Richmond Appleton MA '14 (right) shares his camera with Achuar children in remote village in Ecuador.
This summer, 12 graduate students from
the University of San Francisco’s International and Multicultural Education (IME)
Program traveled to the remote Amazon region of Morona Santiago, Ecuador, to
build a bilingual curriculum for an ancient, indigenous people fighting for its
people lived almost untouched along the Ecuador-Peru border until the 1970s—avoiding
the exploitation suffered by other tribes at the hands of rubber harvesters in
the 1940s. Since then, however, even the Achuar’s
remote corner of the world has begun to suffer from encroachment.
In response, the Achuar, who speak a dialect of Shuar
and number about 7,000 dispersed in approximately 70 farming and hunting communities,
convened an International English Minga—a Quechua word meaning “a call to
collaboration”—in July. The
Minga kicked off a campaign to raise
awareness about the challenge to protect their culture and ancestral lands from
a growing threat: development by multinational petroleum corporations.
believe that learning English will help them communicate their message and
culture to the outside world, build alliances, and spur economic development
through ecotourism at the Achuar-owned
and -operated Kapawi Ecolodge and
was recognized as a top five eco-conservation and
community development project by the United Nations in 2010.
is a watershed event for the Achuar,
one that responds to a prophesy of one of the group’spowerful shamans that foresaw the need to form alliances with
interested North Americans in order to fight encroachment.
“They are extremely excited about the
potential for this [bilingual curriculum] program and how it can help their
future,” said Susan Roberta Katz, professor of international and multicultural
education in USF’s School of Education. “People there see ecotourism as the key
to their cultural survival because it provides an alternative to oil and mining
exploitation—and the English language plays an important role in that.”
The Minga brought
together North American and Achuar
educators to create a first-of-its-kind English-Achuar curriculum for Achuar
children that is based on Achuar myths,
songs and dance, plants, cuisine, art, and community life.
Katz joined the cultural
and educational exchange with the Achuar
after visiting their territory in 2010 while she was completing a Fulbright to research another Ecuadorian indigenous people, the Shuar. Previously, Katz taught Indigenous Rights, the Environment,
and Education in Ecuador, visiting indigenous communities that were negatively
affected by or actively resisting oil or mining exploitation of their ancestral
Onllwyn Dixon, IME adjunct professor, also joined the
Pam Ly, an IME student who travelled to Ecuador with
Katz and Dixon, called the trip incredible. “I am
very grateful for this exceptional opportunity to work alongside the Achuar teachers to develop new teaching
methodologies aimed at sustaining and preserving the Achuar culture,” said Ly, who will graduate in December.
USFers introduced storytelling,
songs, and Total Physical Response (learning language through movement) as
teaching tools, adding to Achuar
teachers’ demonstration and lecture approach. In one instance, USFers worked
with local teachers to adapt Shuar lyrics
to well-known American children’s tunes and used body gestures to increase
students' attention and participation.
During the three-week immersion, USFers
lived alongside the Achuar, sleeping in
tents on the ground of traditional thatched-roof homes, bathing in a nearby
river, and making due without electricity, plumbing, or other conveniences. They
also took part in daily practices such as drinking chicha (a local drink made from yucca)
and observing sunrise guayasa tea