Friday, July 17, 2015


July 15, 2015

            Today was one of the most amazing days of my life. We left the hotel at 4:00 and drove and drove…and drove. I must have dozed off, because when I woke up, the dark night was giving way to bits of daylight. We were getting ready to cross over the peak in the mountains. Sure enough, I looked around and snow-capped mountains were everywhere. Elevation was the highest I’ve ever been (and probably ever will be) at 14,160 feet above sea level.

Our guide was informing us of a ritual we were going to be performing included coca leaves. This is a ritual many indigenous people perform every time they go through this specific pass in the mountains. Before we could get to our ritual destination, our guides noticed a woman and two girls walking along the road. They recognized them and stopped. The mother was distraught; their family’s horses had been stolen in the night and the trio had been walking since 1:30 to get to school. We soon found out that since these girls lived so far away, they would be staying with the teacher for 3-4 nights instead of making the long trek back and forth. The girls’ names were Carmen and Angélica…and just like that, we met our first students from the Panticalle school!

We stopped some ways down the road and performed the ritual; each holding 3 coca leaves in a very specific way, breathing our souls into the mountains and asking for safe passage and then placing our leaves under a rock. Then, on we went! Not much longer and we were at the top of the mountain we were meant to climb down. We strapped on our backpacks, heavy with supplies for the students and teachers and began our hour and a half climb down the mountain. This was no easy feat at that altitude (even though we were a bit lower than the highest peak we had driven over) and we stopped often for some breathing breaks. Looking down the mountain, we could see the teeny tiny dot at the bottom which was the school. Slowly that tiny dot became bigger and formed a building. Another student from the school joined us on our hike. When I say he joined us, this was an understatement; he ran circles around us…up and down and all around grinning and teasing and always helping to carry lunch supplies. I called him my little mountain goat, even though I had no idea how to say that in Quechua.

Finally, we made it to the bottom and were greeted with big smiles and wet eyes by the teachers and students. Carmen and Angélica, once so quiet in the van due to knowing very little Spanish and being around strangers, lit up and began frolicking and chatting with their friends. At first the students were a bit shy; I learned later we were the school’s first visitors (other than TAREA and other workers) in 15 years. Curious eyes and smiles were constantly glanced our way as they got used to us being there.

We soon learned today was a special day. The students, teachers, a few parents and elders and the school yacha were all here. From what I gather, the ceremony was meant to bless the potatoes that would soon be planted. We observed the ceremony, which incorporated potatoes, coca leaves, chicha (a corn-based beverage) in shells, a certain flower and animal fat. The ritual was filmed by the school’s video camera to preserve the students’ heritage and to be used later in lessons.  The potatoes were blessed and a few were planted by the yacha and elders and the rest by the students. Afterward that the yacha spoke to the children about why the ceremony was important and the process by which the farmers planted potatoes.

Next, we went back into the school, which contained two classrooms and a separate small building that was used for cooking and eating food. Once in the classroom, I was amazed to see the excellent teaching practices and bilingual pedagogy utilized by the teacher. Students started by drawing what they learned and remembered from the ceremony and what the yacha had taught them. Most of the students’ families were potato farmers so I loved the authenticity of the content and ownership the students had over their learning. When finished with their drawings, students orally explained what they had drawn in their native language, Quechua. The teacher then began saying sentences in either Spanish or Quechua about the drawings and students had to repeat them and determine which language it was. The teacher began to put up Spanish vocabulary words (with illustrations) from today’s ceremony and lesson. All students then came up to the board and wrote one sentence about either potatoes or coca leaves in Spanish. Each student read his or her sentence to the class. The teacher then posted a text written in Quechua about the planting of potatoes. Students read the passage and then were asked to identify certain vowel sounds. Finally, students were given worksheets about how to plant potatoes. All within an hour or so, the teacher gave a real-life lesson about the student’s environment and culture, a bilingual lesson in Spanish and Quechua (spoken, written and read), and a science lesson about plants. Even though I couldn’t understand what was being said, I knew I was observing real learning taking place.

After lessons, we went out into the yard for a bit of fun while we waited for lunch to be ready. A rowdy game of tickle tag and big hugs was played until it started raining. We went in to enjoy a delicious meal of rice, potatoes, yucca and a pork chop. Our guides were surprised by the meat included in our meal; this is a rarity. The students didn’t have a pork chop and eagerly ate what would be their only full meal for the day. While eating, the rain and sometimes hail poured down on the metal roof. I was a bit nervous about our hike back up the mountain; it was difficult enough going down, I couldn’t imagine climbing back up in the pouring rain, with wet rock and mud underfoot. We quickly put our worries to the side because it was time to give the children and teachers our gifts of notebooks, pencils, colored pencils, erasers, candy and folders. The students were so excited and the teachers were near tears once again. The students immediately began investigating their goodies and drawing with the colored pencils-which were the fan favorite.

The rain thankfully eased up and all that was left was a group picture and lots of hugs. I couldn’t believe this day was ending. The rain continued to lightly fall as we carefully made our way back up the mountain. Every time I turned around, the school building was getting smaller and smaller as the ache in my heart grew bigger and bigger. When we first walked up to the school that takes most students 1-3 hours to get to, I kept thinking these people have nothing material; no running water, no electricity, long journeys to and from school or work and a hard, laborious life. The majority of people I live and work with will never know life such as this.  However, as I walked away I realized everything these people did have; an eagerness to learn, generosity of spirit and a deep-seeded love for their environment. I am humbled, in awe and full of love and respect for these people and their culture…their mountains…and their smiles.

--Erin Pille

1. Learning from the Yacha, documenting for the future

Ready to start the session: First step, a ceremony

Children gather together for the experience

Children and their families observe the start of the process of growing potatoes

Using the chaquitaclla to furrow

Potatoes on lliclla, chicha, and coca leaves fr the ceremony

Children at work/learning

Everybody participates

The Yacha showing the process

Hands-on learning

Children and comuunity

2. Reinforcing the learning in the classroom

"Tarpuy" or plant; "inti" or sun; "tuta" or night

3. The actors and their community

Children at lunch time

Melquiades ("Milquicha") waiting to play a scare on Ms. Nuss

The Yacha and the school children. Ms. Duque to the left, and Ms. Pille to the right

Having a good moment with one of the technology facilitators

Ms. Pille and schoolchildren

Ms. Pille and Milquicha

School girls wearing their traditional custome

School boy

Spinning using the k'anti

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Recuerdos Favoritos--Favorite Moments

July 17, 2015

Our trip is complete, but our experience is far from over. We have lived out our dreams and experienced a part of the world most of us have never seen. On our last day in Peru, we dined together and reminisced on our favorite moments from the trip. We were even lucky enough to “Share a Coke with Oscar” as we shared our favorite memories.

“Playing tag with the students at Panticalle.” -Hannah Duque
“Exploring Machu Picchu and getting to look out over the Andes.” –Michelle Heuer
“Sitting next to the Andean girls in the van on the way to the Panticalle school.” –Katie Nuss
“My favorite moment was our last day in Lima, before heading to Cusco, where we had time to relax and enjoy the sunshine after being under gray skies all week. I enjoyed laying in the “Love Park” and wading out into the ocean during the sunset. Everyone was in good spirits and spending time with each other was nice.” –Cathryn Taylor
 “My favorite memory was when a stranger on the street came up to me and asked me where I was from. I told her the U.S and she said, “No, what race are you?” I told her I was African American and she reached up and squeezed my hair, smiled really big and told me I’m beautiful and may God bless me! Our group then crossed the street but I could see the woman still smiling and waving at me!” –Sian McNeary
“Climbing up the ‘hard part’ of Machu Picchu!” –Jodi Adams
 “Trekking down the side of the Andes mountain with children that do it longer day after day. Those moments were so unique! That whole last day was my favorite!” –Amanda Cardwell
 “The entire day my group spent at the Panticalle school in the Andes mountains was my best memory—I am truly unable to pick just one moment. When we first walked up to the school that takes most students 1-3 hours to get to, I kept thinking these people have nothing; no running water, no electricity, long journeys to and from school or work and a hard, laborious life. The majority of people I live and work with will never know life such as this.  However, as I walked away I realized everything these people did have; an eagerness to learn, generosity of spirit and a deep-seeded love for their environment. I am humbled, in awe and full of love and respect for these people and their culture…their mountains…and their smiles.” –Erin Pille
“Sitting at Machu Picchu on a ledge, relaxing and taking in the view.” –Rebecca Carroll
“My favorite memory of our trip was participating in the actividad vivencial “trilla de habas de trigo y cebada” in Sullca. Giving our thanks to the apus, or mountains, burning coca leavings, drinking chicha and eating lunch at the tia’s house are memories that will stay with me forever.”
--Cabrina Bosco
“I would have to say giving the gifts to the students as payment for food at Rural School #56022 in the Andes.” –Dr. Kyle Ingle
“The moment that had impacted me the most, by far, was the trip to the Panticalle school. It had impacted me in a way that I cannot find a parallel. Ironically, it was a brief trip, but the one I cherish the most. I feel privileged of being welcomed to this school and children, privileged of sharing their happiness, privileged of being able to be part of their lives, now, as they have it. Never felt more privileged in my life.” –Dr. Oscar Aliaga
--Erin Pille

In Paticalle: Yacha (elders) and children

Traditional ceremony in Sullca

Schools in Cusco

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The smoke is flowing white, it's going to be a good year!

In Sullca of Canchis, Cuzco, Peru
On Wednesday, July 15, 2015

As evidenced by the thick white smoke which streamed from the burning collection of chicha dipped coca leaves burning in the manure based fire.  The ceremony in the community of Sullca was customary and was celebrated in order to give thanks to Mother Earth for all that she provided.  Today, the ceremony was re-enacted by the students, and guided by the elders, not only to give thanks, but also to familiarize the students with a tradition that framed their ancestors’ lives.  Previously, the Incan history was not being taught to the children of Sullca, however, the community is now working with the school and parents in efforts to revitalize the Inca influence. 

When we first arrived in Sullca, It appeared as if the community was undergoing reformation.  The old primary school house which was built in the 1970s out of adobe had collapsed, and a new government-funded school was being built.  For several weeks, the children had been attending schools in homes and were now being schooled in the community center.

Everyone was busy doing their part to ensure the prompt completion of the new school, including the mothers who lugged heavy wheelbarrows full of rocks that they had collected from the side of a steep mountain to be used in the construction of their children's’ new school.  Not once did I see in the mothers’ faces fatigue or discomfort, in fact, they appeared to be excited about the new school and proud of their contributions.  Even the “perro” (dog), who we labelled the school mascot, walked along the mothers while they worked as if it was doing its part in contributing to its children’s new school.

The children of Sullca, although very excited about performing the ceremony, sat patiently in the field awaiting their opportunity.  The mascot also made patient circles around the children in wait.  Finally, showtime arrived.  The elders (called "yacha" in Quechua) of the community prepared the coca leaves and the chicha atop a blanket in the field.  Each person in the field, including us, held three coca leaves to the three surrounding mountains and gave thanks.  Next, we dipped the leaves in the chicha and they were then placed in a pile to be burned.  The collection of coca leaves were placed in the manure based fire alongside the river.  We were told that if white smoke flowed from the burning leaves it would be a good year of harvest.  The smoke flowed white so we knew it’s going to be a good year!

(click the YouTube link below to view this independent clip about the ceremony)
--Sian McNeary

Building the new school in Sullca, Cusco, Peru

Using the lliclla to carry the baby and keep working

Community effort

Offering to the Pacha Mama or Mother Earth

Lived experience for children attending the school