Creating indigenous-first education rooted in the arts and local culture.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Out of the 370 million indigenous people in the world, 70% are young people. In Colombia, home to one of the largest populations of indigenous people in the Americas, indigenous youth often drop out of school, facing discrimination, low parental literacy rates, and pressures to spend their time making money by selling handmade crafts. Students who fail to qualify on state exams cannot attend state secondary schools, meaning those who fall behind lose access to further education. Indigenous groups like the Wayúu people of La Guajira remain one of the poorest groups in Colombia, struggling to thrive in the dominant culture and economy.
Working with indigenous leaders and ethno-educators, the El Origen Foundation has created an indigenous-first model that provides youth with a second chance at education. Running three rural schools in communities with the highest number of school dropouts, El Origen serves 1,000 students a year. Through hands-on curriculum featuring arts, music, and literature, students learn reading, writing, and math skills. Students also turn local craft-making traditions into revenue by accessing an online marketplace to sell their artwork. Students who pass the statewide exams enter formal schooling, while others continue learning at the community school. El Origen schools decrease the illiteracy gap and enable the Wayúu to leverage their cultural heritage as a source of learning and an economic driver. As El Origen develops each new school, it adapts its model to the unique locale, language, cultural context, and teaching practices of the area, demonstrating a promising approach for building community-specific indigenous education across the region.
“At the beginning in 2015, it was difficult to start an educational program for children and youth who were not interested in learning programs. For me, our biggest success happened in 2016 when 500 indigenous youth voluntarily signed up for our program. Since then, every year over 500 new students sign up. Our programs use art to give at-risk youth a second chance at education and transforms them into creative entrepreneurs. We’re eradicating illiteracy and extreme poverty in regions across Colombia that suffer from it the most.”