Indigenous Migrant Workers Begin Literacy Classes

IOM is providing support to a programme managed by the National
University in Costa Rica aimed at improving the health of temporary
migrant workers in Los Santos, Costa Rica by carrying out literacy
classes for the indigenous Ngobe tribe who travel from Panama every
year to work in the coffee harvest.

The classes, which are funded by the US State Department's
Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), include a
handbook in Ngobe, created by a professor who has been working with
the population for years. The class also includes information on
health and human rights.

"At the inauguration, one of the migrants gave a very moving
speech about how many of the Ngobe can't even sign their name, and
that after these classes, they will be able to do so. That will be
a huge change in their lives. The goal is to empower people and
begin to give them some literacy skills," said Rosilyne Borland of
IOM San José.

Every year the 12,000 Ngobe men, women, and children who travel
from Panama to Costa Rica start working the coffee harvests in
southern Costa Rica around the month of August. They continue to
Los Santos where the harvest takes place later in the year.

Previously, the coffee was harvested by local residents but more
recently only migrants have been willing to do the difficult work
which by the end of the season allows them to take home about US$

The Ngobe live on the farms in cement rooms, but the living
conditions vary greatly – some have rows of sinks, showers
and latrines, others provide one tap and one outhouse for all of
the workers.

Ngobe representatives lauded the literacy effort but said much
more must be done. A recently signed agreement with the National
University will allow for future cooperation between IOM and the

The classes will end in late February or early March, when the
Ngobe head back to Panama. According to Panama's 2000 census,
110,080 Ngobe live in Panama, making up 63.6 per cent of the
national indigenous population

For more information contact:

Rosilyne Borland

IOM San José

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