The first day of the volunteer program - we visited the school we'll be working at for the next month.
10.05.2010 - 11.05.2010 21 °C
Day 2 in Cusco, Peru
This morning myself and the other 14 volunteers visited the school in Pumamarca where we will be working for the next month. Pumamarca, meaning area of the Puma; is a small agricultural community located in the mountain region above Cuzco. The community members survive on their agricultural products – fresh flowers, maize, potatoes and other vegetables, which they sell at local markets in Cuzco. We entered the school to cries of ‘hola amigos’ from the children and lots of waves and smiles from both the children and parents. It turned out that this morning the children were celebrating Mother’s Day and had put together a presentation for their mothers. This was a lovely introduction to the school and we joined the mothers, watching dancing, singing, impressive ’hula hoop’ skills, and poetry reading by the children.
After the presentations we were given the background information about Peru’s Challenge by Lauren and Pip, the volunteer managers:
In 2002, the Peruvian Education Department closed 600 rural schools, claiming that the schools were not being attended by enough children to make them sustainable. Jane, an Australian girl and Selvy, her Peruvian husband argued that the schools were not being attended because the government was not providing adequate facilities or qualified teachers. When the government didn’t respond, they set up Peru’s Challenge to help give these children back the opportunity of education.
The community of Pumamarca was initially chosen as a good location to provide a school, because of it’s proximity to Cusco and the impact that tourism can have on the children’s lives. Their initial request for support was dismissed by the Education Department, who jokingly added that support would be given if they could find 100 children to attend the school, a seemingly impossible task.
Jane and Selvy met with the community in Pumamarca and together they decided to build 2 school classrooms. Peru’s Challenge offered to pay the salary of 10 local labourers and provide the building materials. On the first day of construction, not only did the 10 paid labourers turn up, but also all the families in the community. Refusing payment for the work, and with all the extra hands, the buildings were completed within 3 weeks. A summer school was held to gauge potential pupil numbers, to which 120 children attended - support from the Education Department was now secured!
The school has grown from it’s initial 2 rooms, and now comprises a number of brightly painted buildings, toilets and kitchen located around a playing field which doubles up as an assembly point, a small wheat field and vegetable garden, all provided by Peru‘s Challenge volunteers. During our time working at the school, we can become involved with a number of on-going and new projects. These include: gardening and organising the vegetable patches, completing the new bread oven, completing a new kitchen and classroom which were built by the previous volunteer group, educating the children with health and hygiene, building a new water tank and helping teach classes. Additionally we will be able to attend the craft workshops run for the mothers in the community, and attend home visits with the Peruvian social worker.
The children come from very poor families and after their school mornings have to work long days helping their families out in the fields or at home cooking and cleaning. They often don’t have basic items such as tables and have only recently obtained drop toilets, again another Peru’s Challenge project. One aim of the school is to teach the children basic social skills such as how to use a flushing toilet or eat at a table, things they would not learn in their family life. Additionally, lessons are given by volunteers in computer skills and English, which if the children go on to high school in Cusco means they are no longer at a disadvantage. It was great to see how the school has enriched these children’s lives and how it gives them opportunities they would not otherwise have.
Peru’s Challenge are planning on withdrawing from the school at the end of the year, They always aim to work with a school for 3-5 years, then withdraw to let the community continue it’s running and not become reliant on the NGO. I was very impressed by the way Lauren and Pip work very closely with the community, using local skills, building materials and responding to the needs of the community and not enforcing their own way of doing things. I feel very honoured to be involved in this project and am looking forward to participating in the projects and making a difference, however small to these children’s lives.