Taking up the Challenge Part II: Health and Hygiene

By Jennifer Tridgell

Everyday at 10am in the Quilla Huata school, the Health and Hygiene team kicks into action. Five Macquarie students are responsible for washing the children’s hands, arms and faces, drying them and applying moisturiser.  Before we have even finished setting up, the children are eagerly getting into line. Seeing them so enthusiastic about the process gives us hope that learning these sanitation practices will help reduce the incidence of diseases. Warts, infected feet from ill-fitting shoes and malnourishment are just some common health challenges. Prevention is also part of the health regime, with cracked skin from the cold mountain air being moisturised daily to prevent infection.

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The Health and Hygiene team in action, washing the children’s hands

Once a child has finished Health and Hygiene, she sits at the wooden picnic tables, awaiting her bowl of fruit salad. This nutritious morning tea is thanks to Peru’s Challenge and is followed by lunch; it teaches the children about healthy eating and gives them a decent meal so that they are able to concentrate in lessons. Selvy, the co-founder of Peru’s Challenge, told us that the children of Pumamarca used to walk over two hours without breakfast to school in Cusco, whereupon they promptly fell asleep from exhaustion. Since Peru’s Challenge built a school in Pumamarca, the easier commute and regular nutritious food have helped the children to excel academically. Last year, the school placed first in the region for dance.

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Serving fruit for morning tea at Quilla Huata school

During the second week, Selvy began inviting small groups of Macquarie students on house visits around Quilla Huata. As part of Peru’s Challenge, the ‘Project for Life’ initiative identifies families who are most in need within the community, pays monthly house visits and helps them overcome certain obstacles. This assistance may take the form of food, sourcing medication or rebuilding damaged houses. On this particular occasion, we were delivering groceries to Angelica, a single mother of four young children. She invited us warmly into her mud-brick hut, which had dirt floors, smoke-blackened walls and a bare cooking shelf. Despite the conditions, they did not want sympathy, but instead looked hopefully towards the future.

This single room had previously functioned as a kitchen, living area and bedroom. Peru’s Challenge built a bedroom and bought beds, so that they were able to be elevated off the cold, damp ground. Despite the circumstances, Angelica was doing her best and her children were happy and healthy. Peru’s Challenge will continue to support her as greenhouses are built for flower cultivation, which Angelica can sell at the markets. This sustainable source of income will ensure that her children can continue their education and her family will have enough to eat.

Laurence and Criselda plastering the classroom ceiling

Laurence and Criselda plastering the classroom ceiling

Construction of the classroom is right on schedule. Having finished insulating the roof with bamboo, this week was dedicated to plastering the roof, walls and ourselves. After four days, I resemble a snowwoman, but the workers now praise my plastering technique as ‘professional.’ You could say that flicking the plaster is a “wristy” business. Despite the language barrier, we have developed a real camaraderie with the workers. Every Friday, we have a soccer match on the boggy field outside the school with mixed teams of Macquarie students and workers. For an hour, mud flies, the football is kicked enthusiastically and occasionally, goals are scored.

Friday soccer is a tradition

Friday soccer is a tradition

As the weeks pass, the Macquarie students are becoming better and closer friends. On the weekends, we have experienced the beauty and culture of Peru by touring Cusco and hiking around Sacred Valley. Wherever we go, views of the Andean mountains are peaking. During the week, after lesson planning and Spanish classes, we explore the cobbled alleyways, quaint cafes and gilded museums of Cusco.

Group photo at Saqsaywuman, the largest and one of the most sacred Inca temples in Cusco

Group photo at Saqsaywuman, the largest and one of the most sacred Inca temples in Cusco

Team Morale has really being keeping true to their name, introducing a Fairy Godmother system over the last week. Upon drawing a name out of a hat, that person becomes your ‘giant,’ to whom you had to be especially nice, support and compliment. Fairy godmothers have left sweet notes and chocolates on their giants’ pillows, complimented their hard work at construction and helped out with jobs around the house. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by such beautiful and thoughtful people.

Until next time, adios!

Taking up the Challenge

By Jennifer Tridgell – Bachelor of Arts with Bachelor of Laws

Jennifer Tridgell is a GLP student at Macquarie University. She is currently undertaking a month-long volunteering project in Peru as part of PACE International’s ‘Peru’s Challenge’ Project. This project aims to build schools, educate local people and assist the community in becoming self-sustainable. Over the coming weeks Jennifer will be posting new updates on this blog about her journey. For more information about PACE and if you’re interested in going on your own international adventure please visit the PACE website at http://students.mq.edu.au/opportunities/professional_and_community_engagement/about_pace/ 

 
Fifteen Macquarie PACE students from different backgrounds, degrees and experiences have ventured to the historical capital of Latin America, Cusco. For one month, they will work with a local NGO, Peru’s Challenge, in the community school of Quilla Huata to teach, finish constructing a classroom and, ultimately, help the village to become sustainable.
 
 

From the moment our plane dipped through clouds enshrouding the Andean peaks, Cusco had me breathless. Yes, the altitude may have contributed somewhat, but this red-brick city nestled at 3300 metres above sea level is something else. For the next month, this will be home. For fourteen other Macquarie students, our lovely team leader Lana and me, participating in Peru’s Challenge is an exhilarating opportunity to explore South America, face cultural barriers and collaborate with the local people.

Never going to tire of waking up to this stunning view from the volunteer house

Never going to tire of waking up to this stunning view from the volunteer house

Peru, from the brutal 16th Century colonisation by the Spanish Conquistadors to the modern day, has borne witness to clashes and convergence between Spanish and Incan cultures. Like the perfectly-aligned stones in Incan walls being used as the foundation for Spanish Catholic churches in Cusco, Peruvian culture cannot be understood without appreciating both. Local communities like Quilla Huata speak both the local language of Quecha and national language of Spanish, and practice both traditional weaving handicrafts and the religious teachings of a country that is 81% Roman Catholic.

Working in the community will be a moment to experience traditional agrarian life, as well as calling for heightened cultural sensitivity. Whether this requires wearing clothes that cover the knees and shoulders or taking a moment to consider others perspectives, it all helps to build trust and collaborate closer with the community.

The gang in front of the classroom that we will be completing

The gang in front of the classroom that we will be completing

Orientation and cultural adjustment have taken a few days, particularly with altitude sickness, water-borne diseases and the majority of the group speaking limited Spanish. This language barrier will be overcome by daily interaction with the locals and the four hours of Spanish lessons each week at the volunteer house.  If all else fails, mime and interpretative dance work wonders. Nausea, breathlessness and fatigue are common symptoms of high altitude, but these have already subsided. The main ongoing concern is remembering to sterilise hands before meals, not eating street food and brushing my toothbrush in bottled water. Two of our teammates have already been admitted to the medical clinic for treatment, but they made a speedy recovery overnight.

Team brainstorm about what kind of team we want to be

Team brainstorm about what kind of team we want to be

As the first couple of days were dedicated to rest and recovery in the volunteer house, we got to know each other very quickly. By Day Two, Krista described us as, “a family.” Everyone, from the other Macquarie students to our incredibly talented chefs Angelica and Romero, is so lovely, personable and committed to the program. When we discussed what we wanted to be remembered for as a group in the first team meeting, we came up with terms like, “supportive,” “hard-working” and “enthusiastic.” Sharing leadership roles was important to everyone, so we divided group responsibilities into House, Security, Morale and Health teams. For example, Team Morale encourages enthusiasm in the group by performing random acts of kindness like buying flowers and giving hugs. Sharing responsibility and supporting one another will make this the best possible experience.

Hugs and confetti from the Quilla Huata community to welcome us

Hugs and confetti from the Quilla Huata community to welcome us

In Quilla Huata school, we are going to be working on health and hygiene, construction and teaching. Selvy, the co-founder of Peru’s Challenge, school children and community representatives welcomed us warmly, hugging us and sprinkling colourful confetti on our heads. Having met the community and been touched by their reception, we threw ourselves into the work. The priority is finishing the classroom that the last Macquarie University contingent started. Construction initially involved stripping bundles of bamboo, nailing it down as roof insulation and evening out the floor. Not being so fond of heights, I spent most time with the bamboo and shovelling dirt. Needless to say, we’ll all be very fit and ready by the time we have to climb Machu Picchu.

Criselda helping to nail down bamboo on the roof rafters

Criselda helping to nail down bamboo on the roof rafters

Until next time, adios amigos!

(Photos courtesy of Jennifer Tridgell)