Seven years ago, a rural community of 210 families opened their first elementary school- the Pumamarca School. It is a small school that consists of three main buildings and greenhouses that were constructed by the community members. The greenhouses which provides healthy food for the school are cared for by the children and staff at the school.
From the moment we arrived at the school, it was obvious that the community, teachers, and students felt great pride and ownership for their school. It was well kept, radiant with vibrant murals painted on the buildings, and full of energy! Some children were washing their own cups and utensils at the communal sink while others brushed their teeth.
Once we were briefed, the students and teachers came out to greet us in the open area outside. They lined up by grade levels- kindergarten (ages 3-5) through 6th grade. While the director of the school greeted us warmly, I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the children wiggle but remain calm and well-behaved. They were all so beautiful, filled with hope and joy!
Next, Edgar (the school director) brought out his guitar and the students and staff sang us their school song. I do not speak Spanish, but somehow understood the message of pride and the hope of a bright future. After the song, we presented the school three boxes of books for their library… it seemed such a small offering but their faces lit up and clapping erupted when it was translated that the books were for them!
When another song started, a student came up to me, took my hand, and we danced to the music. Other students began to pull other fellows up to dance and soon we were all dancing. Something else happened that we would never experience in an American school. It was almost like a receiving line at a wedding, one by one each student gave us a warm Hola’ and showered us in ribbons, flower petals, and hugs.
I was overwhelmed by the genuine warmth and affection that these young children showed us. My heart was filled with pure joy… a joy that I can’t quite describe, but also a longing to do more for the children of Pumamarca. These children have so little, yet they are rich with the things that matter most- pride, respect, and love as well as family, culture, and tradition.
The children of Pumamarca could be the glimmer of hope Peru needs to break free from the poverty that over-shadows the beauty of a country rich with history. My hope for the children of Pumamarca is the same as my hope for my students here in America. I want them all to be happy, and become engaged, caring, successful global citizens.
I believe are all born with a curious nature, wonderment, awe, and love for life… but time and life experiences often strip them away. If we want a world filled with love, joy, and peace, then we need to start by providing all children nourishment that fills the stomach; safe, warm environments to sleep and learn; and a strong foundation of learning that allows for exploration and discovery about themselves and the world they live in!