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.



Back in Uratari, Peru

By Rick Berman, Volunteer

It’s been less than three years since Liz and I visited Uratari.  What a fabulous surprise we were in for when we returned with Dick, and Jarret this May.  The new ultrasound machine and ambulance were just the icing on the cake.  The tiny, roofless, partially-built clinic had turned into a thriving little hospital, complete with a doctor, nurses, a dentist, pharmacist, lab technician, and most importantly, patients filled with hope.

The celebration of the local officials was also joyous, (we even got gold medals). But the recognition really deserves to be directed toward Dick and his colleagues.  For Liz and me, the satisfaction of knowing that we are involved in a small way, was celebration enough.

After meetings with Herben Alvarez, the mayor of Limatambo (a terrific guy), we visited an amazingly modern pre-school, which is a prototype for the one planned for Uratari. We then saw the medical outreach program thriving in Pivil. In the ancient church, the doctor performed ophthalmology exams, while the dentist was at work nearby. The micro-loan beekeepers were proudly showing off their new projects, as were the guinea pig farmers back in Uratari the day before. On our way home that evening, we scouted a possible location for a future trout farm.

We were again honored to be invited to the baptism of the Mayor’s son; a beautiful ceremony in a 16th century church, followed by a four-hour party. Every step of the way, day after day, we were accompanied by our amazing partners from Tengo un Sueno; Salvador, Coti and Lourdes Herencia.

Driving through the magnificent countryside each day, we couldn’t help but feel enormous pride in bringing medical assistance and commerce to people who, by circumstance, live far more difficult lives than we do.  We look forward to our continuing support, and especially our next visit to Peru.

The Ascending Path to the Uratari Medical Center

Uratari_Janet_0411By Jean Shin, Volunteer

It has already been over a week since I last held Janet’s hand saying good-bye, and watched the kids of Uratari disappear in the rearview mirror of the van coming back to Cusco—for my slow return to New York. But I can’t seem to be sufficiently afar enough to articulate my impressions of the magical place called the Uratari Medical Center. Perhaps it’s the overwhelming warmth of the numerous hands and cheeks they greeted me with, or maybe it was the breathtaking, lush landscape of the Andes after a long rainy season…no, above all, to my greatest surprise, it was the sight of bricks and mortar: a shining white building with an even shinier blue fence and door!

Having had the opportunity to hear an overview about the place from the founder of The Denan Project (TDP) Dick Young, and the local partners at Salgalu (Salvador, Clotilde, and Lourdes), and to see some pictures of the Center’s progress, I thought I had a pretty good idea what to expect. Little did I know…

The experience started to stir up my emotions even before I set foot into the Center. Taken by the breathtaking landscape above and beneath the ever-ascending path to Uratari (13,300 ft above the sea level), I almost missed the lone Quechua woman walking up the road. When the driver (the vice mayor of Limatambo) told us that she is walking to the Center, I turned around to see her—and saw what drives the volunteers of TDP. A woman in traditional Quechua garments and sandals taking brisk steps forward to reach the Center where she can (probably for the first time in her life) receive answers to her nagging health problems in her native tongue, and get the cares she needs—and even see a dentist for the first time—all free of charge.

Upon arrival at the Center, I was amazed by the sheer size and warmth of the reception from the village people, the medical staff, and the local municipal staff. And when I caught sight of the Center, I was completely awed. It seemed decidedly new and different from the mudbrick, rundown houses surrounding it. The Center stood like a shining beacon of promises kept—even exceeded. A functioning medical center with a maternity ward, a dental office, a pharmacy/lab, in-patient rooms, a kitchen, and a work-in-progress garden for medicinal plants…all built, brick by brick, by the people of Uratari with the materials provided by the TDP. Tight hand-shakes and embraces paced my movements as I navigated through the facility with awe. As I was overhearing how the community wanted to surprise Dick by putting the fence up ahead of the schedule, my heart melted with the realization that this place is so perfectly ready to create a better future.

Even with the excitements of the festivity of the 1st day still potent in my senses (my taste buds included), I couldn’t help but notice the challenges still ahead for the Center to provide higher quality of service for a greater number of people—and ultimately expand into all aspects of the five-finger approach of TDP (Health, Education, Water, Agriculture/Food, Cottage Industries). Listening at Dick’s meetings with the medical staff (the Head Doctor, Dentist, Nurses, and Cleaner, who are all hired locally and paid by TDP), the local partner Salgalu, and the mayor of the Limatambo (with jurisdiction over Uratari) for the following days, my heart became full of optimism. A sense of shared mission was apparent in every aspect: the community’s willingness to build a house for a villager who has given his house to the Center for its plans to build a preschool and a guest house; the mayor’s commitment to explore all means to secure an ambulance; the team’s plan to build a footbridge over the Apurimac River to help the neighbors reach the Center; etc.

Walking around the Center during its “normal” day, I found myself uttering a cliché: If you build it, they will come. Come, they did. A pregnant woman who just saw a sonogram for the first time; a shy boy who just sat on a dental chair for the first time; an ancient-looking woman who just found out how old she was (some of the Quechua-speaking people can’t read their own ID cards which are written in Spanish); a long line of men, women, and kids (many with their dogs) waiting patiently to register and see the doctor; dozens of school boys and men lined up in the front yard to receive a haircut by beauticians that came from Limatambo; and many more. Everywhere I turned, I could feel something real, something very tangible happening. All with such warmth and care.

Leaving Uratari, even with a plan of my return, wasn’t easy. I walked around once more with my hands stretched out hoping that Janet (who wasn’t sure of her own age, and was too shy to tell me her name until I had to get it from her friend) would show up and hold my hand as she did on the first day I met her. But no sight of her this time. Then there she was, walking right up to the van just before we drove away…Sitting in the van with my lap covered with the beautiful, hand-woven blanket I received from the Uratari women as a parting gift, I could see the threads that connect us all—all in bright colors and brilliant harmony.