Kusi Wawa Kuna Preschool - PART 1
Ever wonder what it's like to walk into a volunteer impact assignment with CCS on day 1? Join volunteer Bruce on his journey in Peru!
The Peruvian volunteering assignment I was blessed to receive from the charity A Fresh Chapter was serving as a volunteer assistant in the Kusi Wawa Kuna preschool. Read more about the teachers and Kids of this wonderful preschool in Part 2 of this blog post, but to know the full beauty of this school you need to know a little something about its neighborhood.
The Kusi Wawa Kuna school is located on the outskirts of the City of Lima in the depressed neighborhood of Villa Maria Del Triunfo. According to locals I spoke with, the area was a semi-abandoned rock quarry when several decades ago indigenous people of the Andes Mountains started migrating to this urban city. Life in the mountains had become increasingly difficult over time and migration had slowly begun. Then in the 1980s, the violent insurgent rebels called the “Shining Path” began killing people in the highland communities who would not follow their particular political philosophy and in response, Peru’s government at that time began a brutal counter-insurgency operation that killed even more local residents. These mountain inhabitants fled their homes of many generations in large numbers to survive. When they came down from the highlands and arrived in the center of the city of Lima, the refugees who were mostly descendants of the Inca or other tribes were rejected by many of the more Hispanic and non-indigenous population. With nowhere else to go, this victimized group was forced to move to the abandoned desolate and scraped hillsides of Lima, where they formed their own community.
Driving from the more hip and bohemian community of Barranco where I was staying to the district of Villa Maria Del Triunfo is a cultural experience. The streets in the nicer parts of Lima could be the boulevards of any First-World city. But as you move further from the city center and especially its two upscale and tourist/artsy districts of Mira Flores and Barranco, the infrastructure, buildings, signs of wealth and local government support begin to change. High quality roads move from paved to potholed, then from gravel to dust and dirt.
Buildings change from high-rise condominiums to double-story buildings older tenements until eventually become a patchwork of randomly designed homes built with the resources available. Many in this group of industrious people work in what locals call “the Informal Economy” of under-the-table jobs or street vendor employment. And, because several folks in the community have construction experience, home building is often a personal work in progress.
As we approach the preschool for the first time, we notice a large metal gate blocking the entire downhill dirt road.
We volunteers are told the gate was installed for security reasons, which is especially important in the later part of the day when the main dirt road we were just driving on becomes less safe. When the car comes to a stop the volunteers reach for the door handles, our driver, a really great guy from the local community, cautions everyone to stay in the car for a moment. When asked why, he states that a couple of feral dogs have approached and are circling the car. “I want to make sure they are safe”, he says as he peers out of the window observing each dog’s body language to assess their aggressiveness.
In a few seconds he determines that the dogs are not dangerous and it is OK for us to exit the car. Also accompanying us every day to our volunteer work assignment is a very kind and dedicated local Peruvian young woman that works as a volunteer coordinator and translator.
She asks us to follow her through the pedestrian door in the side of the road block gate, and my volunteer partners and I make our way down the dirt street to a non-descript building on the left.
Directly next to a set of security bars and a locked roll-up metal door with a small half-door that serves as an entrance, we see a small very cute Kusi Wawa Kuna preschool sign outside. This gives us our first indicator of what is in store, and here is where we first began to realize that a First-World mentality can really undermine a person’s understanding of this place. A “developed-country mindset” can look at this kind of community and its people and think they are “impoverished.” While there are surely major challenges in this and any community and some of the kids I worked with are affected by them, the adults and children I met here are certainly are not suffering from a poverty of spirit, of care, of talent or of passion. They are vital, sweet and wonderful people.
Walking into the preschool, we find a clean, well-lit and safe oasis of care, compassion and learning created for these children. With the help of non-profits, talented teachers and the community that has banded together, the district of Villa Maria Del Triunfo has created a beautiful sanctuary and invested in its future, which it chooses to see in its children.
Learn more about Bruce's experience in Peru on his blog at http://exploringwithbruce.com/, and stay tuned for Part 2!