ECUADOR: Indigenous Students Gain Valuable Education and Employment Skills at Salesian Polytechnic University
(MissionNewswire) Ecuador is one of the most inequitable societies in the world, according to UNICEF. The richest 20 percent of the population receives almost 50 percent of the national income, while the poorest 20 percent receives only five percent. According to the World Food Program, almost 26 percent of all children under age five have stunted growth, increasing to 31 percent in rural areas and 47 percent in indigenous communities.
Violence, especially towards young people, is high in the country. Homicides are the second leading cause of death among young people and the primary cause of death among young women. Instances of physical abuse and domestic violence happen frequently and are often not properly handled by local law enforcement agencies. In addition, a high percentage of youth engage in drug use and are at-risk of falling prey to criminal activity and gang violence.
Close to 20 percent of Ecuador’s population are people of indigenous heritage. For poor, rural and indigenous youth, education provides the best opportunity for finding employment, reducing inequities and breaking the cycle of poverty. Salesian missionaries have been providing education and other social programs for disadvantaged youth across Ecuador for more than 125 years.
The Salesian Polytechnic University, which started in 1994 and has campuses in Cuenca, Guayaquil and Quito, provides education to more than 35 indigenous students. These students are taking degree coursework in communications, biotechnology, management and leadership and psychology. Digna Palumba belongs to the indigenous community of Zumbahua and has been at the University for five months working towards a management and leadership degree. Miguel Angel Sarango, from the indigenous community of Saraguros, is taking courses in communications.
The Salesian Polytechnic University provides educational programs in biology, social science and human behavior, education, science and technology, animal science, literature, administration and finance and religion. Students attending the university often focus their studies beyond the classroom by taking part in hands-on research and job training in addition to traditional coursework.
“Across Ecuador, gaining a university degree and learning employable job skills helps reduce inequities in employment,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “The Salesian Polytechnic University gives students a chance to meet like-minded peers and gain an education that will help them become contributing members of their communities.”
Many indigenous students live in a residence hall built specifically for them by Salesian missionaries. Here, they live and work together sharing customs and knowledge. The University provides opportunities for these students to share their indigenous traditions with teachers and peers.
“More than just offering classroom lessons, the University has become a place for the meeting of cultures and the exchange of knowledge for both students and teachers. It offers real opportunities for education and progress for disadvantaged youth coming from indigenous communities,” adds. Fr. Hyde.
UNICEF – Ecuador