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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day 2 - Meeting with the students

On Monday evening we had sort of an informal meeting with some of the students at the house. Ashley talked about some of our plans for the next month, and the Sunday get together.

I briefly introduced EdGen to the students and what I was doing there.

The best part was when I showed the students EdGen´s website - none of them have seen the website and they were absolutely thrilled to see themselves online. You should have seen their reactions, they were like making fun of each other´s pictures, and just couldn´t believe it was them. It was pretty funny, and I think after showing them the website they sort of understood what I was talking about. We definitely had some good laughs.

Me showing the students EdGen´s website

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 2 - Schedule

Busy day today, mostly organizing ourselves. Ashley and I came up with a schedule for the next month of my stay and decided on what we´ll be doing.

So far we´ve got:

Wed, Aug 26th - a trip to Ollantaytambo, which is a village in the Sacred Valley, where all of the Mosqoy students are originally from.

Thur, Aug 27th - I´m going to Machu Picchu :))

Fri, Aug 28th - we´ll be visiting other communities/villages in the Sacred Valley, where Mosqoy might start selecting students next year.

Sat, Aug 29th - trip to Amaru, to visit one of the weaving communities, where Ashley and Mosqoy run a weaving program called Qente.

Sun, Aug 30th - Pisac market during the day, and a big reunion + pizza meeting with all of the students at night. I will introduce EdGen to the students and start scheduling interviews with them on Sunday.

The week of Aug 31 - I´ll be in Cuzco taking Spanish and staying with a local family. I´m scheduling a number of student interviews for that week as well. Probably on Tuesday of that week we´ll be going to the Institute that the students are attending and sit in one of their classes as well.

Week of Aug 7 - planning the fellowship for next year, preparing for the selection process, and more interviews.

Sept 10-12 - we´ll be returning to Ollyant. to select the next batch of students for next year.

Sept 13 - we´re planning a day trip with all of the students that day, don´t know where yet.

We´ll likely go to Puno/Lake Titicaca and Ica at some point on one of the weekends as well :)))

Ashley and I also talked about creating a Resident Advisor role, someone who could live at the house and act as a liason between the students in Cuzco and Mosqoy. It´s most likely going to be one of the alumni (Mosqoy 1) who will be graduating this year. The job will be part time, so the RA will be able to have a full time job as well, and Ashley will be working out the exact job description. We also talked about some reporting that the RA could do once or twice every semester, give updates on how the students are doing and whether there are any issues/problems to report, so we´ll be working on the templates for the RA to use as well. EdGen will also receive a copy of the report, which would be great.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day 1 - I´m in Cusco!

Today Ashley (Ashley is the founder and a Director of the Mosqoy program) and one of the students from Mosqoy, Enrique, picked me up at the airport. We then went straight to the house where the Mosqoy students live. The way it works at Mosqoy is that most of the students live in one house which is paid for by Mosqoy. Currently there are 18 students that live at the Mosqoy house in Cuzco. Mosqoy has 26 students in total, 8 of which have relatives in Cuzco or other pre-arranged accommodations.

We went straight to the house and there’s a hostel in the upstairs part, where Ashley and I will be staying most of the time, so it worked out really well for us as we’ll be right next to the students all the time.

So on day 1 I met with a couple of students, and then Ashley and I went to meet up with Raul, who’s Mosqoy’s program coordinator on the ground and an associate director. We talked about our plan for the next month and discussed some details about the selection of the new students for next year. Ashley and Raul are talking about expanding outside of the Ollantaytambo region (where all of the current Mosqoy students are from) and selecting students from the nearby communities. We decided to visit some of the communities on Friday, which should be cool.

Ashley and Raul discussing the selection process.

So far, no altitude sickness for me, which is great as we started working on stuff right away.

Plaza de Armas in Cuzco