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trip to Chillihua (outside of cusco, on the border of Puno)

PERU | Monday, 13 March 2006 | Views [2260]

leading the meeting at chillihua

leading the meeting at chillihua

So this entry is preceding the one I started but didn´t make ¨live¨ which talks more about what exactly I´m doing in Cusco, and who is this group called Ayllu Yupaychay (wisdom of the young in quechua) that I am working with (and subsequently living out of the office building-apartment).

However today I went out with 4 other people I have been working with here and through this retelling of the day, things will get explained. 6am we are on the road with 4 other people in the office that I have been working with: Lourdes (teacher, specializing in rural primary education for close to 30 years.. the guys äddres her as ¨professor), Ruben (art teacher, and artist by professional passion, been with this group for 8 years, 30yrs old,  2 kids, not married, as David said he is ¨fanatical¨about his culture and Inca roots.. I would call it pride. His family lives in Sicuani, 2 hours from Cusco where he spends the weekends), David (35, 2 kids, married, musician who specializes in the  harp, teacher by training, specially interested in psych and sociology, he is very new to this job, and he´s hoping this new income will help him save money to buy his own house, instead of the apt he is renting where the landlady locks the door at 10 pm each night). Lastly, super Mario, the designated off road driver (that´s all I know about him). They all speak Quechua as their first language.

So, early morning we are en route. As the trip unfolds it´s a surprise to me. I had the sense we were driving a few hours than hiking a bit, all in very high altitude (14,00 ft), to meet with this community and help them with a community project (like painting the school, or building an irrigation ditch). I was told to bring food, that was for sure. We leave Cusco early morning and drive about 4 hours, 2 of which are completely on dirt roads, 4 wheel drive trucks only. The whole drive out and back on this road we did not pass a single car... maybe a truck comes through town 2 times a week. We stop for breakfast in Sicuani, but 3 bags of bread to take to the community of Chillihua, and we are on our way. The landscape is breathtaking, and as we climb higher and higher, we honk more frequently to clear the road from herds of alpaca, llamas and sheep.

We stop once to chew some coca, and take in the scenery, the sun is very strong, but a nice breeze keeps everyone shivering. By 10am we arrive at the pueblo of Chillihua. We drive right up, no need to hike anywhere. It´s nothing more than 2 small buildings (school, kitchen), bathrooms, and a third building under construction (which I assumed was the project we were there to help with). We are greeted by one man, a few woman roam around, herds of alpaca litter the countryside and a few horses are tied up. It doesn´t seem like the project is going on today, so Lourdes explains that we are here to have a meeting about what the organization does to see if they are interested in participating. At one point I asked Ruben how they communicate with these communities because it´s clear there is no phone. He said primarily by radio. Anyway, so we are told to wait a bit while the people in town filter in. They were expecting us... and after about an hour about 25 people were gathered in a circle, a desk was pulled outside, and a few chairs set up around it. The governor of the town, calls the meeting, introduces us, and Lourdes begins to speak, first in spanish, then in Quechua (after these opening introductions, the remainder of the mtg was in Quechua, more or less, even almost all of the men speak spanish...most of the women don´t).

Basically the approach is that Ayllu Yupaychay has an the mission of empowering people in the pueblo to become better educated in areas of math, science, and writing, through the use of art, so they can become strong leaders in their community. They try to fill in some gaps where the regular teacher (another story) doesn´t go... Basically they try to provide these kids with the opportunity for creative personal experession. In school, most of their education is by rote copy and memorize. After they walk up to 5 or 6 miles to get to school, they also have the responsbilities of looking after brothers or sisters, helping mom at home, helping herd the animals, etc etc.. basically these kids dont have play time, dont have time to imagine and create on their own. In most communities the project is welcomed, but of course it is also met with resistance at times, bc if these kids get ideas in their head, and start to think a little differently, they may not be so apt to want to stay home and tend to the animals, and if they leave, who will be around to help out... but that aside...

So Lourdes talks not only about the program of using art to teach, but she talks a lot about organizing, rights and empowerment of the community. Because of the high altitude where these people live, they can´t even grow potatoes, but what they have instead are alpaca herds. Wearing an alpaca sweater with an american label, she talks to them about the production, and the value of what they have, that they don´t realize, or if they do, they dont know how to harnass it. Her sweater costs 50USD, for what they can see is very little raw material. 50 $ would feed the community for a month, easy. All this with the intent of getting them thinking about what they do have, as valuable, and realizing that with some organization and education, they could use their resources to better the community.

If the community agrees to work with Ayllu, then we come once a week for a month or 2, or more, depending on how it goes. All they ask if for one person in the community to volunteer each week to help with the lessons, and in general to be supportive of the project. That is it. It is a strict no business policy. It is made clear that this is strictly volunteer, and it´s with the goal of empowerment and betterment of the childrens´education, and in turn the whole community. Ayllu works with the government dep of education to make all of their activities formal, and to be recognized for the work they do. This leads to another point of heavy discussion about half way through the meeting. One of the town leaders calls everyone´s attention to a letter that they received recently informing them that the teacher that was assigned to the school has quit, due to various problems with the conditions. The school will not reassign another teacher unless there is a min of 15 kids attending the school (one group includes all  primary and prob secondary grades). After the governor confirms the roster with everyone present, 12 names are confirmed. There is lots of joking about how to get the 3 extra kids needed to ensure the school continues to operate. Seveal people speak up that the have kids, age 3, lourdes assures them this won´t fly.. and 3 year olds dont belong in school anyway. The min age is 5 or 6. Looking around at all these people, I couldnt figure out how only 12 kids are attending the school. Ruben told me that it´s bc the older one´s, and some younger ones, get sent away to school in Cusco. So there was even some taking of bringing some of those kids back...

Anyway, this went around and around, and Lourdes said basically we can come in and work with you, and maybe with good success this will help argue the case to bring in a new teacher.. but if not, we can´t work with you until you have 15 students are recognized as a school. Even though they made the`point that there are towns with less kids and a teacher assigned.. all of these details didnt translate all that well for me, but I could tell it was a disappointment,to say the least, a shame, bc the community was very excited about the project and very frank about their needs and interests.

POint of order.. the mtg was conducted very formally,e ach person that wanted to speak had to be recognized by the gov, and before they said their piece, they formally greeted and welcomed everyone again for listening to what was about to be said. A the end the notes where signed by the leading parties and stamped accordingly with the date.

At 2:30 we adjourned the meeting, leaving it in their hands to either call or come by the office, or contact us via radio with their decision, and any updates they may have. We all went around and shook hands thanking everyone, and they enthusiastically thanked us for the opportunities...

Drive home was long, but just as beautiful as the first time. Outside of Sicuani we pulled off the road to buy cheese from this woman at the back of her farm. She had a one room set up, 5 blocks firm and ready to go, a few more in the press. We all bought one, and cradled it all the way home.


Tags: Culture



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