They said that this is exactly the training and resources they have needed for years but no-one has shown any interest in them before. The children now rush to school in the morning excited to play and learn and do not want to leave at the end of the day! The training programme, with its emphasis on involving mothers in the education of their children, has enabled schools to reinforce the native language and culture where the teacher is not indigenous (photos 6, 7, 8 and 9).

We thank God for the generosity of the many donors that have made this project possible and we continue to trust Him for the funds we need to continue the project in coming years. Over 200 indigenous children have benefitted so far and many more young lives can be transformed if we are able to extend this work to other communities.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hope and High Expectations in Paraguay

Perhaps the most significant event to happen in Paraguay since the overthrow of the dictator Stroessner in 1989, was the election of a former Catholic bishop, Fernando Lugo, as President of the Republic in April this year.

The Colorado party has dominated Pargauayan politics for 60 years and is part of the reason why Paraguay is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. No-one thought it possible for another party to win.

Fernando Lugo was a missionary with indigenous people in Equador for 5 years and after he became a bishop dedicated his time to championing the cause of the poor in the poverty stricken north-east region of Paraguay, San Pedro. However, he came to realise that to make a significant difference he would need to fight corruption and change policies. So when he was asked to run for President as part of a coalition party called the Patriotic Alliance for Change, he accepted. This was not an easy decision as legally a bishop cannot be head of state. He was forced to resign from the priesthood, at least during his 5 year presidency, after which he hopes to be reinstated. The Vatican were suitably unimpresssed, accusing him of disobedience, and have yet to give their final response to Lugo's decision.

Though Lugo has no political experience, the Paraguayans were desperate for change and disallusioned with all the corruption they see around them. In a country which is now the 2nd poorest in South America, where extreme poverty is on the increase, Lugo's heart for the poor won the hearts of the people. The press have become quite taken with his Jesus sandals!

Hope and expectations are high in the country, but he will need a great deal of prayer when he takes office this August. Strongly influenced by liberation theology (God's preferential option for the poor), he has committed himself to addressing the enormous inequality of income distribution: "There are too many differences between the small group of 500 families who live with a first-world standard of living while the great majority live in a poverty that borders on misery." Already he has received various death threats.

Though a political novice, he is a man of principle with a genuine desire to fight corruption, poverty and inequality. This is the best news for Paraguay in a long time.

Music Month

Bryan Adams

It's not often you get world famous musicians coming to Paraguay so we couldn't miss the opportunity of seeing Bryan Adams in concert in April. The venue, however, must have been a bit of a let down for him. Having performed at the O2 arena in London he was relegated to a rundown tennis court on the outskirts of AsunciĆ³n here in Paraguay! The intimate setting made for a fantastic concert though and Bryan lived up to all expectations.

U2 3D in BA

Rup was hugely disappointed to miss U2 in concert in Buenos Aires last year. So when he discovered the same concert was being shown at the new IMAX theatre in 3D in April he had no intention of missing it again.

So we travelled to Buenos Aires for a romantic weekend, put on the 3D goggles and experienced a spectacular and deeply moving concert. 3D technology has certainly moved on since the Beano comics and Jaws experience! If you're a U2 fan it's not to be missed, and if you're not then just go to Buenos's a treat in itself!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New Year's News 2008

Degree Course is Launched

As FEISA's activities expand we both arrived back in Paraguay in the New Year and hit the ground running. In March we begin the long-awaited 2 year degree extension to the 3 year diploma course. Our new degree course will qualify students to become leaders in educational institutions and thus enable them to have a bigger impact and generate change in Paraguayan education. We were amazed and delighted to discover we now have 27 students enrolled for the course!

Oil Company Visit to FEISA

One of FEISA's largest donors is a multinational oil company based in London who sent one of their directors to pay us a surprise visit in March. He was able to meet and chat to 8 of the scholarship students who would have had no chance of studying to become teachers had it not been for their support. (See photo taken with him and the FEISA staff and scholarship students below.)

Yellow Fever Outbreak

In the middle of February, there was an outbreak of yellow fever in Paraguay, for the first time in 30 years. This sent communities into panic as people in their neighbourhood were diagnosed with the disease. It is carried by the same mosquito that carries dengue fever, but is much more severe because it has a 50% mortality rate. There is a vaccine, but when the outbreak began, there were not enough vaccines in Paraguay. Other governments donated or lent what was needed, but the help was slow in coming and there were long queues of angry people at health clinics in the meantime. The Government has now provided free vaccines to immunise everyone and the outbreak seems to have been contained. Sam eventually found a hospital with the vaccine and Rup was jabbed in the UK!

Introducing Samantha Ester

My friend and colleague Ana gave birth to Samantha Ester on February 5th 2008. She is the first Paraguayan girl to be named Samantha which caused some confusion at first. When I texted everyone from the hospital with the message "Samantha's arrived!" they all thought I was announcing my own arrival in Paraguay!

Mum doing well.

Proud and delighted godmother!