Next month, the International English Minga (IEM) will bring educators from the North together with Achuar teachers and shamans to create a trailblazing curriculum for the next generation. Organizers Kyle Solomon, Lily Hollister, and Susan Katz share more about the project in this post.


International English Minga organizers Lily Hollister and Jiyunt Isabel Uyunkar studying in the Amazon rainforest.

Roots in a Shaman’s Vision

Our story begins over two decades ago, with a powerful shaman whose life was cut short. Before he died, however, he had a vision. It was a vivid dream for the future of his family and of his people, the Achuar of Ecuador.

No culture is static. Times were changing, and so he told his young children that they would study, not only all the things that he knew, but knowledge from the outside world as well. They were to prepare themselves to confront an encroaching frontier that would one day threaten the Achuars’ very existence.

Today, the threat is real, and his vision is well on its way to becoming reality. His sons and daughters are all grown; one is principal of a K-8 elementary school in the Achuar community of Wachirpas, another works as administrator at the nearby Kapawi Ecolodge.

This summer, two of their younger siblings, a brother-sister superstar pair named Jiyunt Isabel and Tiyua Napoleon Uyunkar, are coordinating a cutting-edge multicultural education initiative called the International English Minga (IEM).

A Tool for Indigenous Advocacy

The Achuar are part of a turn-of-the-millenium movement that has swept across the entire Amazon basin, in which Indigenous men and women are claiming territorial rights, the right to freely use their own water, the right to conduct themselves according to their own worldviews, social organizations, and ways of living and knowing.

In 2008, with its new constitution, Ecuador acknowledged their struggle by granting rights to Nature itself, and, with its abundance of cultural diversity, declaring itself a plurinational republic.

Given the role education plays in holding political, economic, and social systems in place, Ecuador’s Indigenous nationalities are also asserting their right to state-sponsored intercultural education that is locally conceived and multilingual.

Intercultural education has emerged as an important tool to preserve the worldviews of Indigenous peoples, their philosophy and spirituality as well as their science and technology.

Education Meets Minga

The International English Minga responds to this historical moment by putting North American academics into direct contact with Achuar scholars and shamans, young students and seasoned elders.

Minga, a Quechua concept passed down from the Incas, is a call to collaboration, an invitation to a community work party much like a barn-raising. With our Achuar partners we have recontextualized the minga, using it as a metaphor to describe the strenuous work of teaching and learning.

IEM is the brainchild of two Achuar teachers, Jiyunt Isabel and Tiyua Napoleon, and two of their North American allies, Kyle Solomon and Lily Hollister, who have worked as English teachers in Achuar territory for the last three years.

Next month, 12 graduate students and two professors from the University of San Francisco and 20 Achuar schoolteachers from nearby communities will all convene in Wachirpas to build a bilingual curriculum for children which imagines the potential of cross-cultural education to effect real change for the future of our planet.

The Curriculum

By basing our methodology in Achuar myth, song and dance, plants, cuisine, art and community life, we will be serving three goals:

  • Design a model which demonstrates that no matter what the subject matter, education in Achuar territory can ultimately reinforce the deepest-held values and perpetuate the unique cosmology of the Achuar and their ancestors;
  • Develop useful language and communication skills in children who will grow up as stewards of the rainforest, the lungs of our planet. Liberated from the threat of oil exploration on their land, they will be free to impart their own knowledge on to the wider world; and
  • Revolutionize a state-sponsored curriculum by centering it within Achuar tradition and technology, passing down cultural wisdom to the children of today, the leaders of tomorrow.

Be a Part of the International English Minga