At 54 years old, Luz Faney Vargas or “Lucerito” as people often recognize her could be in a classroom again. In August like most of the social leaders who got the bachelor’s degree in Community Education with emphasis on Human Rights at Universidad Pedagógica Nacional (UPN), she seized the last opportunity to get a professional degree based on this project accrediting a career they have studied for a large part of their lives, although outside the classroom.
During last two years, Human Rights defenders (HR), territorial defenders, animal rights activists, LGTBI community representatives, feminists, members of indigenous communities as well as other 29-and-66-year occupational profiles walked the halls of the institution on Fridays and Saturdays to train as educators in the professionalization program implemented by UPN in conjunction with the Secretariat of Government.
The endeavor began in 2017 when social leaders Viviana Espinosa and Diego Aguilar suggested to this entity replacing the courses and workshops that should be included in the human rights training program for citizens but using those resources to support the professionalization of those people from several communities in such a way to advance their leadership projects.
This process got a significant supporter in the UPN thanks to the bachelor’s degree Program in Community Education with high-quality accreditation, which served to adapt the academic content to validate the knowledge and experience already possessed by field leaders in practice arenas but also ensuring curriculum were developed in five instead of 10 semesters, according to Professor Sonia Torres, the former Program Coordinator.
"We could gather the academic units to strengthen the specific training in the disciplinary area, such as Human Rights and Pedagogy," the teacher says, emphasizing the critical relevance given to pedagogical practices, since each semester every leader had to train 35 people within their relevant communities or at the institutional level.
As a result, today Lucero and her fellows became trainers of trainers thanks to a program where they could be also able to give a theoretical foundation to many practices they undertake on a daily basis. "It invited us to read in a different way what’s happening in the community and developing strategies to strength the vindication of rights, to not give up despite the difficulties," she says.
About 11 years ago she claims to have one of the loveliest jobs since she joined a foundation where she has developed a proposal called reconciliation centers. These are physical spaces ranging from the community hall or parish hall, where peace, coexistence, dialogue, and restoration pedagogies are promoted so, as she says, we should learn to 'forgive and forget.'
"Professionalization gives us a different status; it dignifies us. It is the way the city recognizes what we do. It is a tribute, a way of paying back both my own efforts and those of my colleagues," Lucero says. This recognition was also received posthumously by Gregorio Barreto, a leader who was part of the program but unfortunately died before the process was completed.
For Professor Helbert Choachí, the current coordinator of the degree program, these training initiatives for social leaders are important because these people intervene, energize, and bet upon transformation of conflict-ridden situations in their workplaces, so qualifying them and their projects it is also to strengthen their proposals.
"Working with social leaders is putting the academy and the University at the service of the communities, ready to meet the needs of historically excluded social sectors," the professor says, because this experience left important lessons for him from educational and administrative point of view they hope to apply in future calls.
In fact, they are working a new agreement with the Human Rights Department of the Secretariat of Government to open a new cohort next year thanks to the positive outcomes, including the incorporation of four of our graduates of the bachelor’s degree to work of this same entity.