Back to the basics.

Week four of our trip and as Danielle was saying, it feels like we have known each other for ever.  It is amazing to see how much closer we get with time, and don’t have any taboos.  From acclimatization to sore throats, we share everything and during our peulut we check in on our feelings, which allows us to share our feelings on each other, but also keep updated about each other’s personal experiences on top of the group experiences.

We arrived in Chahuay on May 28th and yet it already feels like home. We are staying in the cabin that was constructed for the few visitors who venture into this isolated community. The view on the lake is indescribable when waking up. Looking at the water, the blue sky and the mountain makes you forget how chilly it can get in the morning, how awesome! Staying in fireplace-heated dormitories, we have a huge kitchen in which we share three meals a day, just like a big family. Plus this place was constructed fabulously with adobe (mud and hay) and all local materials, we all felt like home in no time! It is incredible.

On the day of our arrival, we met with Lucio, the adorable maestro (head of construction) of our project with the community and Claudio, the elected leader of the town. They shared the planning of what we would be doing for the next 15 days of our stay in Chahuay. Chuahay is a small village in the district of Acamayo, in the province of  Sangarara and the region of Cusco. Complicated? Yes, but the people are amazing.

The goal of our project in Chahuay is to help reconstruct the Park in the school for the young children using adobe and local materials. You might all wonder why this is so important, but think of it, children are active and they need to play and having a space to play is very important.  (We are working in conjunction with KALLPA, a Peruvian NGO who has been working in the area for the past 5 years on a healthy living campaign in Sangaragá. Our project is keeping in their “Right to Play campaign” in schools in the region).

On the second day, we went on the grounds, visited the school, and introduced ourselves to the director of the school, the teachers and of course all the lovely children.  The school goes from kinder garden to grade 6. They were all so pumped about us being there and so welcoming! It is like a new family adopted us.

We started working right away, transporting the materials and taking of the bark off the wood to be able to use them for the new play structures. When they gave us the plan for the poles, we all thought this would be done in no time, but truth is it took us a couple days to finish it all and be able to do a good job.
While some of us were doing that, others went to cut hay and discovered some amazing spots of Chahuay while working. The next days of the week, other groups went to cut the hay to replace the roofs of the games that were already there and for the new games. We are twelve, which is awesome because we can split the work and everyone can work on everything they want, great team work!
We started painting the poles on the third day and replacing the hay on the roofs, and after 5 days it all looks like a new freshly constructed playground.

The greatest feeling about contributing to this project is to see the children’s happiness and have the people in the community being so grateful and so welcoming to us. When some of the new games were placed and polls were painted, the children would come the next morning and all be excited to be able to play and have their monkey bars and slides freshly repainted and looking brand new. Moreover, each day a different group from the community has been giving us a hand, which allows us to share our experience with them but also our culture, which is great.

On Friday morning, the children presented their local traditional dance. Not only did we get to watch them, but we also had to learn the dance so we were ready to dance with them in front of the whole school on the following Monday morning.  That afternoon, we went to visit a couple families of Chahuay that welcomed us into their homes. They presented us their way of living, and we got to learn more about of the Healthy Homes project with association KALLPA. It is amazing how in this small community, everyone is concerned about organic food and way of living. They have realized the affects of using chemicals on their plants and, with the help of KALLPA and other local NGO´s, have gradually made the change to organic in the past 5 years. Each family has their oven and eco friendly fridge built with adobe and they all have organic vegetables farm. Everything is about sustainable living. It is awesome.

Lucio and some others accompanied us during the visits and then we went to harvest some potatoes with other people of the community.  We then shared a meal around a Huatia, which is cooking potatoes in the ground with an oven made of mud, a custom typical of the potato harvest season. The process of it is so impressive I have no words for it!

We continued our work on Saturday and on Sunday we went fishing with the fishermen of the community, which was a first experience for some of us. We all had a wonderful time and it is heartwarming for all of us to notice how welcoming and nice the people of the community are towards us. We felt that even more the next morning when we danced the traditional dance with the kids and the teachers. They danced and sang for us, they were lovely. However, we also taught them the Cotton eyed Joe dance Courtney taught us, we rocked at it and they loved it.

I think the best part of it is the exchange of culture and traditions, even though we all come from everywhere in Canada, the States or D.R. Congo. The people are so curious of each one of our background and it has been really good sharing with them and learning some words in Quechua , even if we can’t really keep up with it! On Tuesday we had workshop activities with the kids about the right to play. We split ourselves in different groups to be able to work with the different classes. It was really interesting to see the kid’s point of view of playing, and yet they came up with interesting descriptions: health, fun, teamwork, play with friends, education, communication, importance of movements and heart activity. We also played games with them, the famous stormy seas of course, it was fun! It was great to see they all enjoyed it. We then got them in groups of 4 in each class to draw in a board their interpretation of play but also to practice communication between them and teamwork. The boards of their art will be presented during the inauguration, which will allow us to illustrate to the community the importance of the right to play.

In the afternoon, we were all excited to be able to continue working on the playground and we are really happy to have almost completed the painting.  The aim is to be done on Sunday and ready for the inauguration with the entire community on Monday, when sadly, we go back to Cusco and on the Machu Picchu!

The last couple days have been a blast and the feeling of being so welcomed and comfortable with the community makes it hard to think we have leave on Monday. In the last 10 days we learned so much about the community, sustainable living and even using all the tools for the construction of the park that it feels like we have been here forever. The great feeling is also that everywhere we go in Peru, a new home is opened to us and it’s like we have always been here. The thought of going to Machu Picchu is exciting but at the same time having to leave the people of the community is sad. However, knowing we will leave a smile on their face is comforting!

Sofea Jaffer, D.R. Congo and Canada