Opening the Door to the World ; Peruvian Children Who Had Seldom Been out of Their Neighborhoods Go on a Trip - to Discover Their Country

By -, Alfredo Sosa | The Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2002 | Go to article overview

Opening the Door to the World ; Peruvian Children Who Had Seldom Been out of Their Neighborhoods Go on a Trip - to Discover Their Country


-, Alfredo Sosa, The Christian Science Monitor


While wealthy Peruvian families and foreign tourists flock every year to Machu Picchu, crown jewel of the ancient Incan empire, the fact that many Peruvians have never seen the historic city is a sharp reminder of the country's stark division between rich and poor.

In Lima, several miles separate neighborhoods of opulent homes protected by electrified fences from slums called "human settlements," where having utilities is just a wish.

This spring, a program sponsored by a nonprofit American foundation and its partners gave 12 children from the capital city's disadvantaged neighborhoods the opportunity to see beyond their everyday world.

These youngsters - ages 9 to 12 - and 12 parents, three teachers, and a camera crew spent a week in Peru's Valle Sagrado, or Sacred Valley, an area filled with the wonders of the ancient Incan world.

The trip was sponsored by the nonprofit Discovery Channel Global Education Fund (DCGEF) and Globus, a travel company. The goal of the DCGEF is to use technology to improve education in low-income areas of the world.

To qualify for the trip, students and teachers participating in the DCGEF initiative in nine Lima schools were asked to write an essay about what the program had meant to them.

Participating schools in Africa and Latin America receive videos that use content from the Discovery Channel's nature, geography, and history programs. DCGEF also furnishes the equipment needed to show them and teacher training. "The idea is to use the videos as a tool to discuss a wide range of subjects," says Marithza Aldazabal, the DCGEF representative in Peru.

"Any given video could be used in the classroom to address subjects like social values, ecology, history, and even math."

The fact that a video of animals can be seen as a metaphor for human and social values did not seem to escape the children's understanding. The students clearly made the leap between the natural world and their own lives.

"The segment about the Kodiak bears cleaning, feeding, and risking their lives to keep their cubs safe reminded me of our mothers," wrote Cindy Kiara Cabrera. "Many of us have single-parent mothers who give love and education, keep us from any danger, and teach us to be independent in order to live our lives responsibly."

Parents benefit, too

Each child could bring one parent on the six-day trip. For Rebecca Huiper, it was an opportunity to spend time with her daughter, 9-year-old Tania, whom she sees only once a month. Tania attends a parochial boarding school because her mother can't afford to make a home for her.

Rudecindo Lujan, father of two and a physical education teacher, had ambiguous feelings about the trip. On the one hand, he was thankful for the opportunity. On the other hand, he apologized to his son for not being able to provide such things on his own.

Done independently, a day trip to Machu Picchu costs per person: train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu and back, $73; bus ride up and down the mountain, $7; entrance fee to the citadel, $20. And that doesn't include meals or air fare from Lima. That's a formidable amount for an ordinary Peruvian when, according to Mr. Lujan, the average monthly salary of a public employee like himself is $175.

Peru has three distinct geographical regions and climates: rain forest, mountains, and desert. The trip concentrated on the Andean mountain section, where the Inca culture developed.

Cusco, or Qosqo in the native Quechua language, was the starting point of the trip.

Although the Sacred Valley has archaeological evidence dating back to 5000 BC, it is unclear when the first Incas settled there. Estimates range from AD 1200 to 1400. What is well documented is that in 1572, after a war with the Spaniards that lasted 36 years, Tupaq Amaru I, the last emperor of the Incan dynasty, was defeated. …

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