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Learn Amazonian Languages With Apps Made in Iquitos

Captura de pantalla del video promocional de la aplicación.

It is hoped that these applications can serve “as an instrument to be used in order to ensure that cultural identity is not lost and, above all, to teach and to strengthen the Amazonian languages.” Screenshot of the promotional video for the applications that can be watched below.

When we think about the Amazon, images of lush jungle and rivers as wide as seas usually come to mind. If we know something about the issues in the region, it is probably about deforestation, poverty, and the fact indigenous peoples there are facing a struggle to preserve their languages and cultures. But hardly ever do we think about the Amazon as a source of cutting-edge technology. However, this is precisely what is happening in the Peruvian Amazonian city of Iquitos.

On June 20, the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute (IIAP) launched five applications for mobile phones and tablets (with Android operating systems), so that “children aged three to five years can acquire, through images and sounds, basic knowledge (alphabet, numbers, animals, body parts, etc.) in the Amazonian languages Tikuna, Kandozi, Quechua de Lamas, Huitoto Murui Bue and Kukama-Kukamiria.”

As mentioned in the video, the apps are designed for children to learn the language, so that its preservation be ensured for at least one more generation.

It is important to note that several of the 43 identified Amazonian languages are severely endangered.

Moreover, in addition to boosting the Amazonian languages, ICT development can also help improve food security, access to health services, education, disaster prevention and environmental monitoring in the Peruvian Amazon region.

Nevertheless, progress in these areas will not be possible without strong support from the various institutions of the region and of the country.

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Engineer Isaac Ocampo presenting the use of the ICT in the Peruvian Amazon. Screengrab of the video about the presentation of the apps in Amazonian languages.

The language-saving initiative is being spearheaded by the IIAP through the SITEC project of the Bioinfo program in collaboration with the Faculty of Computer Science at the National University of the Peruvian Amazon (UNAP), while Isaac Ocampo Yahuarcani (IOY), an engineer known for his blogging and activity on social networks as well as the development of information systems in the city of Iquitos, is the creative force standing behind it.

Global Voices contacted Ocampo to find out more about these apps for learning the Amazonian languages.

GV: Is this apps project for learning Amazonian languages ​​part of a larger effort on the part of the IIAP or is it an initiative of the team that you lead?

(IOY) Es impulsada desde el IIAP y tenemos como meta llegar a todas las lenguas amazónicas de Perú (que oficialmente son 43) hasta julio 2021. He indagado y no existe material educativo digital en las lenguas amazónicas. Y existen como 10 facultades de sistemas en toda la selva y otras 70 a nivel de Perú.

Por ahora no tenemos ninguna fuente financiera, lo que queremos demostrar es que cuando hay ganas se pueden hacer muchas cosas.

Esta es una propuesta de modelo de desarrollo, que plantea que la verdadera inclusión social debería llevar decenas de servicios (salud, acceso a mercado, e-gobierno) hacia los peruanos de las comunidades amazónicas. Lo que nuestra civilización sólo les da es contaminación y envenenamiento de sus tierras. Aprovechemos las redes de telecomunicaciones y el crecimiento de la penetración de celulares. Por ejemplo en las comunidades de Manacamiri (Kukama), Padrecocha (Kukama) y Centro Arenal (Huitoto), seis de cada 10 familias tienen celulares (incluso más de uno). Tres de ellos tienen smartphones con conexión a Internet.

IOY: It is promoted by the IIAP and our goal is to include all the Amazonian languages ​​of Peru  (43 official languages in total) by July 2021. I carried out research and found there is no digital educational material in the Amazonian languages. There are about 10 faculties of computer science in the Amazon area and another 70 throughout Peru.

For the time being, we do not have any financial resources, but what we want to show is that when there is commitment, many things can be achieved.

This is a proposed development model which raises the point that real social inclusion means bringing many kinds of services (health, market access, e-government) to the Peruvian Amazonian communities. What our civilisation has given them thus far is only pollution and the poisoning of their land. Let's use telecommunication networks and the increasing availability of mobile phones. For example, in the communities from Manacamiri (Kukama), Padrecocha (Kukama) and Centro Arenal (Huitoto), six out of 10 families have cellphones (even more than one). Three of them have smartphones with Internet access.

Ochoa (Huitoto Murui Bue) family from Centro Arenal, at the delivery of the software. Photo courtesy of Isaac Ocampo /IIAP.

GV: How long has it taken to develop these apps and how was the team in charge of them put together?

(IOY) La primera (Huitoto) nos tomó cuatro meses, las otras tres tomaron un mes cada una.

Yo soy el creador del las formas, estructuras y todo eso. O sea, el director. Digamos que [soy] el dueño del concepto y uso. Detrás mío está Rodolfo Cardenas que es ingeniero de sistemas y programador de videojuegos. Luego viene un grupo de estudiantes: Franz Chuje, Lelis Saravia, Lina Vasquez quienes son los que hacen la digitalización y arreglo de sonido, diseño gráfico y cierta codificación. Luego está el grupo de hablantes: Zoila Ochoa (Huitoto), Maria Cuje y Toribio Amasifuen (Quechua). Los datos del resto de hablantes están en el video.

IOY: The first (Huitoto) took four months, the other three took one month each.

I am the creator of the forms, the structures and all the other aspects. That is, I am the director. Let's say I [am] the owner of the concept and its use. Then, there is Rodolfo Cardenas, a systems engineer and video game programmer. Also, a group of students: Franz Chuje, Lelis Saravia, Lina Vasquez who ensure digitization and sound arrangement, graphic design and coding. Then, there is the group of speakers: Zoila Ochoa (Huitoto), Maria Cuje and Toribio Amasifuen (Quechua). The information regarding the other speakers can be found in the video.

GV: Do you hope that the local population will also have a real interest in this, not only the scholars?

(IOY) Esperamos que surja ese interés, pero más que eso, es interés de mi grupo de trabajo: desarrollar métodos que permitan beneficiar a las poblaciones a través de las telecomunicaciones y contenidos. Queremos llevar las técnicas de reproducción de peces del IIAP a los pobladores indígenas, queremos aprovechar que el celular llegará primero a ellos. Las telecomunicaciones en el mundo han demostrado que incrementan la calidad de vida de la población, esa potencialidad queremos aplicarla en nuestros pueblos.

La labor del IIAP es hacer investigación, lo que resulte podrá servir posiblemente para modernizar el sistema educativo bilingue, para articular a estas poblaciones con el mercado, para que ellos incluso accedan en sus idiomas a servicios de justicia, e incluso comunicación con el gobierno. En resumen esta es una propuesta de desarrollo y sustentabilidad de los pueblos a través de las TIC.

(IOY): We hope this interest will arise, but this is important to my working group: to develop methods for the benefit of populations through telecommunications and content. We want to bring fish breeding techniques of the IIAP to the indigenous peoples, we want them to take advantage of the use of cellphones. Telecommunication development has been proven to increase the quality of life for populations, and we want our people to benefit from this potential.

The work of the IIAP is to research, and the result may possibly serve to modernize the bilingual education system, to link these populations to the market, so that they have access in their own languages ​​to justice services and communication with the government. In summary, this is a proposal for the development and sustainability of peoples through ICT.

A Kukama teacher recording his voice to be used in the apps. Photo courtesy of Isaac Ocampo / IIAP.

The struggle for the preservation of the Amazonian languages as well as the development of ICT skills has thus taken an interesting turn in Iquitos, even if it still has a long way to go.

The apps can be downloaded via the following links:

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