How a Local Woman Is Using Education to Help the Children of the Uros Islands Find a Better Life

Uros floating islands
Uros floating islands | © saiko3p / Shuterstock
Harry Stewart

Every weekday morning – rain, hail or shine – Amalia Suana does the rounds to pick up local children and bring them to school. But she isn’t just some ordinary bus driver. Suana is the sole teacher at the only community pre-school in Peru’s remarkable floating islands of Uros.

Situated near Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the indigenous Uros people have been living on these fascinating artificial islands for hundreds of years. The incredible floating city was first constructed entirely out of native totora reeds in an attempt to hide from the onslaught of the expanding Inca empire.

Aside from the odd solar panel and black and white TV, the community hasn’t modernized a whole lot since then. Furthermore, many of the Uros people live in extreme poverty, despite welcoming tourists from around the world each day. At 3,800 m (12500 ft) above sea level, the nights drop well below freezing on Lake Titicaca meaning living conditions are harsh, to say the least.

Uros Island boy

With dreams of providing the younger generation a chance at a better future, Suana founded the very first Uros islands pre-school.

“The idea surged from looking at the children and thinking that I didn’t have the opportunity to go to school as a child. The children have the right to be educated,” she told Al Jazeera.

Uros child

After seeing herself through university by selling handicrafts on the street, Suana set to work on turning her vision into reality. With no initial funding from the Peruvian government, she enlisted help from fellow islanders to lay a basic wooden floor and erect corrugated iron walls and a roof. Upon painting the structure bright yellow and collecting donations of stationary and other supplies, classes were finally ready to begin at the newly founded Sumita Corazon pre-school back in 2009.

Since opening the school some eight years ago, Suana has appeared in the international media and been awarded the prestigious Integration Award from the Peruvian government.

Yet the journey to school each day is fraught with danger. The only available boat is too small, meaning it’s dangerously overcrowded as it plies the freezing cold water each morning. Worse still, these young toddlers haven’t yet learnt to swim and there are no life vests on board, meaning capsizing would be absolutely catastrophic.

But despite the dangers, the mothers of Uros mothers are happy to see their children go to school.

“Finally they have a school, and I’m happy because they are learning the vowels and the alphabet and the numbers, and they also learn to play” says local woman Elsa Lujano.

Older children attending a bigger school on the archipelago are not so lucky. With only occasional access to a proper boat, they must paddle two km (1.2 miles) to school inside laundry buckets most mornings.

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