UPEI faculty helping build Chilean school

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on November 13, 2012
Dr. Irene Novaczek, right, director of UPEI's Institute of Island Studies and Dr. Kate Tilleczek, Canada Research Chair of Child/Youth Cultures and Transitions at UPEI, also took part in detailing the $5 million project.
Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

Call it Campus Chiloe.

A diverse mix of UPEI faculty will be at the heart of a rural school that will be established over the next five years for indigenous youth of the remote islands in this southern region of Chile.

Irene Novaczek, director of UPEI’s Institute of Island Studies, has high hopes and great expectations for this $5.3 million project that has secured hefty funding from the Canadian International Development Agency.

She envisions the school as a community hub for youth, helping young women and men develop the skills and knowledge that they need, whether they choose to be fishers and farmers, seek employment in town, develop their own businesses, or continue on with their education.

Novaczek notes the Williche are islanders who, like residents here on P.E.I., are intensely attached to their land and sea.

“They are rich in talents and in knowledge about their natural surroundings, but their remote rural communities struggle with youth outmigration, and limited access to education and employment,’’ she said.

“They yearn for forms of social and economic development that fit with their traditional values and their holistic world view. We have committed to working with them to provide educational opportunities for their young people that will open doors to healthy and productive forms of employment, while also respecting the indigenous culture and the environment that Williche people depend upon.’’

Work, at the insistence of the many chiefs involved in the project, will begin with Chiloe’s poorest, most remote and most marginalized community.

The University of Prince Edward Island was one of 15 different schools and 17 different projects that CIDA selected to implement projects around the world that will stimulate sustainable growth, secure the future of children and youth, increase food security and advance Canada’s commitments on maternal, newborn and child health.

Novaczek says the courses to be taught at the school will reflect the social realities, needs and ambitions of the young people of the region.

“What we can’t do is pull young people into a school, sit them in chairs and keep them there for a typical university semester,’’ she said.

“They have small children of their own, they have elders to look after, they have gardens to tend and animals to care for. So we really have to adapt our school to meet their needs where they are.’’

The school itself will be named Wekimun, a Williche word that means the fusion of different types of knowledge. And UPEI certainly has assembled a team that will offer many types of knowledge about people, communities, education, land and sea.

Faculty involved in the project come from a host of departments at the university, including education, Island Studies, modern languages, the vet college, globalization, business, internationalization office, and the climate change lab.

Novaczek says the faculty team will be augmented by a talented group of Canadian community volunteers who will also collaborate with indigenous elders and local specialists in Chiloe to develop and deliver courses that are both practical and culturally appropriate.

Kate Tilleczek, Canada Research Chair in Child/Youth Cultures and Transitions, adds that this international project will also provide opportunities for enriching UPEI.

“It will enhance what we teach to students and provide an important focal point around which other research and teaching projects may develop,’’ said Tilleczek.

“This is the beginning of a very exciting time for both UPEI and our southern Chilean partners.’’