Chile is a multicultural country. Its indigenous peoples are represented by different ethnic groups such as Aymara, Atacameño, Colla, Diaguita, Quechua, Rapa Nui, Mapuche, Kawashkar and Yagán, in addition to extinct cultures such as Changos, Chonos and Onas.
On the basis of this reality, public and private institutions are working to open up spaces of cultural diversity for boys and girls. The objective is not only to strengthen the identity and self-esteem of the children but also to educate them in the knowledge of and respect for the indigenous peoples.
To date, more than one hundred education establishments for children in Chile are developing programs of this kind. These are the Intercultural Day Care Centers, a project developed by the Junta Nacional de Jardines Infantiles (JUNJI – National Preschool Board) and Fundación Integra, which in addition to providing the traditional forms of preschool education, transmits to the children cultural elements from the indigenous ethnic groups of the country, such as the language of their ancestors, their rites, myths, food, music and world view.
Through bilingual education, taught mostly by young indigenous people, children learn words and phrases in Mapudungún, Aymara and Rapa Nui, among other autochthonous languages. An important aspect is the respect for nature, because it is part of the world view of the indigenous cultures.
For example, at some of the establishments children are taught to cultivate herbs and identify their medicinal uses, and to implement ecological practices such as recycling. Boys and girls also have the opportunity to experience native food such as the quínoa of the Aymara north and the mudai, catuto (wheat dough) and sopaipilla of the Mapuches.
But that isn’t all. Most of the day care centers have incorporated the indigenous world view into their architecture. In the Metropolitan Region, the best example is the Kim Ruka Center, which is built in the oval form of a hut. Its roof is inspired on the Easter Island rafts, with holes in it to attract positive energy, and a Chacana Cross of the Aymara is represented in the playground.
Due to the successful experience of the project, JUNJI intends to expand the intercultural focus to all day care centers. “To attend an Intercultural Center is not only good for the children of indigenous cultures but is often more beneficial for non-indigenous, immigrant or refugee children, because they have the chance to get to know other cultures and broaden their world view”, says Emma Maldonado, in charge of Intercultural Issues at JUNJI’s Technical Department.