UATRE and Rural Literacy

With Carolina Llanos

“There is no greater poverty than
not knowing how to read and write.”

UATRE’s Rural Literacy Program (PAR) is achieving the objective set out by the union’s General Secretary, Gerónimo Venegas: “To work tirelessly until there isn’t a single rural worker that can’t read and write.” In 2002, a pilot experience was conducted, through which the first five PAR Centers were established and 109 people were taught to read and write. Today the Program has 118 centers, which means that by the end of 2006, more than 7,000 fellow workers will have learned to read and write.

Carolina Llanos



Carolina Llanos is Secretary of Women Issues at the Argentinean Association of Rural Workers and Stevedores (UATRE). She’s 33 years old, married, with two children: Rosario, 8, and Ezequiel, 10. Her eldest is already a very promising musician, a bass drum and trumpet virtuoso -“he takes after me, no doubt about it, his father is tone deaf,” she remarks beaming with motherly pride.


Although she was actually born in Robadal, a small town in the Province of Tucumán with no schools or hospitals, she has adopted Santiago del Estero as her home.


Her grandparents and parents were all rural workers, although her mom, tired of the poverty prevalent in Santiago del Estero, decided to go to Buenos Aires to become a nurse. “My mom moved to the capital when she was very young. It used to be common among rural families to send their children -in particular their daughters- to stay with a relative in the city so that they could learn a trade, find a job, and help their parents support the family. So that was what she did: she worked and studied for two years until she graduated. I admire my mom for having made that decision, which I’m sure was not easy for her,” she remembers moved.


For her part, Carolina left with her brother when she was twelve, to finish high school, and during the holidays she worked in the harvests. Like her mom, she later moved to Buenos Aires where she found work as a domestic worker and a companion for elderly people, and earned her rural teacher’s degree. “My father was a member and leader of the local union, so UATRE gave me a place to live in Buenos Aires. Shortly after I graduated I started working in UATRE’s social aid services, got married and had kids. In 1999, when Rosario and Ezequiel were a little older, I was invited to participate in union activities, so here I am.”


We talked with this woman, who is committed to her history and to UATRE, who knows the problems of rural working women, having experienced them first-hand, who remembers how her grandfather was unable to retire because he was always employed as an unregistered worker, and how her grandmother died without knowing how to read or write.


-What problems do women workers face?

-Rural women are discriminated from an early age, their discrimination starts in their own homes. When they get a job they are generally employed informally, without a contract, which means no social benefits. Because at the very best, employers will only register male workers, the “heads of households.” Even so, women are paid less, as it is considered that a woman’s salary is merely a supplement of what her husband earns.


This situation is changing thanks to the rural worker’s card, through which more than 400 thousand rural workers have been formalized, and over 70 thousand farmers have been registered in the National Register of Rural Workers and Employers (RENATRE).


 -And what about working conditions?

-There are a lot of problems which are caused by the use of agrotoxic substances. From UATRE’s work we now know that these substances affect women much more than they do men.


Another big issue is the problem of Repetitive Stress Injuries. This is a terrible situation among peanut processing workers in the province of Córdoba. The hands of these women workers are deformed, and they are in constant pain. There we are working very hard, helping to organize them.


Together with the Network of Rural Women, and under the guidance of our General Secretary Gerónimo Venegas, we are making efforts to raise awareness among rural women, to enable them to effectively transform their reality and put an end to a system where injustice is accepted as natural, where it is common to hear that “things have always been like that,” that “that’s the way the boss wants it.” This is changing. It doesn’t work that way anymore, things are not “how the boss wants them,” but rather how they should be, like UATRE and the law stipulates.


-While the countryside is modernized with giant satellite-monitored harvesting machines, many rural workers have never seen a school. Tell us about the Rural Literacy Program (PAR)

-The Program was started in the year 2002 in five provinces of northern Argentina, although the process began with the UATRE 1998 National Congress, with a survey of the congress participants representing each of the provinces. Three demands resulted from this survey: training in agricultural machinery operation, training in agrotoxic substances, and literacy campaign.


In 2003, UATRE signed a Framework Agreement with the National Ministry of Education with the aim of joining efforts and working together to design and implement the PAR. In addition, the National House of Representatives and the Senate declared the PAR a matter of parliamentary interest, and it was also declared a matter of provincial interest in the provinces of Santiago del Estero, Jujuy and Misiones.


So far, 408 PAR Centers have been created throughout the country, where 7,411 rural workers will be taught to read and write in 2006 .



PAR Centers

Number of beneficiaries



















Data for 2006 corresponds to number of people registered.


-How long does it take to teach a person to read and write?

-Approximately twelve weeks, with classes three times a week, and one and a half hours per class.


-How many people are there in each group?

-Ten to fifteen, and these groups operate in what is called a PAR Center.


-How many facilitators does the PAR have?

-Some 150, who are social activists. They receive special training at UATRE headquarters, where they are also given all the teaching material they’ll work with. 


-Are they mostly women?

-Yes, and they’re members of the UATRE National Women’s Network.


-How many women are there among the beneficiaries?

-Eighty percent are women, because when families have to choose between a girl and a boy, boys are the ones that are traditionally given the chance to go to school. Moreover, women are more ready than men to accept their illiterate condition. 


-Who can benefit from the PAR?

-The program is aimed at any person 15 years or older who can’t read or write.


-Gerónimo Venegas has repeatedly declared that the PAR and the Rural Worker’s Card are two crucial instruments for the task of dignifying rural families.

-Of course, Venegas often says: “We don’t want children to be rural workers, and we don’t want illiterate workers.” In a child worker we not only see a case of exploitation, we also see a boy or a girl who is not going to school. With the card we eradicate unregistered labor, but we also eliminate child labor, and we have a chance to increase literacy in rural areas.


-In a way, the PAR is giving visibility to a problem that is not easy to accept in a country like Argentina.

-Illiteracy is an endemic problem in rural communities, and this situation serves a lot of interests. We obviously cannot go by what statistics say, because many people say they can read and write, but at best they only know how to sign, they draw their name. People are afraid to admit to just anyone that they are illiterate; they have been cheated for so long -even today- precisely because they don’t know how to read and write, or because they let on that they are illiterate, or, also because they don’t mention it and pretend they know how to read by signing their name blindly and giving up their rights.


-A significant number of older women have learned to read and write with the program.

-Yes, and the oldest was 82 years old, a woman from the province of Jujuy, Palpala. Francisca, or “Doña Pancha” as she is known, learned to read and write in 2002. Grandma Pancha says that it was like a blindfold had fallen from her eyes, and that there’s no greater poverty than not knowing how to read and write.




“At first I was ashamed to come to the group, but now I want to learn so that my bosses won’t abuse me, because that was what used to happen to me at work: they’d come and make me sign papers. Now, I can read well enough to understand any document or paycheck they give me.”

(José, Neuquén)



“I’m an orphan. I grew up barefoot in hail and snow. That’s how I grew up, suffering. Later, when I was a young woman I worked with my fabrics, the quilts I sold, and with that I was able to raise my children. That’s how I’ve suffered. And I suffered even more because I didn’t know how to read, and I saw how people who knew how to read pitied me. And I thank UATRE for teaching me to read.

(Doña “Pancha”, Jujuy)


Gerardo Iglesias

© Rel-UITA

April 6, 2006


Volver a Portada


  UITA - Secretaría Regional Latinoamericana - Montevideo - Uruguay

Wilson Ferreira Aldunate 1229 / 201 - Tel. (598 2) 900 7473 -  902 1048 -  Fax 903 0905