This country, Peru, has taken me by surprise. Lima, seen as a distant and very large coastal city in my dreams, compared to New York City or Los Angeles, but it cannot be compared to anything I’ve ever seen. I will have to temper my experience by saying that it is winter, and so, even though it may be in the 70’s, it has been cold and very misty the entire time.
The Fulbright Commission, and our beloved IREX leaders Emily and Chrissy, made every effort to insure that we were full of knowledge, food and experiences before leaving for our host schools. It was absolutely a treasure to be able to meet up with our crew and discuss our assigned schools, and our fears and doubts, and exuberance!
Violetta, our in- country, consult was full of practicle knowledge about her country. Juan Carlos Calligros, an anthropologist from Lima, amazed and distressed me about the fate of the indigenous people of Peru and really the entire educational system. Racism is prevalent, as is gender inequality, and I will have to write more about our discussions later. After our discussions my worries for “our female students” grew.
On Thursday we visited two rural schools in Lima. The students were so open and happy to see us, there were many kisses and photos. The first school I.E. Tupac Amaru, was absolutely devoid of supplies, had dirt floors, holes in the ground for toilets, but the students were well behaved and respected their teachers. They performed a song for us and provided lunch, a ham sandwich, which most of us were worried about eating. We also visited, Carlos Weisse school, this school had solid walls and desks and again the students were well behaved and kind. The neighborhoods that these schools were in were called shanty towns. They were near the Colo area of Lima. We understood that Lima was settled and then people came to the outlying hills and put up temporary residences that became permanent. There is no infrastructure, no sanitation, no clean water, but the students are happy and learning.
On Friday we had the most amazing experience. We were invited to the US Embassy to learn about the Peruvian education system, and then participate in a panel which included administrators from several schools from Lima, a member of the Ministry of Education, we Fulbrights, a member of the US Embassy in Peru, and a translator. The goal of the meeting was to discuss how we assimilate students from other countries into our classrooms in America. Peru is experiencing a large influx of Venezuelan students in their schools. While the students all speak Spanish, there are cultural differences that need recognized and the schools simply do not have room for all of the new students.
Saturday morning arrived and we boarded our vehicles for our journeys into: the desert, the jungle, the mountains, and the coastal desert very early.
Brian Cook and I were driven down the coast to Nasca, Peru. It was a very, very depressing and long drive. While it was difficult to take photos while traveling 100 miles an hour, the images of the people, towns, homes, and abject poverty we saw along the way will always be burned in my mind.