A Conversation with Marlene, a Youth activist from Ecuador



Marlene, 20, is a youth leader from Ecuador. She's part of the Puruhá indigenous people and visited the UN in New York last week to take part in a panel discussion on the rights of indigenous children.

What’s your name?

My name is Marlene Cain. I come from Ecuador. I’m part of the Puruhá indigenous people.

Where do you live?

I live in a parish where the majority of the population is indigenous. It’s nothing like New York. We only have small houses, in nature, with trees. I study law at the Universidad Nacional de Chimborazo. I have to travel an hour to go to school at Riobamba. My parents sent me and my brothers there to study. In other words, during the week we live alone. I am like a mother to my brothers. I cook. I wash for them.

What turning points in your life have shape your ideals?

I have been the subject of discrimination, i.e. my teacher and other people from other races or mestizos. They start calling you other names… for example “Maria.” So everyone call you Maria (in a derogatory way). I had a conversation with my teacher. He was always talking about the indigenous people and did not seem to know that we have rights. We are the (native) of this land. These are our lands. He began to understand of these international treaties and we had a discussion between student and teacher.

What brought you to New York?

I came to New York to talk about indigenous rights of children, adolescents and indigenous youth.|

When did you start working on the indigenous movement?

I’ve started when I was very young, probably 14 or 15 years old. I became involved in the issue thanks to World Vision. They have been an institution that had supported the town where I live, especially, not only me but also other children of the 29 communities. The process is quite long and forming for me, for all the kids as well.

Who’s your role model?

I am a Christian (protestant) then my hero is God.

What recommendations would you give to youth who want to become activists?

If the person truly wishes with all his/her heart, then obviously she/he is going to work. You have to work hard, get educated, lead groups, try to instill new ideas, new opinions and be a leader. If he/she really desires it, she will surely do it.

What do you expect from the panel on the rights of indigenous children?

One has to always be (optimistic). I am a positive person. Therefore I think we're going to move forward. Let's take a step but not so large, but yes, I think that the situation of indigenous children, adolescents and youth is going to change. We have always had this problem of being people who have been minimized, (made invisible) with all the other problems that follow us. So I think that if we, especially in my country, fight, we will rise up as indigenous. That way, it will not allow that the (process) stay only reflected on paper but that it becomes a reality.

What themes would you want other kids to think about?

Why indigenous children have the highest poverty statistics? Why (are there) more and more children working on the streets, indigenous children? Why are (indigenous children) the most abused? Why indigenous children have to suffer this?

© UNICEF 2012 / Krystel Abimeri

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