The Sacred Valley Project: Learning Through Exchange

Centro Educativo Pallata Ayllu (CEPA) is a community organized, culturally grounded education center in the Pallata community of the Cusco department, Peru. Our mission is to ensure that all Pallata community members have access to high quality classes that address community-identified needs. We achieve our mission by bringing in community leaders, teachers, and international volunteers to teach specific courses, as well as providing regular literacy and computer classes three times a week. 

Learning Through Exchange

 My name is Amélie Desormeaux, and I am a volunteer teacher at CEPA in Pallata, Peru- far away from my home in Lousiana. After two months of teaching in Pallata, I feel as though I have begun to form a new home here.

 Each day serves to increase my pride and love for my students and their eagerness to learn English, participate in an exciting new oral history project, and gain and share knowledge about healthy living through our Friday workshops. In our English lessons, the kids in the youngest group enjoy correcting each other’s mistakes and helping those who haven’t quite perfected writing yet. They learn fast so that they will have time at the end of class to draw pictures of their new English vocabulary.

 The older group consistently asks how to say certain words and phrases in English that they encounter in their daily lives, and they question grammatical rules that leave me wondering if I even really know the English language. They are all the more excited to learn new words in English because it means that they will get to come to the board, play teacher, and teach me the corresponding word in Quechua. On Wednesdays, we participate in an oral history project in conjunction with a similar after-school program in the U.S. The kids get to map out their town and favorite places then make movies out of the stories of the places they mapped. Our filming days are always our best days, with everyone on their best behavior as they take turns as directors, cameramen, actors and writers.

 I have been surprised many times, expecting their places and stories to be about the various famous ruins in the area but instead receiving stories about every day life in the local chapel and elementary school. I have found our days of filming to be useful tools for discussion on local issues and especially for tearing down an already budding machista perspective, while the boys often believe that the girls cannot direct or do certain jobs the girls always prove themselves worthy of the task. We look forward to the end of the project when we get to share what we have made with the other group working in the U.S. and finally see their films. On Fridays, we learn from each other the various aspects of healthy living; thus far we have created a cookbook with recipes made of locally grown foods that cover all of the necessary food-groups. The kids were excited to learn how food gives us energy at the very small level of minerals and vitamins. 

We will now move on to discussion on how we can better respect the Earth. I can’t wait to see how their perspectives may be similar or different from the perspectives of the children in my home in Louisiana and especially to share local tales on how we depend on the earth, Pachamama, for survival. My experience in Pallata has been one marked by a fruitful exchange of ideas. I hope that the kids feel as empowered as I do to know that we both have such useful knowledge worthy of teaching others. At the end of each day we all enjoy putting our work down and just playing together, whether it is dress-up, puzzles, or fútbol we get to laugh and learn lessons about life that can only be gained through community.