In Peru, some new public schools exist with the best high tech equipment for 21st century learning. The schools also provide housing and clothing to the students who attend. The Peruvian government has made a committment to improve education, however these schools are only made available to the best and brightest children who score well on a test. One might argue that this is a good start. The government has made a commitment to improve education for the children of Peru, yet it is hard to look the other way when thousands of other Peruvian children, who are just as deserving, have to walk hours to the nearest school, attend schools that are in need of desperate repairs, or don’t have access to a school at all.
A non-profit group named, Peru’s Challenge is changing this inequity in small rural communities. The organization works as partners with community members to transform their community into a self-sustaining, thriving environment that includes homes with more than one room and running water, greenhouses to feed the community and bring in a source of income, and access to a community school- all built with pride and owned by the community. I was fortunate to visit one of these communities called, Pumamarca.
While education is free for children ages 6-14 in Peru, more than 85% of children do not attend school in Cusco. Over two hundred families in Pumamarca have access to the community school. Seven years ago when this elementary school opened over 80% of the students were malnourished, while alcoholism and domestic abuse plagued the impoverished community. The same government that created beautiful schools for the top students in Peru needed convincing that the children of Pumamarca would benefit from a school in their own community.
In order for the school to be built, the community members and leaders of Peru’s Challenge had to lobby the government to use the farm land to build the school. They also worked with the Department of Education to ensure that after 6 years, the department would fund all 6 teachers’ salaries at the school. Peru’s Challenge paid for 5 teachers for the first year while the government paid for one teacher salary. Then for each year that followed, Peru’s Challenge paid for one less teacher while the government began to sustain the resources and teacher salaries one by one. (In Peru, the average teacher’s salary is between $260-300 per month.)
Today, only 10% of students at the Pumamarca school suffer from malnourishment and 100% of the students continue to secondary school. Alcoholism and domestic abuse are no longer issues for the Pumamarca community. The children and teachers of Pumamarca School maintain the three main buildings and the greenhouses of the school. There is no access to internet at the school and resources are limited, but that doesn’t seem to hinder the learning, growth, and pride that exists in the community of Pumamarca.
There is no doubt that Peru’s Challenge has made an impact in this community as well as others in rural Peru. The founders and volunteers believed that given the opportunity and resources, the people of Pumamarca could change the cycle of poverty that exists. Hope exists in this community. The children are eager to learn and dream of a brighter future, while their parents have learned how to better provide for their family and themselves. A true testament of the power of education and its ability to create hope in places that need it the most.