The Graduation and Induction Ceremony
At approximately 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, about 10-12 volunteers and I started working on cleaning and putting up decorations in the Salon Comunal of Ollantaytambo for the graduation and induction ceremony of Mosqoy generations 2 and 4.
For the decorations, I decided to go for a purple, light blue and royal blue theme which I think ended up looking really nice. We put up 50 balloons, a big Mosqoy banner, made ribbons, put up toilet paper as streamers, and cut out the words “Educar”, “Conectar” and “Preservar” (educate, connect and preserve), three words that fittingly describe Mosqoy’s goals.
At around 2 p.m., we all ducked out for a quick lunch and after eating, I went to get the Mosqoy netbook with Rolando from my hostel as he had the idea of connecting via Skype with Ashli, the founder and director of Mosqoy, as well as Reanna, the communications liaison between Canada and Peru, during the ceremony. With both Ashli and Reanna on the line and netbook in hand, Rolando and I started walking the cobblestone streets back to the Salon Comunal while I talked to Ashli and typed messages to Reanna.
Arriving back at the Salon Comunal, we finished up with the decorations and each took turns talking to Ashli. It was really fun as some of the incoming students were there and I think it was their first time using Skype! At around 3:30-4 p.m., people started trickling in with food and while the graduation ceremony was scheduled for 4 p.m., “hora Peruana” prevailed and the ceremony didn’t end up starting until 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, Lindsay took pictures with some students outside the Salon while I communicated with Ashli and tried to organize a few final things in the Salon Comunal. The leaders and I decided that we would start the ceremony at 6 p.m. sharp, regardless of whether or not everyone would be present.
As 6 o’clock rolled around, the leaders and I asked everyone to take their seats and Adrian welcomed everyone to the ceremony. After Adrian’s introduction, Elvira introduced the Mosqoy program and articulated the objectives of the program. Following Elvira, Rolando spoke about the successes of the Mosqoy program (there are 43 alumni in total) and his experience of being able to travel to Victoria, Canada last year with the help of Mosqoy.
After Rolando spoke, the leaders invited the representative of the municipality of Ollantaytambo, Paull Palma Herrera, to give a speech and I think that he did a fantastic job! He encouraged all of the students and alumni to treasure and make the most of the opportunity they’ve been given. He also stressed the importance of education and how the students and alumni need to use their education to become role models and leaders of their communities since without them stepping up to the plate, the economic and social situation of their communities and Peru cannot improve.
Following Paull, Lindsay gave the Education Generation speech that we wrote together last Monday (it’s amazing to think that we can now write speeches in Spanish after only two months in South America!) and I gave a speech about my experience with the Mosqoy program and living in the house with the students and the leaders. Afterwards I found out from the two friends I invited to the ceremony that they were really impressed with both the contents of the speech and the way that I presented it. I didn’t think I did a bad job with the speech, but I was surprised by just how good they thought it was!
After I presented my speech, we passed the microphone over to Ashli who was watching the whole ceremony via Skype. Originally Ashli had written a speech for one of us to present on behalf of her, but via Skype, she was able to give the speech personally, which was really great since the students and alumni could hear it directly from her and the words probably meant a lot more coming from her.
Following Ashli’s speech, the leaders and I welcomed every graduating student to the front to say a few words and accept their certificate, a photo of their class and an agenda. Many of the Mosqoy 2 students accepting their graduation certificates became very emotional on stage and cried as their feelings of gratefulness overwhelmed them. I was not expecting tears and it was very moving to listen to their words of thanks to the Mosqoy program and those individuals who supported them.
After the Mosqoy 2 students all accepted their certificates and graduation gifts, Rolando introduced the Mosqoy 3 students and each of them said a few words. Finally, Adrian introduced the incoming Mosqoy 4 students and invited them to come up to the stage, accept their induction certificates and a small gift, as well as give a few words.
Following the formal part of the ceremony was of course, the food! There was plenty of tasty food and drink prepared by the students and their parents which was great. Everyone was served with a portion of “cuy” or guinea pig which I finally resolved to try since it was put on my plate and I thought it would be ungracious not to try it. While it didn’t taste terrible, I couldn’t really get the image of guinea pigs as pets out of my head and therefore was thankful that I didn’t get too much meat on my piece of cuy.
After we all ate, we opened up the dance floor and got everyone dancing. Elmer, one of the Mosqoy 3 students, is a really enthusiastic dancer and he provided entertainment by dancing with little old ladies and tiring them out within a couple of minutes (I will admit that I too found dancing with Elmer a little exhausting, though also a lot of fun!).
All in all, I was really happy with the way that the graduation and induction ceremony went since everyone seemed to enjoy the ceremony and party and it was great to be able to pass the time with all of the students, leaders and their parents.
On Monday night we had a party at Casa Mosqoy to celebrate my departure and the birthdays of Rolando and Elizabeth. For the party, I purchased a strawberry and chocolate birthday cake for Rolando and Elizabeth, and some of the students prepared a huge amount of popcorn and hot chocolate which was really nice.
After everyone had gathered around the table in the living room, Adrian asked for everyone’s attention and started explaining that we were all gathered around since it was my last night in the house as well as in Cuzco, and thanked me for the leadership sessions I conducted as well as all of the work I put into Mosqoy.
Following Adrian’s speech, Elvira, Dina, Mariela, Yolanda, Nohemi and Rolando also thanked me for my work, my presence and positive energy. I was honestly so touched (and not expecting thank you speeches!) that I started tearing up. Dina, Mariela and Yolanda gave me parting gifts as well and Elizabeth and Lisbeth came up afterwards to give me hugs and tell me, “Cuidate mucho. Te voy a extrano mucho. Vuelves pronto.” (Take care. I will miss you a lot. Come back soon.).
Following the speeches, we sang “Happy Birthday” to Rolando and Elizabeth, ate some cake, and then commenced dancing. We danced “waino” for most of the night, which is a traditional type of Andean dancing combined with Andean music (with Quechuan lyrics). “Waino” is really fun to dance both in groups and in pairs, and we danced the night away.
While I was tired after all of the dancing, I wanted to finish up decorating the leaders’ office so I headed into the office and worked on outlining and cutting out the leaders’ names on construction paper to place on the wall of the office (earlier in the day I had put up photos of the leaders) and called it a night at 1:30 a.m.
It’s incredible how quickly time can pass by. Though two and a half (almost three) months can sound like a long time, in the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t. Starting my journey in Bolivia on June 12th, I didn’t really know what the next few months would bring... It brought a whole range of emotions including excitement, nervousness, sadness, frustration and happiness. I felt excited to meet the Mosqoy students and leaders, nervous to conduct leadership training in Spanish, sad when I heard stories of hardships from the students and leaders, frustrated when things didn’t go as planned and moments of happiness when I felt like I was really making a difference in the students’ and leaders’ lives.
Things aren’t easy in Peru. Some students at Casa Mosqoy only get 20 soles ($7) a week which has to cover their food, transportation not only within the city but back to their homes for the weekend (for example, to commute one way to Ollantaytambo it is about 5 soles), school supplies/costs and the electricity and gas in the house. The standard of living is cheaper here than in Vancouver but 20 soles is definitely not enough for one week. Some students opt to walk to their institute or university just so they can save 60 céntimos (60 Peruvian cents), the cost of a combi ride.
It’s common for there to be alcoholism and domestic abuse in the students’ homes and for a person to have 5 siblings or more, or parents who had children while they were very young because there is a lack of education in Peru when it comes to family planning. Though the Mosqoy program is assisting the students with paying for their education and housing, it’s hard on many families since the students often are not earning anything to support themselves or their families (most can only work on their “chakras” or farms one or two days a week during the weekend).
In Cuzco, tourism thrives but many who work in tourism are suffocating as the level of competition is so high. The big tour companies suck up most of the money while the smaller agencies have to resort to dropping their prices and the quality of their tours due to the intense rivalry. Then there are companies like Peru Rail, the major train company that has over 20 trains going back and forth to Machu Picchu a day, and often doesn’t pay or treat their employees fairly.
I am writing about these hardships because I think it is important for everyone to know that organizations like Mosqoy and Education Generation are making a difference in people’s lives here and I can confidently say that I have witnessed how much the support means to the students and leaders who are receiving help from Mosqoy and Education Generation. I can´t say for sure whether Mosqoy or Education Generation’s support of youth in the Sacred Valley is creating instantaneous change or change on a grand scale, but in the very least I believe that the two organizations are generating change - just in a more subtle and incremental way. One cannot always see it but occasionally it bubbles and comes to the surface – for example, with the four Peru leaders that graduated at the end of 2009 and who are now spearheading the program down here, I can see that the program has empowered them and that they truly appreciate the help that they’ve received since they have decided to continue their involvement in the program, to live in Casa Mosqoy with the students, and to put in several hours a week of volunteer work without pay for over a year. I can only hope that the ripple effect will continue.
With this blog post, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who supported my decision to come down to Peru and volunteer (especially to those at my workplace who accommodated my leaving for two and a half months), to everyone who donates to Mosqoy and/or Education Generation, all of the Mosqoy and Education Generation volunteers, and finally to everyone who has been following my blog posts and who has been here with me in spirit.
Un fuerte abrazo a todos,
Lindsay, Elvira and I with Cynthia, a Mosqoy 2 alumnus
The leaders and I with Paull, the municipality representative of Ollantaytambo
At the Ollantaytambo community-wide event
At the Ollantaytambo community-wide event
The leaders and I on Avenida del Sol
The Casa Mosqoy Party!
Adrian, Ebhert, Rolando A. and I
Rolando H. and I
Adrian and Elvira dancing
Notes that the students left me on the communal whiteboard