Today was our orientation at the Pumamarca school. Pumamarca is a rural village outside of Cuzco where the people live in extreme poverty—there is no sewage system, no running water in the homes (the locals either use untreated water from faucets outside of the homes or the water that runs in a gully along the roads), and some have no electricity. The Peruvian government no longer wanted to support the village´s school due to lack of funding and interest, so Peru´s Challenge (PC) offered to rehabilitate what used to be the old school and start lessons for the local children. Before the old school was rehabilitated, it was a bare adobe “hut” (for lack of a better word), but now the school is comprised of two brightly-painted adobe buildings with floors, tile roofs, doors, and windows. PC is also erecting another building to house the expanding Talleres group, which is Pumamarca´s women´s group. The school is a work in progress—though they still don´t have flushing toilets, they are working with one of the locals to install a septic tank—the first one in the community. They also converted a small room into a kitchen with a gas stove (this was a big change in the community because the locals cook over fire pits). To say that the Pumamarca school is just a “school” wouldn´t quite describe what a centerpoint for the community it has become. It is a place where children can go for an education and where mothers can go to learn a skill, make their handicrafts, or receive advice from Iris, the local social worker that PC employs. It is also a place where many fathers can find work or simply volunteer their skills and efforts. The entire community is involved in the Pumamarca school in some way.
As a volunteer, we´re allowed to choose how we would like to help. I chose to teach English before I arrived, but I will also provide assistance in other work that needs attention, such as the volunteer newsletter, writing web content for a new web site, and assisting in anything else that can be done for the school. Since today was orientation day, however, we assisted in small ways as we learned the lay of the land. We supervised the children as they washed their hands and made sure they were completely clean and dry before eating their afternoon snack. We also applied cream on their cheeks after washing their faces (more on this in a moment) and assisted with their physical education class. Later, we went to the Tallares women´s group to help with organization as the local women worked at their handicrafts, which they will sell as a source of income for their families.
About the hand washing and face cream: basic hygiene is something that many of these rural villagers either 1) know little about or 2) lack the resources to attend to properly. So, the kids are taught at the school to wash their hands before they eat. Likewise, when the flushing toilets are finally installed, they will need to be taught how to use the toilets and how to clean themselves afterward. The education here is about much, much more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They learn basic living skills that they can apply throughout their lives.
And the face cream? Well, when I first arrived and saw all of the beautiful children, I took note (with the eyes of someone from a developed country) of their ruddy red cheeks that, to me, look to be the picture of health. In truth, however, the skin appears this way from the harsh mountain conditions and improper care. Eventually, after a lifetime of working the fields and not caring for their skin, the skin on the face scars. This scarring is a sign of poverty to them and is something of which they are ashamed. So, the school also makes sure that the children wash their faces and apply a cream to their face and hands to help alleviate some of the effects of a lifetime in the mountains.