Ayni Wasi

by Emma, Civic Semester Participant

Imagine that you are pregnant, very close to giving birth to your child. You live in a remote region– an 18 hour walk away from the nearest medical center. The medical center may not even have staff willing to speak your language, Quechua, the indigenous language. In Peru, it is mandatory to give birth in a health center, and if you do not, you must pay a fine to have the child legally registered, which is something you cannot afford. If you needed a C-section, or any surgery, you would need to travel another two hours by car to Cusco.

Sacred Valley Health, or Ayni Wasi, is a community-based, public health non-profit devoted to providing access to healthcare in remote areas. They currently work with 14 campesino (agricultural) communities, each an average of four hours walking distance to the nearest town, Ollantaytambo. This organization trains volunteers from the campesino communities to be promotoras, who provide health education and basic medical care such as house visits. The program to train these promotoras lasts two years and ensures that volunteers are well prepared for a variety of situations, including domestic violence, applying tourniquets, anemia, and diarrhea. They also are trained in preventative health, helping others with hygiene and safe water/ cooking practices. The programs are crafted for the communities they are serving and for the volunteers’ learning– the evaluations and course manuals are all mainly photos because many of the potential promotoras cannot read or write. Three out of the seven staff are from local areas, and they must approve each step of the program-creating process. Ayni Wasi surveys community members to see what they believe should be included in the programs. There are currently 57 total promotoras throughout the 14 communities.

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Question Everything, Always

by Ella, Civic Semester Participant

After almost three weeks in the Sacred Valley, it’s become clear that there are hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have planted their roots in these communities, aiming to positively impact lives. Each of these organizations has a distinct mission with very different backgrounds, goals, and staff. We won’t have the opportunity to learn about or interact with the majority of these NGOs, but through the Civic Semester, we will be able to immerse ourselves in two each week.

Of the organizations that we’ve visited so far, two of the three have been international—meaning that the founders, funding, and majority of the staff aren’t from Peru, or even from South America. We’ve done a lot of reflecting on what this means for the organization, and for the impact. We carefully noted whether or not local people are hired on decision-making teams and questioned how this step might change an NGO’s impact.

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Canastas Verdes – El Poder de la Mujer

by Teagan, Civic Semester Participant

What is sustainable farming? What does permaculture mean? Why is biodiversity important? And how do you achieve food sovereignty?

Last week, our cohort visited two local organizations dedicated to organic and sustainable farming in the Andes. One Monday, after a 45-minute walk uphill through unfamiliar streets, we were greeted by Liz, Magda, and Lucía from Canastas Verdes. Canastas Verdes is a small, women-led farming co-op in Urubamba that grows organic vegetables on their own land. Each woman wore a turquoise and gray sweat suit, a matching bucket hat, and a huge smile across their face. The women spoke Quechua to each other and Spanish to us, so Elaine, a student in our cohort, translated throughout the day. At Canastas Verdes, four to eight women work on any given day but there are only three main members who grow crops on the land adjacent to their homes. Liz took us on a tour of her parcel, the first and largest of the three that we would visit. She grew varieties of lettuce, kale, cauliflower, carrots, and other vegetables all within close proximity. Shade was provided by a dozen fruit trees surrounding the perimeter, and Liz gave us a few lemons and lúcumas (a native Peruvian fruit) to try. We passed around the lemon, taking turns biting into the peel and flesh. It was sour and delicious. The lúcuma was in lesser demand, as it had a dry texture like a sweet potato and a very subdued flavor.

Our first activity at Canastas Verdes was learning how to make organic fertilizer. We took turns chopping alfalfa and barley with a machete, mixing the yeast, water, and sugar in a 5-gallon bucket, and cementing our creation together like a cake. The layers alternated between the grassy mixture, dry leaves, cuy (guinea pig) manure, the water-yeast mixture, and a crushed concoction of eggshells, ash, and dried bird poop. When our stack was up to our knees, we flipped the “cake” over with a pitchfork in order for the ingredients to properly mix. Magda told us that the fertilizer would need to ferment for about three months before it could be used on the farm.

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Making Urubamba my Home

by Teagan, Civic Semester Participant

Yesterday officially marked two weeks in Urubamba. It is crazy that in just fourteen days, we’ve learned our way to and from the market, created our own daily routines in the program house, and begun to communicate in local landmarks and inside jokes. We’ve gone through a whole cycle of breakfast crews and have each taken a turn cleaning up lunch and dinner. We know what fruit stands have the best avocados, and what “tourist trap” grocery stores to avoid. We’ve fallen into rhythm with the sun and the moon. I truly feel that we are on the way to becoming a family, and there is nothing that I look forward to more than thirteen other smiling faces at the dinner table each night.

While we’ve been physically in Urubamba for a fortnight, I didn’t feel quite settled until yesterday. After a lazy morning of laundry and YouTube, I put on a clean shirt and pair of jeans, did my hair with a bandana, and packed my fanny pack for a day out. I texted Tsering that I was going to Miga’s, a cafe with the best pain au chocolat in the Sacred Valley, and set foot outside of the house by myself for the first time.

I only had a rough itinerary, and with no Google Maps to consult or time constraint to abide by, I felt free. I just wanted to wander through the side streets and explore the unfamiliar cafes. The walk to the Plaza de las Armas felt so familiar under the soles of my Tevas, and I even stopped the impulse to take a photo of the mountains every three minutes—a real sign of growth.

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Colors of the Local Market

by Veena, Zhiyi & Iris, Civic Semester Participants

We spent our first evening wandering the plaza and exploring the local market. Vendors selling woven bags, clothing, and hundreds of colorful fruits dressed each corner of the streets. Being in the local market reminded me of home and how desperately I wanted to share the beautiful tropical fruits with my family. It reminded me of my aunt, who stops us on the corner of every street to pick fruits, my grandma’s lemon trees, and my parents and siblings, who display their love by cutting fruit for each other. We entered our new home in Urubamba, welcomed with bananas, apples, and freshly squeezed juice, and at the market with tons of fruits I could never get at home. Sharing fruit is my family’s love language, and knowing that it is a part of the community here makes me feel so much closer to home.

– Veena

It’s very exciting to see all the fruits and vegetables sitting there, group by group, freshly. It seems that they’ve just been picked from the trees. They are not beautiful ones with no stains. Some of them are even wrapped in mud, totally different from what I find in US supermarkets. This scene actually reminds me of home. My family always believes the best and freshest food comes from piles in the market instead of the prettily packaged ones on goods shelves. It is always an amazing experience to discover how tasteful the fruits can be after carefully selecting my favorite ‘ugly’ ones from a large pile. I can’t wait to visit the market more and develop my ability to identify better plants.

– Zhiyi

As the sun set, we gathered on the steps in front of the church, shimmering golden in the late evening light; a group of teenagers gathered outside and began to dance. They wore white and blue skirts over their pants for practice, moving in nearly perfect synchronizations up and down the landing. Teagan and Sophia asked to join them, and before long, a group of us stood in the back, trying our best to keep up. The girls would look back at us every few steps, ensuring we followed along, laughing at our clumsiness. The sun set, the only light coming from the bubbling fountain and church behind us as we all took a bow, our bright rain jackets and their white skirts coming together as we spun and smiled.

– Iris

Orienting Ourselves Between the Mountains

by Eleanor, Nica & Ella, Civic Semester Participants

As our van backed into the tight driveway of our home for the next three months, I had no idea where I was. Sure, Urubamba, Peru–I’d been spitting out the name of this city for the last 4 months to anyone asking about my college plans. But where were we, really? Where was the nearest panaderia; how far is the walk to a drug store; what street am I even on? This was a mere 23 hours ago, and today I still have some of the same questions echoing through my head. But, today, I know where to find un Churro Peruano, and how to get to the plaza, and the closest place to buy the toiletries I ditched so my duffel would zip shut. How do you orient yourself to a city, country, and continent completely new to you? In Urubamba, you memorize the mountains. I know what the Andes look like from my window, and how the perspective is different from the plaza. I know which landmarks to look for (most notable: 711 DIMA carved into the mountain directly in front of our house), and how to find my way using them. The mountains are the key to knowing where we are, I hope to never let the magic of this new compass grow dull.

Another unexpected beauty of this compound is how easily sound travels from one side to the other. I was half asleep in the warmest bed when Jacob called out to me from outside, “I can see the Milky Way!” I ran outside, freezing in just my pajamas and socks, to the center of the compound’s grass where Jacob stood and was looking up with a smile on his face. Sure enough, we could see the hazy grouping, clearer than I’d ever been able to see with my town’s light pollution and low elevation. Just as amazing to us as we craned our necks upward was how the constellations were different from the ones we’d seen back home, or at Tufts. Little differences like this, or how half of us nearly took freezing cold showers when the faucet marked “C” was “calor” (hot) and “F” was for “frio” (cold), have made this experience even more exciting, as we learn not to trust what comes to mind first. The sunlight here is extremely direct as we are so close to the equator and so high up in altitude. Sitting in the sun completely encloses you in heat, despite the cool, clear air. Being so connected to the universe by seeing the stars in a new way and feeling the new heat of the sun fills us with renewed gratitude, an occurrence that has happened many times since arriving in Peru.

By moving somewhere completely new to us all, we’re learning to find our way and form perspective using collections of completely new experiences. Whether that’s memorizing the Andes that surround us, studying the shifted constellations, or remembering that C means “calor” and not “cold,” I’m excited to see the new ways that our perspectives are challenged, and expanded. I can’t wait to see the ways that Urubamba becomes home.