By Chloe Green
Peru makes you feel strong. It also humbles you. The terrain around you is beautiful but unforgiving. You can see in the faces of the people that you meet, that life is not easy here. The effects of altitude are ever-present in the lives of the locals. Casa Chapi is located at 12,000’ in the Colca Valley and a mile outside of the town Chivay. Chivay is a small town, with a population just around five-thousand, that’s just upstream from the dramatic Colca Canyon.
We were here to see the sights, of course, but also to visit Casa Chapi, a small school located near Chivay and built by Quechua Benefit – an American NGO working in the highlands of Peru.
Chivay was the second stop on my family’s trip. The first being in the large city of Arequipa. Travel between the two required a three-hour bus ride over a 16,000’ mountain pass before a descent into the Colca Valley. Chivay is rural, the roads are dirt, and many homes have rocks placed strategically atop the roofs of the houses to keep the roofs on.
Our hotel didn’t have heat so my mom and I ended up piling all the blankets on one of the twin sized beds to stay as warm as we could. And I felt tough for what, to me, was “roughing it”. But within my first few days of traveling in the valley, I would find that my “roughing it” could easily pass as luxury for many people living in this area.
We visited a home of one of the girls who attends Casa Chapi. She shared it with her whole family, including aunts and cousins and sometimes others. They had pigs that lived in their space, their rooms were dark and cold, they cooked outside and it was quite obvious that life was hard. But the broad smiles on the kid’s faces made you believe that it wasn’t. The kindness of her parents, the way they had drawn on of their walls, all their children’s homework schedules, the math posters taped up beside them, all made you understand that they loved their children as much as any other parent, and they only wanted the very best for them. Seeing this made me realize how important Casa Chapi is to these families.
Casa Chapi wants to build an English language program as another avenue to bettering their lives of these students. They need English speaking teachers – teachers who care and are invested. It is not hard to be invested once you meet all the kids. However, it certainly takes a certain type of young person to live here for an extended period of time, because 1) it is clear you need to be passionate about people, and your investment in their cause needs to outweigh the thoughts of warm beds and Wi-Fi access, and 2) you have to be able to find the positive, the funny, and the endearing in the daily challenges you would face.
These children and this community will be grateful, and in the end you will be equally grateful. The value of seeing past your personal challenges and desire for modern amenities and embracing these children and their cause will undoubtedly leave an impression on them and on you. Peru will humble you. Peru will make you feel strong.