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HEALING PERU’S POVERTY PANDEMIC: OPENING SAILS TO THE WINDS OF QUECHUA DREAMS

In every child there grows at least one life dream, but not every child has the opportunity to grow

into that dream. With every second child in the world living in poverty, there is an exceeding

number of youth unable to pursue their life's full potential.

[A child of the Pitukiska community looks curiously at a textile financial spreadsheet. Photo by Mike Graeme.]

Thanks to global capitalism, poverty is pandemic; we are all wound up in it. Our globe gets woven

in ways that polarize wealth, leaving some so rich that if they had the generosity they could feed

whole countries, while others are so poor they are unable to feed even themselves.

According to the Rural Poverty Portal, "The poorest of the poor in Peru are in the arid Andean

highlands, where a large majority of the indigenous Quechua and Aymara communities live below

the poverty line."



In 2006, while living in Ollantaytambo, a Quechua community in the Cusco region of the

Peruvian Andes, Ashli Akins started laying down a solution—an ingredient of the medicine for

Peru's poverty pandemic—and founded the international charitable organization, Mosqoy, which

means “dream” in Quechua.

[Ashli Akins listens to the women of Parobamba. Photo by Mike Graeme]

It all started when she began opening her ears to listen to the dreams of the community members.



They spoke of maintaining their ancient textile practice and other cultural traditions; they shared

their desire for economic prosperity and to be active participants in their futures. Some youth

wanted to be chefs and others lawyers. Some wanted to learn computer science and others to lead

tours through their ancestral territory.



However, Ashli learned that despite the region's growing tourism and development sectors the

economic rug was being pulled out from under this community’s feet, preventing them from an

equal opportunity to benefit from the boom and sending them into deeper poverty.


[A next-generation Quechua youth in the community of Pitukiska. Photo by Mike Graeme.]

But how exactly are the people of Ollantaytambo slipping into poverty? This question was posed to

Yolanda (a pseudonym chosen to protect her privacy), a Quechua youth who received a sponsorship

through Mosqoy’s Youth Program in 2012. Her answer was lack of education.



“Because of the lack of knowledge, some people don’t find jobs easily,” she said. “Some don’t

educate themselves; they never got education...They have not even entered the door of the school,

never, and that’s why they can’t defend themselves, they are scared to ask because they’re not sure

if they’re speaking [Spanish] well...that’s why there is poverty” (Lisa & Bosma, 2014, p.31).



When asked why Quechua youth don’t receive education in the first place, Yolanda's answer was

the precise reverse—they can’t afford it. Yolanda points to the vicious cycle presently plaguing

Indigenous communities in the region. Without access to education, poverty is a near-sure bet, and

without the funds to access education…well, you get the point.



Ashli Akins holds up a freshly woven textile from the community of Pitukiska. Photo by Mike Graeme

But is lack of education the only worm at the core of a prosperous Quechua life?



Let's zoom out for a moment and open the whole "can of worms." The ability of dreams to transpire

in Quechua communities is constrained in many ways—a whole can of structural inequalities that

give Quechua individuals an increased chance of being poor and a comparatively less likely chance

of having the means to make their dreams reality.



Here are a few examples:



1.Discrimination based on class and ethnicity runs deep and limits the ability to get certain jobs,

especially those that pay well;



2.Certain pastimes and types of labour are considered “productive” while others (for example,

the Quechua textile tradition) are not equally valued;



3.Without fluency in the Spanish language, many jobs, education, and other opportunities are

inaccessible;



4.Access to social care and health services is reduced for rural communities;



5.Political power is largely held in non-Indigenous hands and political decisions tend to neglect

the needs and rights of Indigenous communities; and



6.Resources can and are being taken from Quechua lands without the wealth ever having to

be returned.



Weavers from Parobamba spin their wool in preparation for the next textile. Photo by Mike Graeme

Access to education, as Yolanda points out, is another such structural inequality, and it is a cornerstone

one at that. Not only can education open the doors to further opportunities within the overarching

structure of unequal opportunity, but it also gives Quechua youth themselves the capacity to shift the

very nature of these structures towards a more just system.



Take for instance, Zenaida (also a pseudonym), a Quechua youth living in Pumamarca whose dream

happens to be influencing structural inequalities by participating in the justice system.



“My dream is to be the best lawyer,” she said. “I decided that because I think with this profession I

could change my country. I see so many problems in my community and most of all I feel sorry for

the children. There are children who don’t even have the most basic of what they could have. Then, I

see Cusco, I see the society, I see Peru...You know, I’m very proud of being Peruvian but I’m not

content with the way Peru is like. I would like it to be better, to be a good country" (Lisa & Bosma,

2014, p.38).

Children of Cancha Cancha join the monthly meeting carried out with the weavers of the community. Photo by Mike Graeme.

Without access to postsecondary education, Zenaida's dream is a great wind with no open sail to

propel into a promising future.



But is education intrinsically good? In fact, imposing the Western education paradigm has been an

essential tool of acculturation and assimilation to achieve colonial rule across the world and.

As the documentary Schooling the World points out, the institutionalized education system has

retained to this day the same fundamental motive as when it began mooring its imperial roots:

“To pull people into dependence on a modern, centralized economy…to pull them away from their

independence and from their own culture and self-respect.”



[Weavers of Amaru. Photo by Mike Graeme.]

Accordingly, a devastating trend for remote communities today is that when Indigenous youth leave

their communities to pursue education, they don't return. And those that do return often lack respect

for the knowledge and teachings of their elders and communities.



As Bill Fogarty writes, "Education can usurp local social structures [and] cause deep intergenerational

divisions...[If] not inclusive of your social, cultural and economic values [it] is not empowering. It is

disempowering."


[Children and elders sit together in Pitukiska. Photo by Mike Graeme.]

But when it comes to Mosqoy's Youth Program, things are different. While helping youth access

post-secondary education in Cusco, the T'ikary Youth Program simultaneously promotes cultural

values (like upholding the Quechua textile tradition), social values (like holding respect for the

elders), and economic values (like engaging in reciprocal relationships of wealth and skill sharing).


Cristian Acuña — graduate of the Mosqoy Youth Program — now works as a Mosqoy community liaison. Photo by Mike Graeme.

Moreover, Mosqoy observes that Quechua communities are not passive recipients of an imposed

education system, but rather that they have agency, that they can skillfully wield their education to

become versed in the dominant system, and that they can develop into active leaders for their

communities and their futures.



Indeed, a key aspect of the Mosqoy Youth Program is the prerequisite promise by students to channel

their learned knowledge and skills back into their communities. When Quechua youth return after

completing their programs, the first thing they want to do is share and give back what they have

received.

[Silvia Surco has also been hired as a community liaison. Photo by Mike Graeme.]

The poverty pandemic is deeply ingrained in rural Peru. It is fierce and unrelenting, but the winds

are changing. Dreams of a better future whirl like gales through the Andes, and Quechua youth are

learning to ride them. And those that have, with billowing sails, return to their communities in search

of ways to help untie the dreamboats of their peers, who wait in anticipation to set sail as well.



References:


Lisa, A, & Bosma, M. (2013). ¿Con qué sueñas...? Poverty and Future Dreams among Disadvantaged

Adolescents in Rural and Urban Cusco, Peru (Bachelor’s Thesis). Retrieved from

https://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/279738