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Bridging Cultures in the Sacred Valley of Peru

The opportunity to go work in the Sacred Valley of Peru with the Andean Alliance and the Becky Fund was unexpected and extremely exciting. In just a few short weeks, I was subletting my apartment, storing extra furniture, and packing for the mountains. When I was asked to write about my expectations for the trip, my initial reaction was somewhat anxious and nervous. During the course of my education at the Monterey Institute, I have had the opportunity to participate in many organizations as a consultant. However, in each of these opportunities, I had the safety net of a professor and professional for quality control, reassurance, and instant feedback. This summer is to be my first completely autonomous project. Upon further reflection, I realized that I am surrounded by 18 other students, each of whom bring a wide range of experiences, expertise, and knowledge to the table. Although my colleague and I have been given the creative freedom to carry out our project, we are doing so with the love and support of a new found family. There is nothing more uplifting and motivating than that.
Upon our arrival in Cusco, I laughed at how different this summer will be compared to the previous, when I worked in the heat of Alabama during the Deep Water Horizon Spill as part of the avian rehabilitation crew. Now, some 11,000 feet above sea level, I wear many layers to protect from the south hemisphere’s winter cold and I listen to the people to know how I can help them.
My first opportunity to do this came shortly after my arrival in Peru after a four-hour bus ride through the windy, mountain roads to the small, indigenous community of Ccachin.
A crew of excited, pink faced and snotty nosed 5 year olds, all dressed in the traditional garb of the Andean Indigenous community greeted our team. Hand in hand we walked through a giant soccer field where one hundred more children anxiously awaited our arrival. They ranged from 3-11 years old, until the secondary school students, who are 12-17 years of age, later joined us. This was our reception celebration, a cultural exchange chalk full of native dances, poetry, songs, and speeches of gratitude for what Aaron, The Becky Fund, and The Andean Alliance were doing for the community.
The event started with a bridging of cultures by means that I felt were most appropriate: Bubbles. When we heard we had time to play before the event, I invited a few children to join me for a gift; it was only nanoseconds before all 150 students were surrounding me with anticipation and curiosity as to what I would pull out of my bag. I have been told that many of them had probably never experienced bubbles, and I can’t express how grateful I am to have participated in this simple joy that children, around the world, share. The next thirty minutes were full of giggles, screams of joy, lessons on how to blow the most bubbles, throwing hats to pop the bubbles carried high above by the wind, and seemingly endless excitement. The children made short order of the two containers of bubbles I brought, but the long-lasting memories we created together, I will never forget.
After a colorful reception, we were all touch by the sincerity of the Mayor of Lares, when he took a moment to thank each of us personally for our contribution to the community and to express his excitement for our partnership in the future.
The next day, after an extremely productive meeting with the entire Team Peru group, we began moving the forty-pound bricks from the school, where they were made, down to the garden where the green houses are to be constructed. An assembly line of over forty people covering a few hundred yards between the two areas passed almost 500 bricks in a matter of hours. Tired as we were, caked in dirt and mud, not a single person complained of bruises on their forearms or the weakness of their legs. Together, we worked as a team and made a huge contribution to the final product. We finished the weekend by moving two truckloads of heavy rocks and one hundred more bricks. Not everyone is cut out for heavy lifting and manual labor, but each of us involved in the work this weekend is proud to say we worked hard, we worked long, and we contributed to the nutritional development of the Ccachin region.
For more information about the current projects please visit http://blogs.miis.edu/teamperu/

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