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Ecuadorian youths at UN forum speak out for indigenous children’s rights

© UNICEF/HQ07-1792/Markisz
Ecuadorian teenagers Nadino Calapucha, Jessica Penafiel and Lourdes Yamberla attended the Sixth Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.

By Blue Chevigny

NEW YORK, USA, 30 May 2007 – Three young people from Ecuador presented their agenda on securing the rights of indigenous children last week during the Sixth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which ended on 25 May.

The presenters – Nadino Calapucha, 16; Jessica Penafiel, 13; and Lourdes Yamberla, 18 – outlined ideas that had come out of meetings with a larger group of youths in Ecuador.

Nadino said it was important to make sure these ideas don’t just remain on paper but are brought to a larger audience.

“In this meeting, we haven't seen a lot of children. I think we are almost the only children here,” he told UNICEF Radio. “So I think it is good we planted the seeds by coming here, so that at the next meeting children come and participate and their voices are heard. Because an adult doesn't know what it’s like for a child, it’s important to have children's perspectives in this type of forum.”

Jessica added that the agenda they presented had a purpose beyond her country’s borders. “We, the children and adolescents of Ecuador, constructed this agenda so that the rest of the countries of the world can also create agendas for themselves,” she explained.

Problems with living conditions

The three children, who are members of the Kichwa Nation of Ecuador, speak both Spanish and their native Kichwa language.

Lourdes pointed out that there are 14 nationalities in Ecuador, each with distinct traditions. “Each has its own language – some are alive, but some are almost dead – and we want to resurrect these languages and customs,” she said. “We are asking for this: that in the schools, our teachers teach about our history, and that some of the teachers should be indigenous so that they reflect the reality of Ecuador.”

But bringing indigenous culture and language to the forefront is not enough, according Nadino, Jessica and Lourdes. This recognition, they said, must go hand-in-hand with improving living conditions for indigenous people.

In Ecuador’s indigenous communities, most children don't finish primary school, malnutrition is high, and infant and child mortality rates are much worse than in the general population. Poverty rates are also disproportionately high.

“Many indigenous people don't live in the city; they live in the countryside,” Nadino explained. “In these areas there are no hospitals or medical attention, and so many diseases flourish and children die. They never know about this in the city. For this reason, we are leaving the communities to spread the word to the wider world about what is happening, in order to bring attention to problems in our communities.”

Working for children now

Nadino hopes to grow up to be a doctor of traditional medicine in his community in the Amazon. Protecting the land and plants by keeping overdevelopment at bay in the rainforest is a top priority for him.

Lourdes hopes to be a representative and advocate for Ecuador's indigenous people, especially children, perhaps at the United Nations. And Jessica wants to be a paediatrician and a lawyer, in order to save children’s lives.

All three of the young Ecuadorians stressed the importance of helping children right now in indigenous communities around the world.

“You don’t have to wait for a big job to work for children,” Nadino asserted. “You can work from your family, from your community to lessen problems. You don't have to be in big offices in the UN to do this, because you can do it from your village.

“If I am in an office at the UN, and I'm talking about all the many countries where children are dying, that’s not as effective as working in the country, in the village where you experience it directly – and can really work to change it.”




29 May 2007:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny speaks with three Ecuadorian youths about their UN presentation on the rights of indigenous children.
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