Wilson Sagastegui, a Peruvian scholar, was invited to Texas A&M University-Kingsville for a month in order to share his knowledge of Peru.
Sagastegui is currently working for a non-governmental organization called “Practical Action” which focuses on educating the poor to empower them.
As a child in a family of fifteen, he grew up knowing what it was like to live in poverty. He didn’t have electricity, running water, or a sewage system. When his father was fired from his job, they moved to Chimbote.
It was in Chimbote that he said he began his work with NGOs. He was sixteen at the time.
“(Poverty) is a hard reality but at the same time, we are a rich country because we have many mines, which have gold, silver and natural gas. The big question is: Why? Why after more than 500 years do we continue to be a country that is living in poverty?” Sagastegui said.
It was this question that the young Sagastegui sought to answer. When he was invited to participate in an educational program for poor people to teach them to read and write, he readily agreed, he said.
“I was learning a little more and I realized that we needed to do something. So when I was 20 years old, I wanted to attend a university. But in Chimbote, there weren’t any universities. So I moved to Lima in 1974,” Sagastegui said.
Sagastegui said he found a job with an NGO when he was living in Lima. That particular NGO was promoting popular education in Peru. They were organizing national events in order to discuss what popular education meant and how to promote it in Peru.
After working with that NGO for about 12 years, he was invited to another because people wanted to learn more about popular education. There was a danger in spreading the message, though, because of terrorist organizations like Sendero Luminoso.
“They didn’t like NGOs. We continued working, but we were always afraid to be killed. They said the NGOs were the best friends of the imperialists,” Sagastegui said.
Sagastegui said he was invited to stay at TAMUK for a month because of some connections he had with the university, including professors Marco Iniguez and Dr. Richard Hartwig.
“I am happy to be here because I found people – not who are thinking exactly like me – but who are interested in learning about my country,” Sagastegui said.
Hartwig said he wants to share Sagastegui’s experiences with his classes. He said it would be a powerful learning opportunity for them.
“If I just talk about (his experiences) in class, (my students) won’t understand it, but if you have somebody who comes from that background and it’s real to them, they’d understand,” Hartwig said.
Sagastegui has given several presentations to classes across campus, and he will continue to do so until he leaves.