I once asked Lenora, a Quechua lady living in the Colca Valley, what she thought of the foreign tourists coming into her valley. She replied, “They come, they take pictures, and they leave no money.”
I have often thought about what Lenora said and felt in my heart that this is just not right.When Quechua Benefit began going to Peru in 1996, our only thought was to pull teeth, relieve the immediate pain, and pass out some warm clothes. But it is impossible to make the trip year after year and not wonder how to affect, in some small way, a permanent change.
More than 10 years after our first mission, the board of Quechua Benefit decided to build a children’s boarding house, at 11,000 feet above sea level in the Colca Valley, so that the children could attend school in town. These students would be the neediest in the region, many of whom lived in high-risk households or too far away from any school to feasibly attend.
Construction on the children’s home was completed in late 2010, and the first 20 kids immediately moved into Casa Chapi. At first, the kids attended school in the nearby towns of Chivay and Yanque and returned home to Casa Chapi each evening where warm meals, housemothers and tutors greeted them. Soon, teachers at the local schools noticed that the children living at Casa Chapi excelled in their class work, were well behaved, and happy.
Next, a delegation from the Ministry of Education asked to visit the children’s village to see what was going on, what was making a difference. Another group came from the Ministry shortly after, again to observe. Finally, they asked to meet with the Board of Directors of Quechua Benefit.
The Director of the Ministry of Education in Arequipa asked if we would be willing to build a school at Casa Chapi. He said they would certify the school, pay for the teachers, provide books, and supply the food for breakfast and lunch. All they requested is that we construct a school building. Until that point, Quechua Benefit had no plans for a school or funds for the building. The ministry badly wanted a project like Casa Chapi to be a model for other nonprofits to build similar facilities in the highlands, and they allowed us to create temporary classrooms in the garage, the medical clinic, and the living room of one of the children’s casitas.
These fully staffed temporary classrooms opened in 2013.
One year later, Quechua Benefit had raised enough money to build a beautiful new school with a computer lab, library, administrative offices and dormitories for 12 additional children. The Casa Chapi Schoolhouse opened its doors in March 2016.
Inspired by the success, the donors and board members began dreaming: how can we create a school curriculum that will become a pathway to hope, modeled on the privileged private schools in the developed nations of the world? We decided the new school would teach foreign languages beginning in the first grade, include a computer lab, and hire well-qualified teachers. We wanted for it to be a school that every one of us would consider a privilege for our own children to attend.
This thought led to the idea of creating Partner School relationships with elite, independent schools interested in teaching their students about different cultures and levels of need. Schools who would actively participate with Quechua Benefit in missions to Peru, exchange students, art camps, and fundraising. Schools that would share their experience as educators.
The first Partner School agreement has been forged with Cascades Academy in Bend, Oregon. Cascades Academy is currently hosting its first exchange student from Casa Chapi, their students from have already started volunteering at Casa Chapi, and they recently hosted a very successful fundraiser. Quechua Benefit’s goal is to have a total of four partner schools – one for each classroom.
Before our first visit to Peru in 1996, we could not have imagined the path we would follow and the positive impact 20 years of social justice programs would make. We learn more with each new initiative and each visit. There is still so much to be done. We need your help and we need your love to continue this good work.