At only 24 years old, Enrique Unkum has prodigious dreams for his people: to ensure that his community’s future leaders, now still adolescents, have the necessary training and preparation required to effectively and strongly lead their unique, indigenous communities.
Enrique was born in Setuch, an Ecuadorian Achuar community near the border of Peru. He is the Youth Director at the Bi-National Coordinating Committee of the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador and Peru (COBNAEP). Our sister organization in Ecuador had an inspiring conversation with him about the challenges he faces.
What is your greatest personal challenge as Youth Director?
My greatest concern is that the young Achuar are able to study and effectively train themselves. At the moment, my greatest challenge is acquiring grants for five students – young Achuar men and women – to study abroad. My hope is that it allows them the opportunity to broaden their vision of the world, improve their English, and gives them greater perspective about petroleum contamination across many communities.
What do you hope they will study?
We need Achuar that are specialized in the art of collective rights, law, and international and national policies. It would be nice to have an Achuar lawyer one day!
And the young men and women, how do they envision their future?
Right now they’re concerned with learning English. Achuar adolescents in Ecuador are very motivated and participate in community meetings. They listen to their elders and are encouraged to study abroad. Likewise, their elders hope these youth will one day lead their community. The elders also trust that the younger Achuar will not forget their rich culture nor their roots.
However, there are considerable differences between the Ecuadorian Achuar and the Achuar in Peru. In Peru, the young men and women leave their communities without consent. In the cities and larger communities, they are more reserved, and do not speak out in public because their Spanish is lacking.
Young Peruvian Achuar are migrating to the cities to study because a bachelor’s degree from a community college in Peru does not merit the same professional opportunities or privileges as in Ecuador. Thus, they move to the cities to study, work, and make a little bit of money.
Unfortunately, few return to their communities. Some young Achuar in Peru work with the petroleum companies. They make around $300 a month, chopping down their forests with machetes, chainsaws, and bulldozers. It worries me that they are content with this.
Do you have any message for our readers?
As Youth Director and community member, I am very committed to ensuring that our Achuar youth have the opportunity to study, so that they may lead our communities in the future. When my term ends, I hope I have set the stage for others to lead the way.