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Jun 24

Empowerment and Participation of Young People in Ccorca, Peru

Blog-post by Thilo Boeck

It has been a month since I have started to work with Amantani, an NGO based in Ccorca. Ccorca is the only rural, Quechua district in the province of Cusco, with a population of approximately 2,500 spread across 8 small communities. Nestled high in the Andes at an altitude of 3,600m, Ccorca represents what is left of Andean culture and way of life – rural farming communities in danger of losing their cultural heritage and traditional way of life to the increasingly globalized culture of modern Peru. Ccorca is the poorest district in the Cusco region with 95% of the population being self-sufficient farmers. 61% of women in the region face domestic violence, while alcoholism is a serious problem, predominantly among the men.

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I am working with the project in its three Boarding Houses which accommodate 66 girls and boys aged between 6 and 18 in Ccorca’s central community. The Boarding Houses combat the vast distances (up to 4 hours!) these children were previously walking simply to reach school. They also provide the children with a balanced diet as well as academic and personal development support. In the PISA study of 2013 Peru scored the last place within the 66 participating countries. Whilst the Peruvian government demonstrates a strong commitment to education, many of the teachers who work in Ccorca are poorly trained, paid and motivated. The evaluation of educational second grade level is below the national level and 48% of the district’s population is illiterate and just 15% of children meet national reading standards.

From the beginning of being in Ccorca I got involved in the work with young people. The Boarding Houses’ newly formed youth council was an ideal opportunity to begin this work. I met with them and stared the session telling the group that, as a social action worker, I believe that they have skills, experience and knowledge that they can draw on to tackle the problems they face. I encouraged them to see me as a facilitator who would work alongside the group and that my function was not to be a group leader but to see them as the experts in their own lives and that I would use this a starting point for our work.

Dance in Cuzco

Ok, I wonder If you can imagine the looks I got at this point….

Young people refer to the adults quite formally as ‘teachers’ or ‘professor’ and they found it very strange that I wanted to change this relationship. One of the older members even asked me why I didn’t want to be the teacher and that he preferred me to be like one. I realised that young people in the Andes of Peru are part of an extremely hierarchical and paternalistic culture. The autonomy and rights of young people is often not recognized. The authority and power of teachers or parents, is not being questioned and young adults are mostly quiet in discussions with adults with a quite timid and introvert attitude.

These young people do not talk about their rights and it is difficult to encourage them to speak out and be critical about the institutions of which they are part of. In their environment they hardly have a voice or an autonomous stake in the society they live in. Many of the young people feel very shy to speak to adults and feel fearful, which within the Andean culture either is seen as fear or being ashamed.

From an empowerment perspective the challenge was how to question this, but also to ask whether it was appropriate for me to question the local dynamics and culture. I have so much to learn here and therefore I am quite cautious and talk and consult with Peruvians and specially with people from Cuzco about the appropriateness of this kind of work. They all are very enthusiastic about it and encouraged me to keep going but obviously be culturally sensitive about it.

With the team of Amantani we looked at several aspects which are prevalent within Ccorca:
• Paternalistic and authoritarian attitude towards young people
• Infantilising young people and constructing them as vulnerable

The team noticed in several workshops that too often they also focus either on the problems young people face or the problems they pose. We explored the “strengths perspective” which highlights the skills, talents, competencies, possibilities, visions and hopes of young people. It was great to hear from several members of the team, that the workshop and discussions had changed their view of young people and as a result they would be committed to critically reflect on their work. We will be exploring this in the coming weeks.

Another great outcome of this was, that they accepted with lots of enthusiasm when I proposed, that two members of the youth council should be part in the appointment of a new psychologist. I wonder if this might be the first for Cuzco! When I told the young people they were surprised of this proposition and didn’t understand why they should be part of this. The team of Amantani, which obviously has their trust, explained them what it was all about. I have to admit that I was thrilled about this and it shows how important it is to work in a participative way alongside the whole team with a clear understanding what participation and empowerment is about.
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The work with the youth council was slow but, bit by bit, some of the members became more outspoken and critical. This was the first time several of the young people spoke out about what characteristics they wanted from a psychologist. They came up with great insights of their own experience and expectations and choose two case studies and several questions they wanted to ask the candidates. At the end we choose two of the older members to be part of the interview.

The interview went really well. The team of the two adults (I was one of them) and the two young people agreed unanimously which candidate to appoint. After this event, the two young women aged 16 and 17 told me that they will never forget this moment. It was the first time they have been part of something like that they liked that their opinion and views were valued and that they had an equal vote. One of them, who normally is quite shy gave me a hug and said: I am really happy.

This process has changed the relationship with the youth council tremendously. It is great to see that we are on an exciting journey of participation and empowerment.

Young people in Ccorca

It definitely holds strong even in a very different context of the Andean culture in Ccorca, the key issues of empowerment are:

1. ‘Participation of young people in their own empowerment’
2. ‘The importance of recognizing existing skills in young people’
3. ‘Build on their individual and collective strengths and skills’
4. ‘Involve young people in decision making and give them positions of power’

I am aware that I have lots to learn and it will be a slow process, but who knows… I will continue to update you guys about this!

1 comment

  1. Sarah Hargreaves

    Hi Thilo! What an inspiring and interesting post! Brilliant to hear some of what you have been doing in Peru. There is learning here for many of us bringing ideas that challenge existing culture in both communities and organisations. I look forward to reading more posts.
    Sarah Hargreaves

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