Why We Do Our Work

September 27, 2016

A Letter from Our Director

The indigenous Q’eros people of Peru practice unique, earth-centric textile, musical, agricultural, social and spiritual traditions, yet their way of life is threatened. They are striving to sustain their ancient Andean identity in the face of outward migration, large-scale mining, the arrival of a road and globalization.

The Q’eros are subsistence llama and alpaca herders, potato farmers, weavers and musicians who live above 14,500 feet in the Andes mountains of Peru. The Q’eros Nation is the “último ayllu inka,” or the last Inkan community. They have long suffered discrimination and marginalization. Because they lack schools, many migrate to cities for a “better life” of urban poverty. Families rarely return to the community. As one Q’eros grandmother said, “Life is hard up here in the clouds.” Food security is low. Child mortality is high. Few government statistics are kept. Q’eros is a microcosm of the plight of native people worldwide. As stated in an op-ed in The New York Times about Peru in 2013, "the rural Andes languish in nearly feudal conditions" and "if [children] attend school, they do so for only a few years and in Spanish — not Quechua or Aymara, the languages spoken at home. [They are] marginalized by nothing so much as geography." Strikingly, "78 percent of Peru’s indigenous children live in poverty."

In January of 2013, I attended the International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Youth at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York City. We heard testimonials from indigenous youth from various countries around the world. Poor education is a primary concern. It was confirmed that there is very little actual implementation of innovative, culturally relevant education models in indigenous communities around the world.

Willka Yachay promulgates a model to alleviate this education deficit. Our schools are based on the Q’eros’ vision for the future of their community, one that helps their children integrate into modern Peruvian life while maintaining their cultural identity. This approach to indigenous education is uncommon in Peru and sets a unique example we hope to export to other indigenous communities struggling to control their futures.

The young children of Ch’allmachimpana have attended the grade school Willka Yachay founded and built, Inkari, since 2011. In addition to instruction in Quechua, they’re learning Spanish so they can interact with the dominant society and the incredible history of their Inkan forebears so they can interact successfully with that society in a proud and self-confident way.

They have desks to sit at in a school building that their fathers built. They have school supplies like books, maps, crayons and paper that we take for granted. They have a nutritious lunch every school day. They have the involvement of their parents in learning literacy skills and in school governance. They have teachers who know the challenges they face and how to prepare them. They have the love and support of people around the world who want to help them prosper. No Ch’allmachimpana families have migrated to Cusco since the school opened.

The teens of Qocha Moqo’s high school, Colegio Etnico, which Willka Yachay also founded and built, have an alternative to urban poverty or slavery in Amazonian gold mines. They have inspiring teachers who engage their enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity in completing projects which empower them to contribute to their communities. In their first year they built a freestanding outdoor oven which bakes bread and heats water for the village, the first in their nation. They learned more than lessons in the physics of gases and fluids. They know the satisfaction of sharing bread of their own making with their families and neighbors and of improving hygiene - of contributing to their collective well being. They study the secrets of the yupana, an Inkan calculating device, and travel to Cusco to teach it to university students. They also perform traditional music there on their handmade instruments. They understand better the value of their culture, that they can interact with the outside world on an equal footing and that participating in that milieu is not beyond them. All of our students have remained in Q’eros to continue studying in the high school instead of drifting away from the community to manual labor in the city or to what are literally dead end jobs in the mines.

Willka Yachay has developed a partnership with the regional ministry of education, which has been stirred from neglecting the Q’eros to providing financial and administrative support by the considerable effort and persistence of our interaction with them and seeing the results of our work. Most of Willka Yachay’s financial support comes from a growing group of individuals and organizations spread across the globe who believe in the Q’eros’ vision for their future.

Over the last six years, the Q’eros people have taken me into their hearts. I have named babies and am godmother to many children. They stay in my house when in Cusco and I in their homes in Q’eros. They are family to me. Knowing them intimately makes it impossible to abandon a baby to dehydration, a child to cancer, adolescent boys to Amazonian gold mines, girls to illiteracy, women to death in childbirth and men to victimization by the hegemonic society. I have shared their joy and, too often, grief. Now is the time to empower them before road building, mining and outward migration decimate their vibrant culture. I am optimistic about what we can accomplish together and I am honored to work with you and the Q’eros people.

Thank you for your support.

Urpi Sonqoy,

Hannah Rae Porst