An Ecuadorian indigenous lawyer and educator traveled from his homeland this past week to tell Keene State College students and community members of his success and challenges he faced as he worked to accomplish his dream of sustaining indigenous education and intercultural universities. This was a part of the biannual Symposium this year.
As the first member of the Intercultural University Movement that reached out past Ecuador, Dr. Luis Fernando Sarango Macas took this project into his own hands in order to incorporate good living into the Ecuadorian constitution and focus less on development.
Skye Stephenson, director of the Global Education Office at KSC, spoke highly of Macas. As his translator she said she knew him for six years and worked with him to help him with this mission.
“When the Indigenous University was founded as part of the United Indigenous Movement he sort of has taken this on as his cause and he can bring together his legal work and his intercultural knowledge,” Stephenson said.
Macas said the creation of the university, which he called Universidad Intercultural Amawtay Wasi (UIAW), was among a major Ecuadorian victory. He said their mission for the UIAW was to have a university that promoted a harmonious connection between Mother Nature and human beings. He said they created the university through ancestral wisdom. He said it was important in their mission that through the creation of the university, they wanted to avoid bringing in professionals.
“We don’t want to create professionals that are just like robots, that are just like machines. We want to create people that do professions that are serving the communal good. We want to bring back that humanness to professions,” Macas said.
Macas said a great struggle in this was getting people to agree with the idea of de-professionalism within their movement.
“Some people say, ‘You guys are crazy, because if you’re not creating professionals what are you doing with the university,’” Macas said.
Macas said when he took this movement as a part of his goal he intended to reach out beyond Ecuador and bring the idea of intercultural universities to other countries.
“There’s many countries now, in the Americas that have intercultural universities which are defined a little differently than how many of us think of the term intercultural,” Stephenson said.
Molly Lehman, KSC senior, attended the Symposium event where Macas presented his stories of creating UIAW. She said she was fascinated by his presentation and never thought about the many challenges a person could face in working on this creation. She said the idea of providing society with opportunities for a university based on good living rather than development should be something that is considered by more people.
“It’s something that I think is important and seeing how much effort Dr. Sarango Macas spends on this is really motivating,” Lehman said.
Lehman said she went to an Ecuadorian speaker before and that presentation inspired her to come to Macas’ Symposium event. She said she was glad she could make it because she thought an event like this is important for students to go to.
“I have so much going on that I don’t take the time and look at what people like Macas are working for in the world. I think it’s important for people to realize this and see how much time he is spending on an important issue.”
There were more students than just Lehman who were able to hear about Macas contribution to the indigenous people.
Stephenson said the turnout made her happy and bringing Macas to the school made it possible to work with students in connecting them with indigenous people. She said this was one step in helping Macas’ movement as he still faces challenges with expanding his intercultural universities.
Macas said a challenge he dealt with was getting the Ecuadorian government to support this movement. He said the government did not fund it and the current president worked to tear the university apart.
“This is a good step in spreading his ideas about bringing out intercultural communication. It could be a start in spreading the universities throughout more countries,” Lehman said.
Aside from coming to KSC to teach others about sustaining indigenous education, Macas learned things in the experience as well. Stephenson said this is the second time he traveled to the United States, but the first time he had ever seen snow.
“We spent all weekend rearranging our trips because of various snow options in different places, so he has been having his own intercultural experience here as well,” Stephenson said.
Now Macas can return to his homeland knowing he educated KSC students and learned about a new culture in the process.
Jen Richards can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org