In 2013, a group of high school students in Paraguay established the first national-level high school student organization in order to give voice to youth across the country. In August of that year, representatives from 55 high school student centers – which are the representative entities of a student body at an educational institution – met and founded the National Union of Student Centers of Paraguay (UNEPY).
Since then, students have established centers in hundreds of Paraguayan schools, increasing not only the size and impact of UNEPY but also the level of student participation schools and civil society. In 2015, UNEPY was a key actor in Paraguay’s “student revolution,” that compelled the nation’s president to open a dialogue with students. A year later, following a decision by authorities to put student centers under the control of school directors and the Ministry of Education, UNEPY mobilized its members to bring about the resignation of the Minister of Education and to establish new rules for democratic student participation in schools.
In 2016, the IAF signed an agreement with the Paraguayan organization Estudios y Educación Popular Germinal (CEEPG) to bolster UNEPY. The goal is to strengthen youth leadership and civic participation.
Today, UNEPY includes student centers in 240 of the nation’s 2,000 high schools. Those centers represent more than 36,000 of the students enrolled in secondary education. The organization has become an important sociopolitical actor to improve the quality of education and to strengthen Paraguayan democracy. In March 2017, for example, UNEPY participated in a national movement to block a constitutional amendment that would have allowed for the reelection of the president —something prohibited by Paraguay’s constitution. With its nationwide presence and reach, UNEPY encourages youth participation and plays a fundamental role in strengthening Paraguay’s young democracy, established in 1989 after decades of dictatorship.
UNEPY’s success has inspired other youth groups, including regional organizations of UNEPY alumni and other organizations in many of the nation’s 52 public and private universities. To encourage participation, in 2016 UNEPY began inviting current and former student leaders now active in universities and communities to participate in the annual Jopará Camp. The camp takes place over three days in December and provides youth with leadership training. It also serves as a forum for youth leaders to dialogue and debate about education, health, human rights and democracy that are important to them. The camp is focused on empowering the next generation of Paraguayan youth to become leaders in civil society. More than 150 student leaders from high schools and universities participated in the 2017 camp.
The Jopará Camp is just one way the IAF and partners seek to support youth to build a more just society in Paraguay that promotes democratic values into the future. As one student at the camp said, “this is just one way we can come together to gain key leadership skills, share our experiences and work towards our dreams.”
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