Educational Social Enterprise Efforts in Peru (2)

Katie Marney is a recent graduate of McGill University where she studied Political Science and Economics. She's an American citizen who has lived outside her home country for 18 years -across 4 different continents. She first travelled to Peru in 2010 to co-lead Project Conectados through the Peruvian NGO, Wasiymi Wasiki. Following that experience, she joined as permanent staff.

Wasiymi Wasiki was founded to empower youth by giving them the skills to pull themselves out of poverty. Its name means "my home is your home" in Quechua, the indigenous language spoken in the Andes mountains of Peru. It helps kids in Peru's marginalized classes. The NGO focuses on economic development through education. Project Conectados, the flagship project, installs computer labs.

I joined Wasiymi Wasiki with a high school friend from Wisconsin, named Matt. He moved to Peru after high school as a ‘gap year', volunteering. There, we met the founding members of Wasiymi Wasiki in 2008. Matt said he felt immediately at home there as Peruvians readily make friends.

Wasiymi Wasiki is a small NGO with four staff: two Peruvians and two Americans. We emphasize partnership between a school and its wider community.

We took on the challenge of organizing and raising funds for two Conectados projects. This initiative installs computer labs in Peruvian schools and recruits volunteers to teach computing and other skills.

This past January, we began our third project: to install a computer lab in a poor, rural village, and also develop a micro-business to finance the upkeep, to increase sustainability. This was to be done in the town of Pachachaca, which lies above 12,000ft. If you are not brave enough to walk up the steep, muddy mountainsides, it can only be reached in the back of a Chevy truck, the more beat up, the more likely to arrive safely.

On our first visit, the townsfolk eyed us suspiciously. In Pachachaca, everyone knows everybody and word quickly spreads about new folks passing through, especially gringos (foreigners).

Pachachaca's main road is lined with crumbling adobe brick homes, many abandoned by families that migrated to Lima. The town is surrounded by towering green peaks and steep valleys. On the mountainsides, Pachachaca's farmers raise potatoes, corn, and other crops. On lower fields, women and teenage boys herd sheep and goats. The economic reality of Pachachaca was clear from the first meeting, subsistence farming is predominant, and mothers carry malnourished babies in manta cloths on their backs.

Our project organizes a parents' association to work together and cover computer lab internet subscription costs. In this way, the local community puts ‘skin in the game'. Upon interviewing local parents, it became clear financial payment was untenable; one family offered to cut their consumption of rice each month to contribute $1 for their internet fee.

Pachachaca's agro-economy has not participated in Peru's impressive growth. Its traditional industries contrast with the natural resource growth that has driven Peru's economic ascent. Many families' only monetary income is selling surplus produce or animals at market. Cash is immediately utilized to cover needs like school fees, farm inputs, medical care, or clothing. Even the smallest match offering required per family, to cover computer lab membership, is difficult for many families.

In my next post I will describe the micro-enterprise started at Pachachaca... involving guinea pigs!

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