The story of Professor Julio Manuel Pereyra and his Thriving Community Based Educational Program
When encountering an unfulfilled need in the marginalized communities of Argentina, Julio Manuel Pereyra, known as Professor Julio Manuel Pereyra, took matters into his own hand. Seven years ago, Pereyra founded his project Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza, “Chalk Paths” Mobile Schools in English. Latina Republic got together with Pereyra to learn more about his amazing work.
When asked what inspired him to start Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza Pereyra said that rather than one specific thing it was an accumulated series of events. Coming from an educational background in Uruguay, when Pereyra arrived in Argentina for an education related event, he encountered the dire situations some of the children lived in. It was then that he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Seeing as how other organizations already administered communal meals, secondhand clothing wardrobes, and such material resources, Pereyra concluded that the best thing he could provide was an education. And so Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza was born in 2014.
He chose the diminutive Escuelita as a way to differentiate his project from formal schools dependent on the nation’s Ministry of Education, Ambulante to specify they are mobile, and Caminos de Tiza because of an inspiring song by the same name written by argentine singer, Victor Heredia.
Regarding the well-known argentine public television show bearing the same name, Caminos de Tiza, Pereyra asserts there is no affiliation. Additionally, Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza’ adheres to what Pereyra calls an “aseptic ideology” meaning it is neither politically nor religiously affiliated.
Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza is a therapeutic, pedagogical, community-based, educational project, inspired by Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope, which focuses on the importance of community educators in small towns.
Pereyra began executing his project in the northeast province of Corrientes, Argentina within the Mby’a Guaraní communities, indigenous towns, rural communities, marginalized neighborhoods and landfill sites. He then extended it to other provinces, working with up to 32 northeastern argentine communities.
Pereyra explained how his project is one of the only organizations that brings their services to such remote territories. Pereyra and his only other permanent volunteer, Yanina Rossi, work seven days a week, providing multiple services and resources to the people of the northeast Province of Corrientes. At the moment, Pereyra works directly and on a permanent basis with 364 children in 14 different communities.
The work is not as simple as it may appear at first sight.
“The territory is vast,” he tells us. “It can take me up to eight hours to get from one school to another.”
Additionally, Pereyra faces several challenges that go unnoticed, such as having to face dangerous insects, diseases, and even the Paraguayan army. This is in part why Pereyra is hesitant to take on new volunteers.
“What we want is not so much for our work to be known, but rather that through us others will be exposed to what these children are experiencing. It is depicting the reality from a constructive perspective.”
When Pereyra encountered the negligent circumstances in these vulnerable communities, he denounced them with information based on evidence so that public policy entities, such as primary health care centers, schools and such, would get involved. He maintains that by personalizing the issues, by putting places, faces, history and names on what for other people are just numbers or rumors, he exposes the realities of these communities to raise awareness.
Pereyra states his outspokenly critical and politically incorrect approach has made it harder for his work to get recognized by local systems.
“The system tries to censor me as much as it can,” he says.
In Pereyra’s words, the mission of Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza is “the therapeutic pedagogical reinstitutionalization of children with and without disabilities, in vulnerable contexts of Argentina, through a socio-pedagogical intervention.”
More plainly put, to draw attention to children’s reality while providing the tools necessary for them to be able to enter and remain in an institutionalized system, such as a therapeutic center, day center, special school, school, early childhood space, etc. While Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza’works mostly with children, the project goes much further than giving classes.
Some of the services they provide include assisting with:
– Guaraní language
– Sign language
– Augmentative alternative communication
And the development of:
– Community spaces
– Local and mobile libraries
– Early childhood spaces
– Secondhand clothing wardrobes
– Communal meals
– Corporate Social Responsibility projects
When others find out how much Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza actually does, they are astounded and cannot seem to fathom how they manage it all.
“We are not a foundation, or NGO, nothing like that, just two people, two volunteers, Yanina Rossi and I, and that is it,” confirms Pereyra.
Pereyra conveyed conviction as he told us of his personal decision to commit wholeheartedly to the development of Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza. His motto,
“Some choose handkerchiefs, I choose scrubs. Some mark walls, I mark blackboards. Some march through the streets, I march through the jungle.”
Pereyra also pointed out some advantages that make his circumstances more feasible. He mentioned how he does not have children of his own and how his career allows him to always find work wherever he is despite moving from place to place.
“I have nothing holding me back, so I can go live like Tarzan in the jungle for 40 days,” he laughs.
He also points out that his autism gives him the advantage of perceiving moving around and missing people as something feasible. In our interview, Pereyra wanted to take the opportunity to highlight being autistic in a positive light. In his own words:
“That I am an autistic person, that for me is very important because it transmits that people with autism can be social references… it also breaks the stereotype that we are intelligent only in regards to mathematics, medicine, etc., which is what is portrayed by popular culture and the media.”
Pereyra advocates for inclusion and visibility of people with disabilities and aims to help break the stereotypes surrounding them.
The main objective of Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza nonetheless is to disappear altogether. This would mean their service is no longer needed, which is the overall goal. To guarantee the further development of the children and communities they interact with, Pereyra insists the services provided cannot be limited only to when they are present, but rather must be infused in the way the community intervenes once they are gone.
“We make sure that the institutionalization we have succeeded in continues and allows for the corresponding benefits enshrined in human rights, children’s rights, and argentine laws,” he states. When asked how he does to achieve this, his answer was installed capacity, meaning strengthening communities by providing them with a strong foundation to build on but one which they can carry out themselves. He emphasizes how important training others is for the work to continue to be developed and successful.
“It is education, not imposition,” he clarifies.
Pereyra explained that when Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza eventually departs, their efforts will continue through organized communities where the people will lead as educators, mentors, and instructors themselves. Providing training and instruction means that potential community educators will have the capacity to make further progress on their own. This arrangement works largely in part because Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza recognizes how crucial follow-up efforts are.
Because of this vision, the people in these communities also believe in and value these efforts. Additionally, Pereyra’s inspiring endeavors generate a sense of a deep, human bond within the community that motivate people to continue working together on furthering these advancements. Another fundamental concept mentioned by Pereyra is that of emergency pedagogy, the idea that education should be based on real, immediate issues that occur within the community.
“We do not do what we want. I want to be the teacher they need,” Pereyra declares.
Pereyra also strives to maintain a clear record of the children’s progress. Pereyra reinforces a consistent registration of a rubric that guarantees a continuity even after Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza has withdrawn. Children must present documents proving that they are attending and passing the school year, such as their notebooks, their IDs, their grades, how many absences they have, etc. The parents/guardians are usually the ones that provide this documentation, as they witness any progress that may be relevant for putting together a child’s curriculum.
If they receive any additional benefits or services, the guardians must make sure the children are attending and participating in all previously coordinated arrangements, such as medical checkups. Pereyra makes sure that their intervention is always backed up by a secondary intervention and/or examination that also acknowledges the child’s situation.
This not only improves the services provided, but also guarantees that the child is always attended to. Additionally, the statistical data collected through Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza‘s record-keeping is systematized into papers that are presented at international congresses and symposiums, as well as submitted for scientific evaluation in order to contribute to furthering current knowledge and research.
The advancements and accomplishments of Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza are extraordinarily impressive. As of now Pereyra confirms all children seven years or older are literate, as well as reports 100% bilingualism from students of indigenous communities in their native language, Guaraní, and Spanish. There are also zero cases for the following: teenage pregnancy, child labor, undernourishment or malnutrition, dengue, myiasis, and coronavirus cases.
When asked if/how Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza was impacted by the coronavirus, Pereyra answered that the pandemic had barely altered a thing. He told Latina Republic that they had already been implementing a safety and hygiene protocol prior to the pandemic, and that besides the minor adjustments made to comply with the regulatory protocols that came about due to the pandemic, the only other change had been a slight modification to their usual routes due to the lack of the usual public transportation options.
Conducting such an unorthodox operation is what makes it so that Pereyra has had to develop his network with the help of the local community radios stations, which broadcast his route for those that have no other means to connect with him.
Over time, Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza and its founder have been recognized by TOMi Digital Latinoamérica, Maestros que Inspiran Latinoamérica, La Asociación Educar para El Desarrollo Humano, Grandes Sumadores, just to mention a few. The project has been awarded several national and even international awards.
While Pereyra acknowledges that this recognition can serve as a means to guarantee that further resources and services are obtained, it is not necessarily what Pereyra cares to emphasize on. He states that awards are not important to him unless he can gain something from them to further develop his project, like resources to build a new school or the possibility to certify community educators, for example.
Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza’s transparency and reputation has made it so that just by word of mouth they manage to always receive the donations they need voluntarily.
Pereyra tells me that they invite the community to participate and see for themselves the work and accomplishments taking place.
Throughout the years this has incentivized others to partake in aiding the development of the project in their communities. This sort of institutional synergy has allowed for Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza to be able to guarantee certain services and resources are always available.
As he does not accumulate donations, Pereyra prefers to avoid monetary donations. He emphasizes that he does not need to be supported himself, and rather that those interested in helping support the community directly. Instead of campaigning for donations, Pereyra insists the most helpful thing the public can do is spread the word and disseminate the information of Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza and their work. Pereyra is grateful for the publications that help publicize their efforts because they usually increase their chances of receiving additional means and support.
Readers interested in learning more about Escuelitas Ambulantes Caminos de Tiza can follow Pereyra and his work through the following:
My name is Alejandra Perez, and I am currently completing the last year of my Masters of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Florida International University. Born in Colombia but raised in the United States, I have always sought out ways to connect with my heritage and broaden my understanding of Latin American. Having lived most of my life in Miami, FL has exposed me to a variety of Latin American experiences and allowed me to gain further appreciation for its diverse cultures overall. This interest is what led me to pursue an academic career focused on Spanish and Latin American studies. I have always been intrigued more so by the humanities and look forward to continue using the power of storytelling to promote Latin American culture in a way that allows others to appreciate the richness of the region. As a Latin American Correspondent, I hope to focus on civic engagement geared towards advocating for the Latin American community within and outside the United States.