Monday, August 9, 2010

And it’s over….Closing thoughts

Before I had set out on this adventure, I was afraid. Until a few weeks before the trip, it did not really hit me that I would be living for 2.5 months in a completely foreign environment, a completely foreign culture, and speaking a completely different language. Not only that, I had to actually WORK in this very same country, culture and language. I got very nervous…but, nonetheless, decided to challenge myself, suck up the fears, and get the most out of the experience.

Back in April, sitting in my cozy room in Vancouver, I could not even begin to imagine what my experience would be like in Peru. I knew a little bit about the country, and I knew quite a lot about the programs I would be working with- but what I would experience on a daily basis, and how I would feel in those foreign environments…was completely unknown to me. That was probably the very thing that scared me. But, I told myself, that there is no point to mull things over you cannot change or do anything about- and so I sat on that plane- open, willing to learn, embrace, and help. And very, very nervous. More like- extremely nervous.

In retrospective, I am glad that I didn’t let the fear or nervousness take hold of me because the time in that beautiful country, with such exceptional students as my friends, was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

The more I try to fit my fellowship into a few descriptive words, the more I realize that the experience was indescribable. It was…to sound cliché, amazing. There really are no other words to describe it, honestly! The experience was beautiful, challenging, fun, difficult, sad, inspiring, stunning, tiring, incredible…if I try to find more words! Waking up in the Andean mountains, having breakfast with a Peruvian family, and then working during the day, meeting students and families, learning about the way people live, hearing their stories, their wants, needs, wishes…it was an experience that I will never forget. It was a true immersion into a culture that is so rich and so inviting.

The experience would also be nothing without the immediate friendships that I had made with the Mosqoy students. They are mature, enthusiastic, and friendly students who are eager to take on the world and the new opportunities being presented to them. I felt so fortunate to be working with organizations that are truly making a difference in the Peruvian communities and helping all these wonderful people I had met.

Thinking about the experience, here are a few thoughts that I’ve been having.

Making a difference – One student wrote to me after the trip:

“Thank you for giving me strength to keep going and never give up.

It really moved me and made me think. My work in Peru did not change the world. What I realized and saw firsthand, however, is how we can all make a difference. There is no impact too small. One, two, or four hundred kind acts…they all help and in turn create a ripple effect. The work that Mosqoy and Education Generation do, helps out, not only the student, but their families, and their communities as well. Act by act; empowering people to make a difference themselves - that’s how you change the world. I saw for the first time, however, to what extent this actually works. Lives are being changed. Families are being changed. Communities are being changed. All because everybody is doing their part in helping. It was incredibly inspiring and moving.

I will always remember how eager the students were when they talked about the program. How incredibly excited and hopeful their parents and families were when they would think of all the opportunities their child’s education would bring to their families. They would always ask if this program would go on for longer because it is so important to them. I will never forget that.

Challenge and growth- One of the remarkable things about the fellowship is that, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a challenge. It’s a different life- sometimes without showers or comfortable beds. Sometimes with different food or different customs. Sometimes you love it and other times you’re frustrated with it. But I would not trade my fellowship experience for the world. It was incredibly fun, but at the same time I really had to push myself to adapt to the life.

It was really powerful waking up in small villages and not thinking about what I was going to wear or stressing about what people will think if my jeans are a little dirty. Seeing that some families do not have proper kitchens, electricity, or even running water, really shifts one’s priorities. It makes me feel ashamed that I am stressing about getting the new iPhone while my Mosqoy friends live completely simple and basic lives. The thing that got to me the most was, that they were all incredibly happy- while I, who has a ‘higher standard of living’, could list many more problems in my life. I saw that you don’t need much to be happy and sometimes even felt ashamed at how spoiled I was. In Vancouver, I get bogged down by superficial and material things (which ultimately cannot be real sources of happiness), and as such automatically set myself up for failure and unhappiness. It was refreshing to live life with different priorities.

I’m starting to ramble now, but those are a few thoughts I’ve been having.

Overall, it was an incredible experience, in an incredible country, with even more incredible people. I hope that you enjoyed reading this blog and finding out more about the trip. I also hope that it inspired you just a little more to make your small difference that will ripple, and go a long way in communities all around the world.

The Last Few Days

First off, I cannot continue writing without apologizing for the delay in blogging. A fortunate and unfortunate turn of events kept me off the computer for way too long- and I didn’t get a chance to finish blogging about my last little bit of the trip.

At the end of June, I had gotten pretty bad food poisoning that kept me off the internet for a while, but quickly recovered when my sister, Mila (an Education Generation volunteer as well) came to visit Mosqoy and me in Peru for the last part of the trip!

It was so fantastic to have Mila there to see both my work, but also to meet the students and see the program she’s been working with for years. We got to hang out with students, help out, and also hold our big community event. And of course, in between Mosqoy activities we also did some great tourist sightseeing and visited Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. Stunning!
The big community event that I organized with Mosqoy 3 students was a soccer and volleyball championship. It was a completely different experience organizing an event in Peru as the cultural differences really come to shine during times like that. In the small town of Ollantaytambo, communication and organization methods are much more different and it was a fun (and sometimes very frustrating while learning) challenge adapting to those differences and still making sure everything runs smoothly. Luckily as the event unfolded, all worries quickly disappeared. The students really impressed me with their initiative and leadership keenness. Even things that we never discussed were taken care of, and the Mosqoy 3 students kept on running up and down making sure everything was under control. The strength of the program really came to light during the event, as both Mosqoy 1 and Mosqoy 2 students showed up to help out and compete at the event.

During Mila’s stay in Peru, we also participated and helped out during the recruitment and selection of Mosqoy 4 students. Not only is Mosqoy 3 just starting their studies, but also it is time to think ahead and start the selection process for Mosqoy 4. We were part of Mosqoy 4 meetings with students and their families, as well as the introduction of the Mosqoy program to a new high school in a nearby village, where we hope to recruit students from. It was very interesting to watch the student’s faces as they learn about the program- a mixture of confusion, awe, and disbelief that something like this is happening and is real. I am sure we will be hearing much more about Mosqoy 4 students in the next year.

In between these Mosqoy activities, we also went to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. There are really no words to describe this beautiful country. We are so incredibly lucky to have seen the many sides of Peru.
Check out some of the photos below:
High School seniors at Colegio Ollantay listening to a presentation about Mosqoy 4.

Mila and I in Machu Picchu!

Students competing in the Soccer and Volleyball Community Championship organized by Mosqoy students.

Teaming competing during the community event. This is the Colegio Ollantay- the high school where a lot of the Mosqoy students went to school.

Mila with Mosqoy 1 leaders

With Mosqoy 3 students at the community event.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mosqoy 3 Day Trip!

Part of my work with Mosqoy 3 is to integrate the new generation of students into the Mosqoy program. In addition, I am working towards creating a cohesive bond between the students and facilitating teambuilding events and exercises.

Today, I went with the students on a day trip to nearby ruins by the name of Pumamarka. We met in Ollantaytambo at 6:30 AM (and then waited until 8:30 for all the students to arrive. This is what they call ‘hora peruana’ or in other words the great tendency for things to be late). We then bought all of our daily supplies, and set out on the hike.

Just like anywhere in Peru, the scenery is stunning. We walked along the rolling mountains, passed small villages, and laughed along the way. Once we have finally arrived to the ruins (they always have to be on top of the mountains! We were exhausted by the time we got there), we immediately opened the food. Sitting in what used to be the room of a general Inca, we ate papaya and got to know each other better. We then played many games (I managed to explain the game ‘I have never’ to them in Spanish), listened to music, and had a meeting regarding our sports championship event on July 3rd.

The students are bright young adults and it’s a pleasure to hang out with them. Regardless of culture, teenagers are still teenagers, and we joked about love, were self-conscious of dancing in front of others, and were quick to tease each other.

Enjoy the photos from the trip below (note: blogger is acting up again and the formating is a bit strange. I apologize):

On the hike up!

Near the top.

Mosqoy 3!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Visiting a student in Kishuara!

Most of the Mosqoy students live in the communities around Ollantaytambo, but there are a few that have families in villages much farther. Johnny is one of the Mosqoy 3 students who lives and went to school in Ollantaytambo, however, his family still lives in village more than 12 hours away.

I have visited all of the students in their homes, and have decided to not skip out on visiting Johnny’s family as well. I felt like I had spent that whole week on a bus because between the Nazca trip and the many buses to get to Johnny’s house, my other permanent home was the cramped seat of Peruvian bus companies.

We arrived to Johnny’s village at 4AM and then had to hike for an hour in the dark to get to his house. After some sleep we went sightseeing in the beautiful mountains (on horses!!! I rode a horse!) and drank fresh milk. Part of the trip consisted of getting to know his family and his surroundings, and so we visited his many uncles and aunts and were well fed in every house.

It is both heartbreaking and beautiful to see the houses of all the people. The people live completely different lives- in dirt houses, with no electricity or water...they go to bed with the sun and they rise with the roosters. It is a simpler life, but also a much more difficult life. In just the few days that I was there, I cannot say I was living in luxury and comfort. If I had to spend my life there, with my Western customs, I would have a list of complaints and difficulties in my life. But when you ask the students if they perceive to have any difficulties in their lives- they never say they do. They work in the fields in the mornings before school, don’t have the ability to pay for their education or any form of luxury in their lives, they often have many struggles with their parents, illnesses or other problems...but even after all of that, I haven’t had a single student complain a lot when asked about difficulties in their lives.

The second day of the trip we went to the nearby ruins to enjoy the festivities that were going on that week. The ceremony occurred with a beautiful backdrop of impressive mountains and beautiful ruins. To get there we had to take a truck which loaded all the people in the back. It was by far the scariest moment of my life and I had never so seriously thought I would die. The bus drove along a tiny, bumpy, and unfinished road. At one point it got to a really muddy hill through which it could not pass very easily. To the left of us was a massive cliff and the truck swayed left and right as it passed the hill. We were all convinced we would flip over. As the bus swayed left and right, dangerously close to the edge of the cliff, the people were screaming and crying out for God. The whole truck was falling on each other and holding on to each other’s tshirt as people around me screamed out “I have not done anything wrong. WHY GOD??” I was petrified. Thankfully, we passed the muddy part and safely arrived to our destination.

The rest of the trip went without a glitch and we had returned safely back to Ollantaytambo.

Enjoy the photos below!

Picking corn for lunch.

Johnny´s sister and mother..


Little Vacation!

After a lot of hard work, I decided to take a little vacation this past weekend! It has been a lot of work in the past few weeks, and I decided to relax and treat myself to a short vacation to visit Nazca and Ica. I went with four awesome friends I had met in Spanish school and we had a great time!

Nazca is most known for the Nazca lines which are a pure miracle etched into earth. To view these earth carvings, we had to take a plane and fly over the figures of monkeys, eagles, aliens, and other things. It is still unsure as to how and why these ancient carvings exist, but they are really spectacular to see. Although the plane ride in the tiny plane made me slightly nauseous, it was very worth it!

The rest of the trip we spent in a place called Huacachina, which is the home of the spectacular lagoon situated amidst endless sand dunes. It is an absolutely beautiful sight, and there is nothing more that I enjoy than some sand water! The coolest part about the trip was the sand dunning that we did in the desert! A buggy car drove us through the desert (which was really a roller-coaster ride and attraction in itself) and would stop at steep hills for us to slide down on. It was amazing...and I was full of sand afterwards.

After a few days of great laughs, creepy hostel owners, toilet explosions, and most things that could go wrong (or really weird)- going wrong or really weird...I had great memories and some relaxing times to recharge my batteries for the last few weeks in Peru.

Enjoy some of the photos below!

The Alien in the Nazca Lines!
Jumping in the sand!!
Some sand snow boarders!
Getting ready to go downhill!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


The notion of trust comes up a lot when I travel. Finding the fine balance between trust and cautious scepticism is very difficult.

Trusting the driver that he really put your bag in the trunk; trusting the stranger that the bushy and muddy path really IS a shortcut; trusting the store clerk that that really is the right price; trusting the taxi driver that the main road is closed and we need to take dark side streets; trusting the driver who is fastly turning sharp corners on the edge of a cliff; trusting the deaf woman who is asking for money; trusting the group of students who are taking you to a restaurant; trusting the old man trying to help you; trusting the old man who is rubbing his stomach and saying he is hungry; trusting that the bathroom really is down the dark alley; trusting the new people around you; trusting in their good nature.

It’s a very fine balance, and one that I still have troubles with. In China, after being scammed a few times, I was very sceptical and distrusting. But after a lot of good experiences both there and here in Peru, I’ve realized that sometimes you just have to blindly trust. You WILL get burned, but that’s life. You have to be smart and truly trust and listen to your instincts, you have to be sceptical and VERY aware...but never lose trust in people.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My name Llacta

I have come to Peru and I live in a Peruvian town. I (try to) speak Spanish to the people around me. I eat Peruvian food and make Peruvian friends. Since my arrival, my name is Llacta. It sounds like Jevta. It´s pretty simple. It means ‘pueblo’ or village. It is my name in Quechuea- my Peruvian name.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mosqoy 3 News!

I have been spending a lot of time working with Mosqoy 3 students. It has been great getting to know them, their stories, and their families. Sometimes, during the interviews, I hear about heartbreaking stories about alcoholism in the family, difficulty with money, or about the great responsibilities they take on early on in their lives. Other times, I hear about their dreams, their hopes, and funny stories in their lives. It is very scary that a few of them still do not have donors for August. It breaks my heart to think that they might not begin their studies with the other students, after they have been excitedly waiting for that for over a year. Make sure to visit and and see how your small contributions can make a significant difference in the lives of these great young adults.

Every time I’d visit a home, I would be greeted with generous hospitality and delicious food. The other day, we had to sleep over at a student’s house as their village was quite far away and we could not return in time. They made sure we had delicious meals, comfortable beds...and together we played cards into the night.

Together we will also organizing a large community event. On July 3rd, we will be hosting an Ollantaytambo Mosqoy championship in volleyball and soccer. It is great seeing the students step up, take on leadership roles, and bond with each other!

Enjoy some of the photos below!

With Yolanda and her mother in their home. They were so incredibly welcoming. I visited their home at 9 in the morning and after our interview they showed me their crops, their animals, and taught me more about Peruvian food. Yolanda is actually the third student from this family to be in Mosqoy. Ebhert is her in Mosqoy 1, Dina is in Mosqoy 2, and Yolanda is now in Mosqoy 3. They are a great family! Yolanda with her mom in their kitchen.

Elizabeth with her mother and 5 of her 10 siblings (and one cousin)!

With the family of Fiorela and Emy Luz. We visited them for two days. To get to Soqma, their village, we needed to hike for around two hours into the mountain. It was a beautiful hike and some exercise finally!

Fiorela and Emy Luz are incredibly energetic and positive girls. They were giggling the whole time and we had a great time in Soqma!

They also took us to beautiful waterfalls near their village. It was around an hour to hike to them, but the water was stunning. Water always relaxes me.

On the hike back from the waterfalls.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Graduation Ceremony

I feel really happy. I feel so honoured to have witnessed this. It was the graduation ceremony of the first generation of Mosqoy students- Mosqoy 1. A few words that come to mind when I think of the ceremony are: beautiful, inspiring and proud.

Mosqoy, which means dream in Quechua, has achieved its dream and has fully funded the first generation of students. Nineteen dedicated students have completed the Mosqoy program; have completed three years of studies in Cusco; and have achieved their dreams. Yesterday’s ceremony was a celebration of their hard work and all of the hard work and support of their families and friends.

The event was very unique as it was mostly organized by the students and the families themselves. When we had arrived to Ollantaytambo, we had found out that the families have already been divided into groups, with each group assigned a certain food to make. The decorations of the room were done by Mosqoy 3, while the invitations were made by Mosqoy 2. Everybody from families and friends, to the mayor, professors, and community doctors were invited. We didn’t know what to expect, or how many people will show up, but we were armed with good spirits, positive attitude, and excited expectations.

The graduation event officially started at 3PM, but as with most things here, taking into account the Peruvian time, most of the people (and sound system) showed up around 4PM. The room slowly started filling up with people and quickly the delicious food had filled three large tables. Most of the students (from all of the generations had showed up) and with them were their families. In the end, over a hundred people were at the event, and it was so great to see all of the proud faces- whether it was the ecstatic students or the equally thrilled parents.

The official proceedings began with speeches from Raul (the cofounder), Ashley (director and cofounder) and Jasmine (assistant director). There were beautiful words, some tears shed, and much applause. The whole room was beaming with excitement and pride. I cannot describe how I felt. It was a mixture of joy, inspiration...and...I was just very moved. Each student was called up to the stage and presented with a certificate, a grad package, and a graduating class photo. The unique thing was that not only the students were invited, but the families as well. Together they crossed the stage; they posed for photos; and together they shared the joy. It was a family event. It was a family accomplishment. It was beautiful to see. A few parents took the microphone and thanked Mosqoy, thanked all the volunteers, and thanked all the donors.

I couldn’t help, but hold back a few tears. It was an event in which students and parents from Peru; volunteers in Canada, US, and Peru; and donors from all over the world have came together to celebrate the hard work and the realization of dreams that seemed far away four years ago. It was a remarkable experience and an experience that I will never forget.
Welcome to the Graduation!The students gathering around the thank you letters!
Parents and the really really delicious food.
Elvira, the Mosqoy 1 Student, Casa Mosqoy Leader, and overall awesome person, waves at us!Ashley, Ruben, Jasmine, and Raul await the ceremony!

Posing with Elvira, her mom, and the mayor of Ollantaytambo. The mayor was incredibly supportive of the organization during the ceremony and has even promised some help to Mosqoy from the town!

The students showing off their certificates!!

The presentation of Mosqoy 3 students that start in August. (the other half is on the other side of the stage)
Ashley presenting a present to the Mayor.

The parents (and the food) watch.
The graduating class!!!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Parobamba- A village in the sky

It’s around 5:30 PM. It is already quite dark outside. I am sitting on Alpaca wool which is covering a wooden bench. I am in the family kitchen- a building separate from the house. In the right corner, there is a fire spewing, cooking our dinner for the night. There is very little electricity in the town, and the fire is illuminating the room. In front of it is the mother of the family- wearing a gray skirt, an orange cardigan, and her hair in braids covered by a traditional hat. Over her shoulder, skilfully wrapped in colourful weaving, is her granddaughter. I am talking to the father of the family, and the mayor of the village, about life in Canada and the cultural differences between Canada and Peru. Although with some difficulty on my part, we are having a serious conversation in Spanish. Three young daughters, of their nine children, are running around the kitchen, chasing the many guinea pigs and chickens which are running free. With a quick look outside, I can see the clouds settling below us and around us. I am in Parobamba. A village high in the Andean mountains. A village with stunning surrounding views. A village which regularly touches the clouds. A Peruvian village in the sky.

I cannot believe I am here.

I spent the last four days in Parobamba, teaching English to the kids in the community and learning more about the Quechua culture- the indigenous culture of Peru. It was an unbelievable interesting experience. To get to the village, I set out on a journey at 5 AM from Cusco and arrived around noon to Parobamba. It included many bus transfers and ended with a hike to the village. My way back was exhausting as there were no cars or busses from Parobamba (or anywhere near it), and as a result I had to hike for four hours to the nearest town to take the bus. The first hour of the hike requires the hiker to hike up the mountain and out of the village...which was excruciatingly tiring. The son of the family, who accompanied me, was perfectly fine, while I could not breathe how tired I was. I am going to scapegoat and blame the altitude. And not the fact that I’m also probably out of shape.

During my stay, I taught four classes of English. The first day, walking into the school was incredibly awkward. As I stepped into the school yard, all the kids stopped playing and looked up. Some ran up and surrounded me, while others looked and pointed from afar. As I sat in the classroom, waiting to speak to the teacher, the children crowded around windows, trying to peek in. The initially awkward experience was offset by the eager children who were very excited to learn English. We chanted ‘What is your name?’ together, and laughed at the pronunciation of ‘potato’ together. I explained the concepts of articles and the verb ‘to be’ in Spanish. It was definitely a very memorable experience.

The village was incredibly kind. The father of one of the students invited me for both dinner and breakfast during the weekend, while my host family was incredibly friendly, inviting and made sure I was comfortable during my stay. I saw the beautiful weavings of the village, learned a little Quechua, and played with the children. After one of the classes, I played a game of soccer with the kids- all while stunned that I am on top of a Peruvian mountain, with clouds below me, playing a friendly match of soccer with the kids.

For a few short days, living in a Peruvian was an unforgettable experience. Going to bed at 7:30 PM and waking up at 5:30 AM, the warm hellos, the curious stares, the kind families, the rich culture, the beautiful environment, and the deathly tiring was my experience in the village in the sky.
On the hike to the village- the llamas walking off into the clouds.

More llamas!!

You could not hear a single thing here. It was complete silence. I haven´t experiencedthat for years.

The clouds above the mountains.

After one of the English classes.

The chicken overlooks the village.

The last morning. The clouds settle over the valley which Parobamba looks over.

In Cusco for a Week!

I’m a little late with this blog...but here it is! Ashley, Jasmine, and I went to Cusco last week with an agenda to finish a lot of administrative stuff and make over the new Casa Mosqoy. The week ended up being full of meetings, planning, and, of course, some Extreme Makover: Home Edition Casa Mosqoy decorating (Extreme Makeover people, if you are reading...we wouldn’t mind a new, decked out Casa Mosqoy! Gracias!
I love Cusco and it was great being back in the city. I had the chance to visit Fairplay again, hang out with Cusco friends, and enjoy the city. Living in the house with Mosqoy 1 and Mosqoy 2 students finally gave me the chance to hang out and get to know them more. They’re all around my age, mature, and friendly. One of the nights, we took them out to a Cinema Cafe and watched “Stranger Than Fiction”!

One of the main missions of the week in Cusco was to fix up and decorate the new Casa Mosqoy. Casa Mosqoy is a house in which the Mosqoy students live in during their studies in Cusco. As most of them are from Ollantaytambo and the surroundings villages, they do not have a place or the money to live in Cusco. Casa Mosqoy is part of the Mosqoy program and scholarship, where all the generations of Mosqoy live together in Cusco. They had just moved to a new and bigger house, and there are still plenty of things to fix up and, of course, decorate! Unfortunately, this also includes tedious landlord negotiations about water, rooms, etc (which isn’t too easy in Peru)...but also includes the more fun aspect- like all the supplies and decorations shopping.

We dedicated one day to getting all the kitchen, house, and cleaning supplies, along with posters, poster paper, and many other things. We began decorating the common room when I had left for Parobamba, and the rest was up to Jasmine, Ashley, and the students! I’m excited to see the final product.

Enjoy some photos below! (Note: They are very distorted and it is driving me crazy! But blogger and this net cafe are not being very cooperative!)

Morning meeting with the beautiful catherdral as our window backdrop.

We found a great cafe in Cusco with free wireless internet. Ashley is working away, while the coca tea is my trusty companion.
The streets are closed for the many fiestas happening in Cusco in June. Perfect time for a tourist shot!
Shopping with the students for house supplies.

Ebhert showing of our newly decorated ´English Wall´in the common room. We had a class afterwards!