Saturday, October 3, 2009

Week 4, my final week and return to Canada

The fourth and the final week was spent finishing the student interviews and other administrative tasks, such as finalizing the fellowship details. Ashley and I have discussed and agreed on almost all aspects regarding the fellowship program, and set ourselves a deadline to complete everything so that we can start advertising the position soon. If anyone is interested in participating in a similar (but longer) adventure as Education Generation’s next fellow in Peru, check out our Education Generation website in December.

During my last few days in Peru Ashley and I decided to make a little trip and visited the coast of Peru, the Nazca lines, the sand dunes of the Huacachina oasis, checked out the wild animals and numerous birds in Paracas and Islas Ballistas. It was a well-deserved break for Ashley, and a chance for me to see other parts of the country. The places that we saw and visited were absolutely incredible!

I have since returned to Canada, and things are now busier than ever. I am currently working on translating the videos to turn them into student updates, which will be posted on Education Generation's website. We are also working on editing the footage and creating a video which will include the student interviews. Keep visiting our website regularly for the video and student updates.

I have been in touch with the students and Raul; Ivanhoe and Rolando sent me some emails sending their thanks to all the donors and supporters. Here’s what Ivanhoe wrote in his email: “hola zaya primeramemte grasias por ayudarnos a todos nosotros y a todos ellos que nos apoyan y espero que estes bien de salud…y tambien a todos los que me poyan los quiero cuidense” (“hi zaya, first of all wanted to thank you for helping us and thank everyone who has been supporting us. I hope you are in good health … would like everyone who has been supporting me to take good care of themselves”). The students are doing really well, continuing with their studies and work, and I’m hoping to continue to stay in touch with them over email and facebook.

It’s good to be back, but I definitely miss Peru and all the people, the students, the relationships that have been formed. Hopefully I will get to go back soon for a visit or just relive the experience vicariously through our next fellow!

Some pictures from the last week:

Ashley and I during our travels on the coast of Peru

Jonathan Guevarra


Dina Alvarez and I

Jonathan Medina

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Week 3

This week I´ve completed interviewing almost all of the Mosqoy students. On Thursday we went back to Ollantaytambo to conduct the selection process of the next batch of students.

Our day started by going to the Ollantay collegio (high school), where Ashley, Raul and several of the Mosqoy 1 students distributed the applications. The students had about 30-45 mins to complete the applications. We received about 70 applications that day. The team then went to a coffee shop in Ollantaytambo to review the applications. The reviewers consisted of Ashley, Raul, and five Mosqoy 1 students (Ebhert, Erlinda, Elvira, Rolando and Adrian). Gerry and I participated as the observers.

They had a four-star system going on, where each reviewer would rate each application from one star being the worst to four stars being the best application. In total each application was reviewed seven times. The ratings were based on the students´ responses, with the focus on whether they had any specific plans for when they graduate, whether those plans included ways to help their respective communities, and whether they´ve included any examples of how they´ve demonstrated their leadership abilities in the past. Generally, a person would get shut down if they put that they want to leave the country once they graduate or if they had incomplete one-sentence responses. I read a few of the applications and was startled to see how many times under the ¨family situation¨ question the students would talk about their fathers being drunks, or that they didn´t have parents at all.

It took almost an entire day to review all of the applications. In the end almost 40 applications were eliminated based on the preliminary application review and ratings. About 25 applications received 3- to 4 star ratings, which were placed in the pre-selected batch. Another 6-7 were placed in the ¨maybe¨ batch pending reviews of their grades and discussions with their teachers.
The next morning we went back to the high school to review the selected students ´grades. About 4 students from the ¨maybe¨ batch were eliminated due to low grades.

Three more students from Mosqoy 2, Dina Alvarez, Gisela Vilches, and Maberic (who are also all featured on the Education Generation website) joined us the second day.

In the end there were about 30 students that were pre-selected. Ashley and Raul then announced their names and held a meeting with the pre-selected students. During the meeting Raul invited a doctor and a dentist from Ollantaytambo to talk about different careers that exist in medicine. Mosqoy is now trying to promote other disciplines of study as almost 85% of students choose to study tourism or hotel management since it is the only thing that the students are exposed to in Cuzco and in their communities. Dina Alvarez, who is studying nursing, talked about opportunities that exist in the nursing career and why she likes studying nursing. Maberic talked about why she chose to study Gastronomy and Gisela talked about her chosen career of tourism and hotel management.

After the short presentation there was some time for Q&As. We then took pictures of every pre-selected student. The next step of the selection process is to meet with the students and their parents and/or their legal guardians to ensure that they are supportive of their kids participating in Mosqoy. This meeting is scheduled for Sept 26, after I leave Peru. Ashley, Raul and the Mosqoy 1 students are also planning to visit each of the pre-selected students’ houses to ensure that there is indeed financial need. One of the Mosqoy´s criteria is to support only those deserving students that don´t have other means of paying for their education. So for example if their family is well-off enough (relatively) to support their kid at an institute, they will be eliminated at this stage.

The next step will also involve discussing the pre-selected students with the teachers and other people from the community focusing on their past behaviors and their family situations to again ensure that there is indeed financial need and to ensure that there are no red flags about the pre-selected students. After these final steps, Mosqoy will make a final selection of 12-14 students, which will all be featured on the Education Generation´s website.

Friday afternoon we went back to Cuzco, just in time to visit a cooking class of the three of the Mosqoy 2 students (who are all also Education Generation´s students): Guillermina Duran, Fiorela Zegarra, and Maberic Vazquez.

The class was two hours long, and our students made a wonton soup, part of their Cocina Internacional course. At the end of the class we all got to taste their creations.

Later on that day we went to Raul´s house for some dinner and drinks.

Maberic Vazquez, one of Education Generation´s students, during her cooking class

Maberic and Fiorela cooking

Fiorela Zegarra, one of Education Generation´s students, during her cooking class

Guillermina Duran, another one of Education Generation´s students

From left to right: Fiorela, I, Guillermina and Maberic

Maberic talking during the selection process

Dina Alvarez, another one of Education Generation´s students, talking about a career in nursing during the selection process

Gisela Vilches, Education Generation´s student, talking about her career in tourism during the selection process.

From left to right: Gisela Vilches, Maberic Vazquez, and Dina Alvarez

Reviewing the applications

Students completing the applications at the high school

Friday, September 4, 2009

Week 2

My second week: this week I’m taking Spanish classes and living at a homestay organized by the school. Everyone in my homestay family is very nice and I get to eat home cooked meals, which is good especially when travelling. Spanish is quite necessary here as almost no one speaks English even in Cuzco and the students’ English is very beginners’. Most have expressed their desire to improve their English though, and a lot of them want to also learn Japanese and French. There is a funny story during one of the interviews a student told me that he wants to study Japanese, and when I asked him why, he said because most of the technology comes from China these days and that he wants to be up to date with the technology. When I told him that Japanese and Chinese are not the same he seemed very surprised, and we had a good laugh about it.
The rest of the time Ashley and I were conducting and videotaping individual student interviews. I don’t have many pictures from this week as I was just videotaping the interviews. I can’t upload the interviews here as the internet is painfully slow in Peru and takes hours to upload just the pictures. However I hope that I will be able to upload them once I’m back in Canada.

So this week has been really busy, with Spanish classes all morning and interviews with the students all afternoons.

The interviews went really well, some of the stories were really heartbreaking though.
The students were very comfortable in front of the camera and were willing to discuss a lot of things. For example, one student named Adrian told us a story of his family, where his mother had to escape to the jungle for 5 years because his dad was an alcoholic and was beating her badly. Adrian and his two younger brothers were left alone with their dad, who continued to beat them. Adrian was saying that he was very grateful to escape the violence by participating in Mosqoy, but was worried about his two younger siblings who are still in Ollantaytambo with his dad. Another student, Marleni, started crying during the interview (and I had to stop videotaping) because her mother was very sick and she was very concerned about her mother. Another student told us that she’s been living alone since she was 10 years old as both of her parents died and she’s been living with random foster parents since then and working as a maid in their houses. She too was very grateful for the opportunity to study and become a professional. Another students´ parents abandoned him when he was very little and he was raised by his grandparents, and does not have any contact with his parents.

The students shared their dreams and hopes, likes and dislikes, and I’m hoping to translate the interviews and upload them once I get to Canada with subtitles as all of the stories are absolutely amazing. The students were so sincere and open, each one with a unique story. So far I have 14 interviews completed, some of which are the Education Generation students, and I think I should be able to complete most of them before I go back.

There were some funny interviews as well. Jonathan Guerrera, when asked whether he had a girlfriend, said that he thought that girls can be annoying sometimes, constantly asking, ¨where are you, what are you doing, why didn’t you call me (this is a direct translation of what he said) and he added that he didn’t want to deal with it now. There’s a student named Alex who, in addition to studying computer science, reads philosophy books of Plato and Aristotle and currently his favourite book is ¨Rich Dad Poor Dad¨. A few of the male students, when asked what they didn’t like about living in a house with everyone, told us how the girls in the second group don’t always get along with each other and fight from time to time, which was really funny, because they were describing these typical cat fights among girls.

Some of the students had pretty impressive plans for the future. For example, Jonathan Medina and Ivanhoe (both Education Generation students) want to start up an eco-tourism company and had a detailed description on how they wanted to go about it. Dora too wants to work for a couple of years and save up some money to open up her own travel agency.
On Tuesday this week we went to visit the Americano Institute, where most of the Mosqoy students are studying at. We attended a class on administration and sat for the first 2 hours of it. The Institute is pretty small, with small class sizes of about 20 students and small classrooms like in a high school. There’s a library and a computer room, but the computer room can only be used during a computer class. The students have exams next week and some this week. I ran into one student Elvira who seemed very upset and when I asked her why she told me that she had an English exam that evening and was worried about it.

This weekend I’m going to check out Lake Titicaca and the floating islands, so more updates to come next week!
The students' schedule
The computer room
One of Mosqoy's students in a classroom

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Big Sunday reunion

Our Sunday began by Gerry (who is an ESL teacher from UVIC volunteering here with Mosqoy) and I taking a local bus to Pisac for some shopping in the popular Pisac artisans´ market. Spent about 3 hours haggling and bargaining and left with 6 pairs of gloves made out of alpaca wool for souvenirs, a tuc and a new bag and all for $20!

We then took the same bus back to Cuzco and I moved my stuff to the family where I’ll be staying at this week.

Sunday night we had a big reunion with all of the students at the Mosqoy house, and Raul ordered pizza for everyone. It was a big meeting which lasted for over 4 hours, with lots of stuff discussed with the students. I video taped most of the meeting, but because of the size of the video files and the slow speed of the Peruvian internet, I unfortunately can’t upload any of the videos to this blog. I’m hoping to post a whole bunch once I return to Canada.

The meeting started off by everyone introducing themselves, which I have videotaped as well. On Sept 13 the group is planning to go on a day trip with everyone, so the students were voting on where they wanted to go. After some discussion everyone agreed to go to Lares for a day trip.

Ashley and Raul introduced the two new positions with Mosqoy which I wrote about earlier: the Resident Advisor position and the Volunteer coordinator position. The students seemed pretty interested at first, but there were concerns regarding what if someone is chosen as an RA and is not liked by others. I think the students thought of this as having someone who’s going to boss them around and “tell on them” to Raul and Ashley, and didn’t really understand the concept of an “advisor”. Some students were coming up to Ashley after the meeting expressing their concerns as well. I think once we explained to them the reason for having an advisor and their role of a liaison between Mosqoy and the students, everyone seemed to be on board.

Ashley and Raul talked more about how the selection process will go this year, changes to the contract for the new students that will be selected this year (the requirements will basically become stricter, i.e. they are implementing three warnings system where if you don’t follow the rules of the program/the house you will be issued a warning and after three warning the student will get kicked out of the program; another change involved including the requirement to complete minimum volunteer hours in the community for all new students going forward). One student, Dina Alvarez (she’s also featured on Education Generation website and is studying nursing had some good ideas for volunteering: she really wanted to get students together to clean up the river in Ollantaytambo, where there’s a lot of plastic and garbage in the river.

I then introduced Education Generation to the whole group, explained the reason for my visit, talked to them about setting up interviews for the following week and about visiting some of their classes at the Institute. Most of the students are currently studying at the Institute called Americana, and like 85% of them are studying tourism or hotel management.

After my introduction Gerry, who is an ESL teacher from UVic and who will be holding English classes for Mosqoy students, introduced himself and talked about setting up classes for the following weeks.

After having spent almost one week with the students I notice how close the students are with each other, especially the ones that live at the Mosqoy house. They are constantly picking on each other, making jokes, nudging, touching and hugging each other, which is so cute to see. The students were shy at first, I think it took them a couple of days to warm up to me (I guess the language barrier doesn’t help either), but now they seem to be pretty comfortable with me. They are all very warm and kind, and every single one of them has a very special and unique story which I’m looking forward to finding out next week.

The meeting was held at the Mosqoy house. This is the front room that can be used by everone, i.e. by the other tenants of the house as well. Mosqoy occupies part of the first floor and shares it with a security company. Mosqoy has four bedrooms, three of which have two bunkbeds with 4 students sharing each room. One of the rooms has only two beds, and 6 students share the two beds, whcih i haven´t quite figured out how it works. There are two bathrooms in the house, and a kitchen without a refrigerator (which is apparently common in Peru). Two students who are studying computer science have computers in their rooms. Gerry also brought a laptop which was donated by UVic to the students. The house is located in the neighborhood called Kennedy A, close to the airport and a 10 min cab ride to the center, and is on a street which has 24 hour security, so it´s pretty safe for the students. The students are responsible for paying for their own utilities, they have internet at the house and rent is paid for by Mosqoy. In the upstairs part there is a hostel where Ashley and I will be staying most of the time and where we spent our first few days in Cuzco.

Me trying on my new tuc at Pisac

Students signing up for the Education Generation interviews.

Corn and wool dyes at the Pisac market

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Visit to the weaving village in Amaru

On Saturday we went to visit a weaving community called Amaru where Ashley has a weaving program called Q´ente Textile Revitalization Society. Until recently Q´ente used to be a part of Mosqoy and was formerly known as the Kolibri project. Q’ente is now a fully independent non for profit organization registered in Canada. The project works directly with the weavers and creates an outlet to sell textiles in North America. This project aims to sustain the tradition of textiles in the Sacred Valley of Peru, establishing a stronger economy, tradition, and link to history. The majority of the Mosqoy students come from families whose primary means of income is through the making and selling of textiles. The Q'ente project operates such that ¼ of the profits from selling the textiles in Canada goes back to the weavers, ¼ goes to supporting one of the projects that the weaving communities choose to support, ¼ goes to the educational fund of Mosqoy, supporting the educational costs of the Mosqoy program, and ¼ goes towards purchasing the next batch of weavings for sale.

The community of Amaru is located approximately 30 km north of Pisac - the town famous for its Sunday artisan market, and Amaru's closest urban center/neighbour. Amaru is a sustainable farming community whose motto is to reciprocate back to Mother Earth who gave them life. They have a medicinal garden, bee-houses to produce organic honey, greenhouses to grow artichokes, tomatoes and other nutritional foods that cannot otherwise be grown in the high altitude, and propagation gardens to plant new plants to replace each one that they use for dyeing their wool. With their textile profits, they are curing cataracts in the elders and implementing nutrition programs with the youth, as well as working to improve sanitation for all community members.

Our trip began by travelling from Ollantaytambo to Pisac, where we had to wait for the only taxi driver named Maximillian who normally drives to Amaru to take us there, a drive up one of the mountains for about 30 mins. After waiting for an hour and with Maximillian nowhere in sight Ashley hackled with another taxi driver who agreed to take us to Amaru and wait for us there for two or three hours. The trip cost us 50 soles, or about $18 USD for the three of us. We arrived in the village 40 mins later, but already about 2 hours late from our agreed upon time. We arrived at the house of the leader of the weavers group, and were greeted by other weavers, all of whom were women. The women normally work at the leader´s house and bring their children to keep an eye on them. When we arrived there were about 12 women and 6 or 7 children. The women proceeded to cook us a really big and delicious meal which consisted of barley soup, quinoa with vegetables, some sort of squash dish, and corn pancakes.

After the meal the villagers held a really humbling thank you ceremony, where everyone gathered in a circle, and each weaver one by one threw rose petals over our heads and said their thank yous to us. The ceremony was partly in Spanish and partly in Quechua, and some women were crying during the ceremony. The people were so sincere and thankful and the whole ceremony was pretty incredible. The funny part was that our taxi driver participated in the whole thing: he joined us to eat, and participated in the thank you ceremony even though he’s never heard of the project or been there before. He got the gist of it by the end I think and was really impressed and interested by what Q’ente was doing.

After the thank you ceremony, everyone sat around in a circle and Ashley made her next order of the weavings. The leader then presented a project for which they wanted to use the ¼ of the profits from the weavings. The project involved building kitchens with proper ventilation and bathrooms in every house of the village. The people in the village currently cook without any ventilation and inhale smoke every day. There are no proper bathrooms in the village, I saw an outhouse that was used as a toilet but didn’t see access to running water anywhere. Water for drinking/cooking purposes is obtained from some sort of a creek nearby.

We finished our visit by doing some ¨shopping¨ of their weavings and Ashley picking out her order. Then our taxi driver, after having waited for 3 hours, drove us all the way back to Cuzco.

Me trying on a headband made by the weavers

the thank you ceremony

The weavers

Ashley´s order of the next weavings

The children of the community

The thank you ceremony

One of the weavers saying her thank-yous

Women cooking

Ashley and I waiting for the only Amaru taxi driver Maximillian

Friday, August 28, 2009

The selection process - part I

On Wednesday we arrived in Ollantaytambo, a small village in the Sacred Valley where most of the Mosqoy students are from. Ollantaytambo is considered to be the best surviving example of Incas´ architecture, with narrow cobblestone streets and ancient aquaducts. It is about 3 hours away from Cuzco and has a population of about two thousand people. Surrounded by beautiful hills with old ruins, this little village is mostly used as a hub for tourists en route to Machu Picchu. We, on the other hand, spent three nights in Ollantaytambo!

The first day I checked out the Ollantaytambo ruins and the town. On Thursday I went to Machu Picchu, which required taking the train to Aguas Calientes on Wednesday night, and waking up at 3 am to hike up from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu to get to the Sun Gate before 6 am to get stamps to Wayna Picchu. Wayna Picchu is another mountain right next to Machu Picchu and from atop there are breathtaking views of Machu Picchu. The only problem is that only the first 200 people are allowed to climb up the Wayna Picchu per day, so you have to get there early if you want to get up there. The climb up was pretty challenging in the dark with a flashlight, but there were a ton of other likeminded hikers, and I was there at 5:30 am, drenched in humidity from the early morning fog and happy to be #103 in the line up.

On Friday I got to observe the selection process for the next batch of Mosqoy students. The first step of the selection process involved visitng the collegio (the high school) in Ollantaytambo and presenting the program to the graduating classes in Ollantaytambo. There were only two groups who were in their final year: group A and group B. The groups are divided by the students' abilities and all of the "good students" are placed in group A, and everyone else is placed in group B. The interesting thing was that almost all (with the exception of one student) in group A were girls! Ashley, Raul, and several of the current Mosqoy students (Elvira, Ehbert, and Ivanhoe) presented the program before the two groups. The students talked about their experiences and what they've learned from the program. Elvira talked about how she learned about living in a group and how she learned about friendship. Ashley and Raul talked about the program, the requirements and the application process. Step two of the selection process will be returning to Ollantaytambo on Sept 10 to collect their applications and announcing the selected students on Sept 12.

The ¨good students¨of group A

The "other students¨ of group B

Presentation before the class. From left to right: Ashley, Ivanhoe, Ehbert, Raul and the director of the high school.

The director of the high school spoke about the program as well. I thought his speech was rather interesting, talking about leadership and opportunities. He seemed very supportive of the program and was talking about how this was the students' only opportunity to become leaders in their communities and an opportunity "to do something with their lives". He was telling them to take the program seriously and went into a long spiel about politics of Peru and how the politicians here are leaders because they have a lot of money, and not necessarily because they have the ability to lead. The program on the other hand, he said, allows you to become leaders of your communities even if you don't have a lot of money. He was encouraging the students to work hard, to study hard, and to take it seriously. He was also talking about how there wasn't anyone who would do it for them, that they couldn't rely on the government to take care of them, and that their future was in their hands.

Elvira talking about her experiences with Mosqoy

Later on that morning, Ashley, Raul, Ivan, Ebhert, Elvira and Gerry went to Soqma, a small community not very far from Ollantay, to discuss the possibility of selecting students from their community.

On the way they saw the entire village stuffed in the back of a truck on the road leading to the village. The villagers were all going to Pachar, an adjacent village to get paid. They stopped while Raul spoke to the driver and arranged to meet in Pachar after they had had the chance to visit Soqma, just to see what it looked like.

The village of Soqma is quite small. There's an open field, with a couple of buildings. There are approximately 40 families living in the village, one of the poorest communities in the Ollantaytambo zone. A farming community, the village nonetheless does not have an irrigation system, so the growing season is only 6 months and they only have about 2 months of rain. Most of the men in the village also work as porters on the Inca trail and many women work as cooks for the visitors on the trail.

There are 2 or 3 girls who travel daily to Urubamba to go to school. We were there so Raul and Ashley could talk about Mosqoy in order to gauge support from the community for including their children in Mosqoy´sprograms.

Raul and Ashley spoke to the leader of the community and then headed down to Pachar to speak to everyone there. When they arrived, the villagers were aligning up to receive their pay. Afterwards, Raul spoke at length with them about Mosqoy, in Quechua. Ebhert then spoke about his experiences with Mosqoy, as did Elvira. Basically, they were explaining the program and asking if the people were interested in participating, and if they thought that it would be of benefit to their community. There appeared to be good support for this initiative. Ashley explained that they select the best students and that the children in their community may not be selected this time and they understood and accepted this. The eligible students will therefore go to Ollantaytambo for the selection process. Our day ended by going back to Ollantaytambo for some more sightseeing.