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With lessons learned and new resolutions gained, Casa Mosqoy has finished 2014 and started a new beginning. At the end of the year, we said goodbye to one of the most loyal Mosqoy team members, Kristina Zoller. Her going away party was particularly sentimental. The students and I spent several hours preparing for the special event with decorations, panetón and hot chocolate. Kristina’s impact on the Mosqoy students was apparent, because not only did all of the current students attend, but several alumni from the program were there as well. I had planned a surprise for Kristina, which consisted of personal photos and notes from each of the students, compiled into one photo album. After dinner - wood-fire chicken with ensalada russa (a combination of boiled carrots and beets mixed with mayonnaise) and potatoes - we presented Kristina with her gift and each student stood up to share a word about why they appreciated what Kristina had done for the program. Several tears and laughs later, no one wanted the festivities to end. It was during this event that I really understood how strong the Mosqoy family bond really is. The way students, alumni, volunteers, and employees were able to spend time together made the event truly unforgettable. Thank you, Kristina, for helping to create the incredible phenomenon that is the family bond in Casa Mosqoy.

Although everyone was left a bit sad after Kristina’s departure, we soon were able to bring back the holiday cheer with our annual Chocolatada. This event is a common cultural activity that entails preparing hot chocolate and serving it to those who are less fortunate and possibly unable to celebrate holiday traditions. The students, Cara, Nora, and I traveled to a remote community a few hours outside of Ollantaytambo with our cooking supplies and toys for the children of the community. Although it was a cold and slightly rainy day, the event completely warmed the students’ and volunteers’ hearts by the end. It took at least two hours to cook the hot chocolate in the largest pot I have ever seen. We even added a nice oatmeal surprise to boost the nutrition content a bit. By the time we finished, word had spread throughout the entire community and a large crowd had gathered – all prepared with cups in hand. Some even brought large, empty water bottles or soda bottles to fill and take home for later. Bread and hot chocolate were distributed to each person along with fruit bread similar to panetón. The excitement amongst the community was evident, as these types of events don’t typically happen due to the distance of the community from Ollantaytambo. At the end, the Mosqoy students passed out small toy trucks and dolls to the children in the community. With big smiles and full bellies, everyone went home happy and excited to have participated in such an event.

The New Year not only brings opportunity for change, but also opportunity for new opportunities. The Andean Youth Program is currently in the process of selecting new students who will enter Mosqoy within the next year. Cara and I have been very busy doing community visits to pre-selected students’ homes in Urubamba, Ollantaytambo and Calca. It is incredible to think that we started off with close to one hundred applications and are now down to about six pre-selected students. Community visits are one of my favorite things to do because it allows me to visit the world our students come from. These communities are quite different from the every-day city life here in Cusco. Every time we enter a home, we are immediately greeted with some sort of food (usually corn with cheese) and are led to the kitchen/dining area to converse and eat. The kitchens are typically very smoky and have dirt floors, but provide a warm, cozy environment for conversation. It has been really fun to get to know the potential new students of Mosqoy’s future.

In addition to the activities that we do within the house, Mosqoy also works with a Rotary Club International program, Visionaria, that strives to empower the female youth of the Sacred Valley region. Each year, we send our female alumni to participate in the seven-day workshop series in order to help transition them from life in Casa Mosqoy to life as independent, working women. Cara and I attended a brunch in January where we were able to meet the organizers and founders of the program. This year, the Visionaria program focused its workshop series on empowerment through leadership, business and finance, and public speaking. It was quite pleasing to hear that our students were among some of the strongest participants in the program. Mosqoy was praised for fostering such strong leadership among its female students and we were asked to please send more students the following year. It was great to hear from a third party that the success of our Andean Youth Program is distinguishable. I am so proud of what we are able to accomplish as a Mosqoy team with the short 3-4 years that we work with our students. I am so proud of our students for taking advantage of the opportunities that have been given to them. They really represent our organization well.

- Stephanie Smallshaw

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