The UN honors today as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
After Peru's period of violence in the 80s and 90s, thousands of World Vision sponsors in the U.S. stepped in as advocates for Peru's indigenous Quechua.
Today, more than 20 years later, the next generation are off to college and careers, shaping their own futures!
The first people groups to live on the world’s continents are often the last to enjoy the same rights as their fellow citizens.
Indigenous people, numbering 370 million in more than 70 countries, are among the poorest and most marginalized groups of all humanity. The UN observes today, August 9, as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples to advocate for these folks dealt a bad hand by history.
Pick a country, and you’ll find that the people whose roots go deepest are also the most likely to lack nutritious food, clean water, health care, municipal services—not to mention a voice, a vote, a birth certificate, a diploma.
That’s why World Vision works with indigenous people in every region of the world. When you aim to serve the poorest of the poor, inevitably that means the ethnically disenfranchised.
In Peru, the Quechua are one such group. For many decades, the rift between the Quechua and Peruvians of European ancestry was so deep that it was as if there were two Perus—with different economic realities. The modern, educated, Spanish-speaking people of the capital, Lima, the power base, had little to do with the Quechua, who spoke their own language, retained traditional dress, and lived in poverty in remote highland communities.
This dichotomy was disrupted in the 1980s, when a Maoist terrorist group, the Shining Path, rose out of the highlands, professing to fight for the marginalized peasantry. But in the chaos that ensued, Quechua were caught between the brutal terrorists and the ruthless Peruvian military. According to Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 75 percent of the nearly 70,000 people who died during the conflict from 1980 to 2000 spoke Quechua or other native languages.
The Shining Path era brought the needs of Peru’s indigenous people to the forefront.
World Vision heeded the call to help them. In 1994, after the violence subsided, World Vision began working alongside Quechua families in the Ayacucho region, helping them fight their way to equality. Soon thousands of U.S. sponsors were funding and encouraging their efforts.
I saw this work as it got under way in Huanta province, in 1997, and last November I went back as World Vision prepared to conclude our sponsorship project there.
Evidence of the impact is obvious in Huanta’s youth. These confident, ambitious young people have a shot at the kind of future their parents couldn’t dream of. Going to college? That’s a given. Careers? Check—they’re on it. Far from being invisible citizens like the generations before them, they want to be part of society, even to help shape it.
There’s Luana Ramos Diaz, 15 (see her on the cover of World Vision magazine), an aspiring graphic designer and outspoken advocate for Ayacucho children.
Joel Quispe Diaz, 22, a talented artist, uses his paintings to raise awareness about child laborers, which he once was.
Thirteen-year-old Karen Diaz Curo is president of the Children’s Parliament, created by World Vision in Huanta—a stepping stone, she hopes, to becoming president of Peru someday.
These young people are all from families of modest means, but they have significant advantages. Not only are they part of the first generation to emerge after the Shining Path period, when their country began reckoning with social injustices, but they also had U.S. sponsors pulling for them as they grew up.
“My sponsor told me to not stop overcoming, to keep following my dreams,” says Luana’s brother, Joe Ramos, now 20. And Joe is doing just that—studying agronomy in university with a goal to help highland farmers.
Multiply that encouragement many thousands of times for all the sponsors assisting children from indigenous groups around the world, and the picture becomes a lot more hopeful.
Read more about what’s changed for Quechua people in World Vision magazine’s feature, “Peru’s Moving Past.”