El Origen Community Schools Program

Tania Rosas




A non- profit organization to ensure sustainable development and preservation of ethnic groups in Colombia through education and the arts. ​


Children and Youth

Additional Information

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 Intercultural school of arts to graduate as cultural and creative entrepreneurs. 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. Our programs are currently based on Wayuu indigenous communities in La Guajira - Colombia. But they have been made to scale to disadvantage communities across the world. Find out more: www.fundacionelorigen.org

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Aug 10, 2019

We need help to give visibility to over 1000 indigenous children and youth that want to access to schools based on their roots


I come from La Guajira, the region with the highest population of indigenous people in Colombia also the one with the highest levels in school dropouts, child begging and extreme poverty. Even there, we still face exclusion. In 2015 while I was working in my university thesis I met Rosmerys. At that moment she was a 14 years old young lady from the Wayuu tribe. Even though she was recognized as a citizen by law, she did not feel like that way. She started her education in a public school very close to the city. During her time in school she was bullied because she was indigenous and she did not know how to read and write like the others at her age. She dropped out school 3 months later. When I met her she was selling cigarettes to tourists on the road. I studied her case and many others, they all look the same. A child lost in a world that they do not understand. The Wayuu people are the largest ethnic group in the country. There is no register to say exactly how many they are, as some live in Venezuela and in Colombia, but there are over 250,000 people. Their population is young (70 percent are under 25 years old) and possesses irreplaceable cultural riches. They are forced to leave their traditional way of life losing their identity to fit in this society since climate changes and contamination have ruined their traditional living spaces, animals and rivers. The wayuu are worried that their legacy, now recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage, will be destined for oblivion. By the end of my university thesis we together came up with a Second Chance Education program based on their roots, new educational practices and the arts. We designed it for indigenous youth that have never been in school, for those that have dropped out, and those who are at risk of dropping out of school. Rosmerys dreamed about going back to school in an environment where she can feel comfortable and free to learn step by step to become a source of sustainability for her family and to have a happy life without being forced from her community. By 2015 we started our organization called El Origen to ensure every indigenous youth and child at risk who wants to go to school, can have access to schools based on their roots. We developed the Community Schools Program where they can develop the basic competences, learn to read, write and to do maths while they become cultural entrepreneurs. This program has benefited over 1000 children and youth across the La Guajira region and has been made to be replicated so that it may be transplanted to other vulnerable groups across the world. This year Rosmerys turns 18 years old. She has been in our program for 4 years already. She is working on her first book, and with other students. They created an entrepreneurs project called “visits to native communities guided by native youth”. She is welcoming tourists to her native community and leading workshops about native arts, gifting our culture. She is preparing her application for higher education next year. She wants to become a writer and a community tourism entrepreneur. She is overcoming poverty while enrolled in our schools where she feels free and without the pressures of earning money. This year we will start fundraising with the goal of building our first sustainable community school in the centrally located community of Cangrejito and to maintain our team of teachers. We have been testing other self sustainability strategies and people have loved it .Even though, in order to scale up we require marketing and visibility. This school will have the capacity to cover more than 1000 children and young indigenous at risk of falling in child begging or joining armed groups. Like many indigenous peoples around the world the Wayuu are at risk, in order to help them we need your help. The key to supporting and sustaining the wayuu youth and children is giving them the tools to navigate into the future, and for that we need your support.

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Posted on Jul 13, 2019

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