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Carefully and attentively I am choosing my favourite children’s books to display on the knee-high, round tables I have set near the front of the room. Just ten hours before, when I arrived in the high, remote village of Q’enqo, this library was empty of books with its original purpose temporarily pushed aside. Now I prepare for my first community meeting and presentation where I hope to re-inspire the children and their parents with the possibilities that literacy and a library can bring to their children’s education — an education these parents have actively sought for their children in order to provide them with more opportunities than they had hoped for.

I sift through these books that hold the potential to carry the children to their futures, searching for a combination that can sort all of my eager and enthusiastic ideas into a succinct presentation. I look for books with beautiful pictures and bright, dazzling colours to grab their attention and convey the stories that words sometimes cannot. I look for books with modest Spanish sentences, simple enough for the children of Q’enqo to comprehend, whose first language is the pre-Incan indigenous language of Peru, but complex enough to entice their curiosity. Briefly, I wonder which of these books I can actually read having just finished another month of Spanish classes. Did I mention I am conducting this community meeting in Spanish with the help of a Quechuan translator?

Q’enqo children showing Natalie their favourite books before her first community meeting and presentation.

Suddenly, the thundering of little feet disrupts my concentration and I am overrun by a herd of small children. They are skipping. They are screaming. They do not seem to display the same scrutiny in book selection as I do, as they are grabbing for any and all of the books I have set on the table with a refreshingly innocent delight. I put down my checklist and schedule, reach for “El Mono,” and read aloud to thirty bright and unblinking eyes…in Spanish.

Q’enqo Children enjoying the books before Natalie’s first community meeting and presentation

After five years, I have returned to Cusco, Peru with a new intention and many more experiences to support it. After volunteering for Mosqoy in Canada as a communications liaison for the Andean Youth Program, I began looking for a project that could bring me back to Cusco and into the remote communities. Q’enqo’s library presented itself as the perfect fit, as the project would require an independent work environment and creative solutions. Additionally, the project could benefit from my experience teaching in primary schools in my northern home of Whitehorse, Yukon, as well as the MacGyver abilities that seem to come from raft guiding. After a month studying Spanish, trekking and rock climbing in Peru’s Northern mountain town, Huaraz, I have made the return trip to Cusco!

Natalie at the summit of Vallanarahu (5600 M) while “studying Spanish” in Huaraz

I have been working on the library for two weeks now, and in that time I have made four trips to Q’enqo, networked with the primary school teachers, held a community meeting (in Spanish!), outfitted a librarian’s living quarters, and completed over half the necessary renovations. I have also had the pleasure of e-meeting the elementary school in Calgary, Canada that has funded the children’s library in Q’enqo, Peru: Battalion Park Elementary School. Since beginning my work in Peru I seem to have entered a time warp, because certain things seem move incredibly fast here and others slower than expected. This project is full of challenges and comes with a varied history, but I have never felt so invested in and determined to see the success of a work-related project in my life. In my experience, the liberation and creativity that comes with an excessive amount of responsibility is incredibly motivating. Further supporting this motivation are my interactions with the young readers in Q’enqo and the inquisitive young minds in Battalion Park Elementary School in Canada. I am curious and excited to see what my next five weeks in Q’enqo and Cusco can bring!

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