Field Report: It takes a village, sometimes even a continent. Education on the high Andes.

Out of the four medical centers that The Denan Project (TDP) is funding in some of the most impoverished parts of the world, namely Ethiopia, Peru and Mongolia, I must admit that our medical center in Uratari, Peru speaks to me the most. Perhaps it’s because I saw the community people building it themselves, brick by brick…perhaps…

In addition to the routine due-diligence activities, this time I had a special reason to be there. I wanted to work with the six high school students from The Pingry School (including three volunteers of TDP) who are visiting TDP sites as part of their leadership program organized by The World Leadership School.

[This report was originally written during my visit to TDP’s project sites in Peru in late June, 2018 in order to share the experience with my fellow board members and other volunteers at TDP.]

Day 0: A Country of Mountains, Jungle and Ocean

Soaking in the ocean air after a 17-hour journey from Munich to Lima. So began my third visit to this enchanting nation where you can climb the High Andes, turn to the Amazon rainforest, and touch the Pacific ocean.

Day 1: All Roads Lead to Anta

In order to get to any of the five villages on our agenda, we had to go through Anta, one of Cusco’s 13 provinces. In fact, the municipal office of Anta is our partner who’s been handling our local fund distribution so that we can save on money transfers from the US, and local transactions related to medical and micro-loan programs. So, our week-long agenda started out with going over the accounting records with the municipality of Anta.

Day 2: From the Ground Up

After another quick stop in Anta, we started the day with a meeting with the community in Churo. We huddled together and went over the details of a micro loan project the community wanted for raising cuys (guinea pigs which are a major source of dietary protein for the community people as well as a source of income). From Churo, we traveled farther to a neighboring village of Pampahuaylla.

As soon as we entered Pampahuaylla, I could see why this community is considered richer than Churo, our previous stop. A new elementary school, cheerful kids on the street and all others huddled around the only TV in the village to watch the Peruvian team playing in the World Cup 2018…it was lively!

This is where Elio (TDP’s first scholarship student who earned a college degree) came from. We visited Elio’s family and, over some meat and potato, shared our mutual pride in Elio’s success. With a mechanical engineering degree he earned, Elio was getting started to build his own business.

Day 3: Welcoming Pingry School Students to Uratari

Learning together with the volunteer students from the Pingry School was my main reason for the site visit this year. I was curious about the experiences the US high school students would have with the local communities, especially with the local students.

The visit started with a community-wide welcoming ceremony. Although I’ve experienced the warmth and hard labor the entire community puts into welcoming TDP volunteers before, I was deeply moved by the excitements and warm interactions between the students and the villagers.

Day 4: Breaking Potatoes Together

After my first overnight experience at the Uratari Medical Center (shared a room with the resident nurse), I joined the Pingry students to visit the neighboring village Choquemarca, the poorest community in the Limatambo district of the Anta province. We were joined by the TDP medical outreach team headed by Dr. Yair. Choquemarca’s biggest problem is the absence of a water supply. Facing this all-too-common issue across many small communities in developing countries, I was happy to hear that the community of Uratari was exploring ways to share their water with Choquemarca.

In between micro-loan program discussions and medical outreach visits, the team was treated with the local specialty of meat and potato, prepared and served in the way that only the originals can. (Right, potatoes are originally from Peru.)

Dr. Yair (right) examining a patient during TDP’s medical outreach in Choquemarca

Day 5: High Aptitude for Higher Education

As part of TDP’s support for school education, the Golden Condor awards (with cash incentives) are given to top three students in the 8th, 9th, 10th 11th and 12th grade students in Uratari. Our visiting students were joined by the entire community in the schoolyard for the award ceremony.

Day 6–7: TDP Goes to the Peruvian Congress

Discussing TDP’s proposal for building a boarding school with the President of the Peruvian Congress (center)

Back in Lima, a different topic was high on our agenda. Past few months, the TDP team has been working on a proposal to build a boarding school in Uratari (right next to the existing school, above). Our goals were: i) to give the children in neighboring remote villages a chance to get a higher education (there’s no high school in villages like Pampahuaylla we visited on Day 1, above); ii) to proactively reduce the possibility of the high school in Uratari having to shut down at some point in the future.

Our meeting with the Peruvian Congress was to get the support for the boarding school initiative — together with the Pingry School students. Thanks to Congressman Wilbert Rozas, who originally helped TDP select the project site in Uratari, we were able to meet with the Education Committee Chairwoman Paloma Noceda, and the President of the Peruvian Congress Luis Galarreta. After a series of discussions, the team was able to gain the support we were asking for — and walk away with the specific next steps!

Changes are coming…sometime too fast, sometimes not fast enough. I don’t know what changes I’ll see when I return to Uratari next time. Perhaps a shiny new boarding school. Perhaps another ambulance vehicle at the medical center. Perhaps…But I do know this much, the men, women and children of the community will gather around in a big circle and tell us all about it. The changes that happened. The changes they want to bring about.

__ Ends __

TDP’s Pingry High School Group Visits Peru and Studies Sustainable Community-Building Firsthand

By Miro Bergam, Ethan Malzberg, and Ketaki Tavan

In the Spring of 2017, we held our First Annual Charity Night for The Denan Project – a non-profit that supports isolated and impoverished communities around the world.  As the student leaders of the Pingry Denan Project group, we had already organized a few other fundraising events like pizza sales and Dress Down Days. The Spring fundraiser, however, took our efforts to the next level.  Rather than focusing just on fundraising,  it expanded the attention to include education and awareness of the organization.  We also decided to raise money for a particular goal – the funding of a water tanker in Denan, Ethiopia, greatly needed during a country-wide drought.  We asked Dick Young, the President and Founder of The Denan Project (TDP), to be the keynote speaker, and an audience of over 100 attendees took time out of their Friday evenings to learn more about the charity and its mission. In the end, we raised more than $10,000 for the organization.

There was a second unexpected outcome of the event. Towards the end of the night, we were approached by Mr. Jewett, Pingry’s Director of Global Programs, who proposed a trip to one of TDP’s locations. The three of us had already been thinking about planning a trip related to the charity near the end of high school, but having Mr. Jewett to collaborate with, we were able to transform that idea into the first-ever student-driven Pingry Global Program. We led the charge in designing the curriculum and the accompanying itinerary for the trip, guided by Mr. Jewett’s knowledge of experiential education, and set in motion plans for a trip during the Summer of 2018.

Having been involved with The Denan Project for nearly three years, we set out with specific questions about nonprofit work that we knew we couldn’t find answers to in a classroom setting. We wanted to understand how organizations operated from the inside. Eventually, we decided that the purpose of the trip would be to conduct case studies of three NGOs in Peru, including TDP, through the lens of sustainability. Sustainability, as it applies to our research, is the ability of an NGO’s work to foster independence in a community; we hypothesized that, in an ideal world, a sustainable NGO could step away from the community in a finite period of time and the community would thrive on its own (as opposed to a charity pouring endless resources into a project).

Specifically, we compared and contrasted models for building sustainable communities, exploring the following questions:

  • Is this work sustainable, and if not, how can it be improved?
  • Does the work build independence or dependence in local communities?
  • What are the impacts of international donations and/or volunteers in local communities?
  • What roles do these NGOs assume in the structure of Peruvian society?
  • How do factors such as tourism frequency and geography influence the approach and impact of an NGO?
  • Who started these NGOs? Are the voices of Peruvians listened to?

 

We left for our trip in June of 2018. Sacred Valley Health (SVH), also known as Ayni Wasi in Quechua, was the first NGO we visited. Based in Ollantaytambo, SVH serves nearby high-altitude communities by giving health education to elected women called “Promotoras.” Promotoras are trained bimonthly in Ollantaytambo and serve as caregivers in their home communities. Promotoras are trained by “Docentes,” also women from local communities. By giving these jobs to local women, SVH helps set the communities on a path of success regardless of whether SVH is there in the future. SVH’s approach to sustainability relies on the training of Promotoras and Docentes so that they can depend on their own knowledge rather than that of SVH.

Awamaki, the second NGO we visited during the trip, helps register all-female weaving collectives as official businesses. Awamaki assists these collectives in determining the value of their weaving products and helps the women gain confidence in their selling strategies. In doing so, Awamaki hopes to preserve the weaving tradition in rural communities. By instilling confidence in the women and helping the cooperatives become officially recognized, these women are able to continue the tradition of their craft. Awamaki’s model of sustainability depends on women graduating its program and becoming autonomous in the weaving economy.

The Denan Project was the last NGO we visited. Its microloan program, through which TDP loans out cuy (small animals favored in the local diet) and bees to local people, teaches business skills and fiscal responsibility. Because of the nature and success of its microloans (the program has enjoyed a 100% success rate), TDP has never lost money on a transaction. The use of microloans, rather than simply pouring donations into the community, makes the exchange inherently sustainable. Additionally, the recipients of the loans themselves are the ones responsible for turning the loans into a business that stimulates the economy of their community. These skills and the businesses that result can outlast TDP itself.

The greatest finding we learned while investigating TDP’s project was that, oftentimes, sustainability must be compromised for greater change to be impacted. For example, the funding of TDP’s hospital would not be possible without large international donations, but these are rarely sustainable and ongoing sources of money. However, without such donations, TDP would be unable to offer medical care as a service. TDP’s practical outlook on sustainability allows the organization to efficiently provide an array of services; this perspective elucidated us to the limits of an exclusively sustainable approach.

In addition to the three NGOs, we visited sites across Peru including Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu. While sightseeing in these locations was highly enjoyable, the immersive nature of our trip made them equally academic. Witnessing the commodification and tourism of Machu Picchu served as a standing reminder of how tourism can shape the landscape for indigenous peoples — something we saw both do and undo the work of charities like Awamaki and Ayni Wasi. For example, tourism funds the work of Awamaki through workshops they run for visitors, while at the same time making their work more challenging by introducing cheaply made souvenirs that undercut the prices of traditional weavers. In this way, tourism is a double-edged sword.

The trip reached its climax when we visited the Congress of Peru in Lima on our final day. The group had the opportunity to meet with Congressman Wilbert Rozas, Secretary of Education Paloma Noceda, and President of the Congress Luis Galarreta. We discussed TDP’s planned construction of a boarding school in Uratari that would allow students from neighboring villages to attend classes. This meeting put to work all of the communication skills and NGO knowledge we had accrued during our two-week trip.

The work of the three NGOs we visited all involved unique ways of helping local communities. Each organization took their own approach to understand the specific circumstances within which they were operating and the local people’s needs. We saw that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be applied to nonprofit work. Whereas one charity may thrive off a tourist economy, such as Awamaki which sells woven goods to tourists, others must subsist in different ways, such as TDP which actively seeks out locations too remote for tourist engagement. Similarly, all charities had different relationships with governmental structures, with TDP relying on local officials to oversee the execution of their projects and Ayni Wasi having a location in Ollantaytambo that has to collaborate with the government-run health post.

Over the course of our trip we saw that charity work is not inherently perfect. An NGO’s model can only be sustainable with the understanding that the organization must adapt to the needs of and empower the local people. However, we believe that with this awareness, an effective and long-lasting impact can be made.