Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cusco – A Different Perspective (posted by Kie)

One can experience the same city in many different ways. Though I travelled to Cusco four years ago, my experience this time stands in stark contrast to when I was last here. This time around I am living with a host family a little bit away from the city centre and have been making a conscious effort to come “home” for most meals so that I can converse with the host family. Secondly, living away from the city centre and my Spanish school means that I have experimented with various modes of getting myself around the city such as walking, taking the combis (overcrowded mini-vans which are mostly meant for locals rather than tourists) and taxis. The combis are definitely an interesting experience as you get to interact with the locals a bit (even if it is just sitting really squished next to them) and sitting by the door can give you a bit of an adrenaline rush since the combis often start driving before the door is even closed (bear in mind the fact that the drivers in Cusco don’t really follow any rules and pedestrians never have right-of-way).

After my arrival in Cusco early Monday morning, I dived into my Spanish classes at FairPlay right away. I have been taking 2 hours of grammar and 2 hours of practical Spanish every day. The grammar and practical Spanish classes complement each other as the grammar lessons gives you the basic tools to construct sentences and the practical classes allow you to practice what you’ve learned. The practical classes are also a great way to experience the city. For example, my practical Spanish teacher has taken me to El Mercado San Pedro where we looked at and discussed the many fruits and vegetables and she has also taken me to her daughter’s school recital where I was able to watch various traditional dances performed by children ranging from the ages of 3 to 11. FairPlay, the school where I am taking my Spanish classes, is quite unique as all of the teachers are single mothers who were struggling economically and socially but after enduring eight months of rigorous training, completing 30 exams and monthly evaluations, they are now excellent teachers. Moreover, FairPlay is not only a Spanish school but they organize for volunteer work and run cooking and Spanish classes (I participated in their cooking class on Tuesday night where we made a traditional Peruvian dish called lomo saltado which consists of beef, fried potatoes, red peppers and rice).

For those who have yet to visit Cusco, it’s a very beautiful city full of cobblestone streets and one can definitely feel the mixture of the Spanish and Incan influences – the Spanish built the city on top of Incan ruins. Because of the high influx of tourists, there are now many travel agencies, restaurants, cafes and bars geared towards tourists. However, the local Andean culture is still very visible and poverty is still a pressing problem. Nevertheless, I have noticed that people here really look out for each other (even the children).

Signing off, I leave you with some pictures of Cusco:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mi Casa, Cuzco (posted by Lindsay)

Having just spent two weeks taking in the warm-weathered beaches of Brazil, I was immediately struck by the cold and unsympathetic weather in Cuzco, Peru. My first breath in Cuzco was a difficult one; at an altitude of 3300 metres, I feel my lungs working twice as hard on inhalation. Though, I am happy to report that I have not succumbed to altitude sickness – I credit steady consumption of mate de coca (coca tea).

Countless travel guides (mine included) paint Cuzco as the gem of the Peruvian Andes – is it ever! I often find myself lost in the culture and landscape that, together, make Cuzco such a beautiful and unique city. The surrounding mountains are decorated with ruins, beckoning tourists to venture off trail…

Over the next three weeks, I will be taking Spanish classes at an organization called FairPlay in Cuzco. FairPlay took root in 2006 and has since trained 32 single mothers in Cuzco to become Spanish teachers. I spend a welcomed four hours a day in Spanish class, my time divided equally into grammar and practical lessons. Walking to and from classes at FairPlay has become a new pastime of mine. Although I could easily and affordably take a taxi or ‘colectivo’ (read: overcrowded mini-bus) to FairPlay, the 45-minute walk (each way) allows me time to absorb and reflect on my new environment.

Learning a new language is equally rewarding as it is trying...I do appreciate the small steps of learning, however, it is highly frustrating when your contributions at the dinner table are limited to the day, month and season (I concede that even my Brazilian Portuguese is better than my Spanish). At times, I struggle with pronunciation – my Spanish teacher sure gets a laugh when I confuse “Hombre” (man) and “Hambre” (the verb for hunger). She explained that confusing the two words could land me in a rather awkward predicament. I recognize that my learning curve is steep; however, I am confident that, in time, my Spanish will improve.

Despite only having been in Cuzco for three days, I feel welcomed and settled in my family’s home. I am grateful for their generosity and hospitality and for their continued patience while I transition into a new language and culture. The perception that Peruvian families showcase hospitality on a plate has never been more true – I have been indulging in many traditional/homemade Peruvian dishes. (It is not an overstatement to say that I have eaten better in Cuzco in one day than I have two weeks in Brazil).

I am happy to be able to call Peru home, at least for a little while…


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Gone South (posted by Lindsay)

Travel has taught me some of life’s most important lessons. Travel has taught me independence, humility, spontaneity and adaptability. I have learned to seize the good, absorb the unexpected and stand resilient to the challenges. In many ways, travel has shaped my character and will indefinitely drive the person I want to become.

Knowing this, it is no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to participate in the Education Generation Fellowship in the Scared Valley region of Peru. The annual Fellowship program sends volunteer fellows overseas to enhance relationships with, and support education partners on the ground.

This summer, I will be partnering with Education Generation’s partner Mosqoy: Sacred Valley Youth Fund in Peru. Mosqoy is dedicated to providing education opportunities for youth and helping communities in the Sacred Valley region of Peru to achieve sustainable development. The objectives are realized by providing young leaders with scholarships enabling them to continue their studies and help their families break the cycle of poverty.

Mosqoy is further committed to the preservation of traditional Quechua values, and works in collaboration with the Q’ente Textile Revitalization Society to maintain and foster cultural and historical integrity through the Quechua weaving tradition. Q’ente works directly with weavers from the Sacred Valley region to provide them a fair trade outlet to sell textiles in North America.

During the Fellowship experience, I will work on the Base Program as well as a Focus Project (Kallpa K’oj Program).

Base Program

As part of the Base Program, I will be working directly with students to provide a communication liaison and document the work of the Peruvian students by completing progress updates for donors. In addition, I will assist with the transition of students, including organizing the graduation ceremony for existing Mosqoy students, and integrating new students into the program. Other activities will include, student mentorship, program evaluation, visits with the families of the students, English language training; and participation in student selection and other initiatives, such as income generation projects.

Focus Project – Kallpa K’oj Program

Kallpa K’oj is Quechua for “giving back energy” and is a Mosqoy student volunteer service program designed to support traditional weaving communities in the Sacred Valley region. As a condition of their scholarships, Mosqoy students are required to give back 30 hours of community service for every academic year.

The Program are goals are to: 1) maintain cultural ties with weaving communities; 2) support Q’ente weaving communities; 3) give back to the Q’ente Textile Revitalization Society; 4) instill leadership qualities in Mosqoy students; and 5) teach students the value of giving and reciprocity. The Program entails four phases:

Phase 1: Foster community awareness and buy-in of the Program

Phase 2: Initiate community needs assessment and co-development of volunteer service projects with each weaving community

Phase 3: Finalize the Program, including volunteer service projects, timeline and implementation strategy

Phase 4: Implement volunteer projects, including student selection and training

Phase 1 of the Kallpa K’oj Program is complete. I will focus on Phases 2 and 3 which will involve traveling on foot or by cattle truck/bus to a number of traditional weaving communities in the Sacred Valley region of Peru (Q’enqo, Pisac, Huaran, Calca, Cancha Cancha, Bombon, Parobamba, Pitukiska, Amparaes, Amaru, Pachar). I will meet with weavers and leaders in the communities and co-develop volunteer service projects which may include, literacy training, cooking classes, and Spanish language training. The Kallpa K’oj Program is based on reciprocity and knowledge exchange, and with that in mind, I will also work with each weaving community to establish reciprocity initiatives, such that the community craftspeople will teach Mosqoy students traditional weaving and dying methods.

Between Fellowship activities, I will backpack through Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and, time permitting, Venezuela.

Regular blog updates will begin the week of June 27th.

Hasta Luego!


Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Beginnings (posted by Kie)

Welcome everyone to my first entry on Education Generation's blog!

My name is Kie and I will be traveling to Peru this summer to embark on a unique experience: that of volunteering with youth in the Sacred Valley. I will be working with Education Generation and their partner Mosqoy in Peru, both of which are organizations that provide merit-based scholarships to students who want the opportunity to attend post-secondary education but do not have the financial means to do so.

I have outlined a few of my fellowship goals below:

1) Monitor, document and evaluate the progress and development of the Mosqoy students and alumni.

2) Assist in planning a graduation ceremony, student daytrip and community-wide event in Ollantaytambo.

3) Facilitate teambuilding and leadership sessions for the Mosqoy leaders (four alumni who have been handpicked to lead other students based on their skills and achievements).

Another exciting project that I will get to be a part of is creating a library in Q’enqo, a weaving community in the Sacred Valley, for which a grade three class in Calgary fundraised over $400. This is a project I am really thrilled about because the kids in Calgary as well as their teachers are so excited that their funds raised will actually make a concrete difference. It’s also a great example of youth helping youth.

Though I’ve been to Peru before, I know that this experience will be like no other and will open my eyes in ways that I can’t even yet imagine. I know there will be times when I will feel amazed and inspired, and other times when I might feel like pulling my hair out. Either way, both types of experiences are necessary to learning. I hope to come out of Peru knowing not only that I have made a tangible difference, but that the projects that I have worked on will be sustainable for local Peruvians to eventually take over the reins.

Life is too short to wait around for something to happen. In order to grow, and live life fully, one has to face challenges and try new things.

Here’s to Peru,


P.S. I will be updating on here regularly starting the week of June 27th.

Here's a map showing some of the places I'll be:
Cusco (first 3 weeks); Ollantaytambo (most of the subsequent 6 weeks); Q'enqo (1-2 days); various weaving villages not on this map - Parobamba, Bombom and Pitukiska (4 days)