By Ashli Akins, Mosqoy’s Founder & Director
“They have taught us how to give without obligation,” said Irene, one of Mosqoy’s scholarship students. “To give simply because everyone can, despite their lot in life.” Irene stood up at the tour’s last dinner to thank the Brentwood students for teaching her and her peers the art of giving.
This past month has been pivotal for Mosqoy’s Global Stewardship Program. We launched our second social enterprise, our Sustainability Tours, which offers service tours to schools and community groups who wish to visit Peru in a meaningful way while learning how to be responsible travelers and consumers.
Brentwood College School, a private boarding school for Grades 9-12, based in Mill Bay, BC, were our guinea pigs, embarking on Mosqoy’s first tour during their Spring Break. And they set the bar high.
Over the past three years, Mosqoy has partnered with Brentwood, offering lectures and presentations in exchange for student sponsorships. Eventually, they craved more. They wanted to learn about our programs and the Quechua culture first-hand, to create an interdisciplinary curriculum through experiential learning. Months prior to the trip, Brentwood teachers incorporated its preparations into their Phys. Ed., geography, social studies, and Spanish courses.
And then the time had finally come, for 24 students and their four chaperones to land in Peru.
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Though they visited the classic tourist sites of Machu Picchu, Moray, and Pisac, they unanimously agreed that the most powerful parts of the trip were the connections.
Three of our Mosqoy students’ families in Huilloc and Ollantaytambo (small Quechua indigenous communities in the Sacred Valley) welcomed them into their homes. Here, the Brentwood students were treated as guests, not tourists. Raul, one of our students from Huilloc who is studying to be a tour guide, invited them to his humble house where his family cooked cuy (guinea pig), choclo (Andean corn), and mate (herbal infusions).
His mother spoke in Quechua to thank both Brentwood and Mosqoy for their contributions: “Without you, I would never be able to give my son a better future. He would have no hope to continue his education.” She broke down in tears in the middle of her speech, which began a domino effect.
And then these tears turned to laughter as the family invited Brentwood students to dress in traditional Quechua clothing and learn one of their folkloric dances. This is when I was reminded that laughter has no language.
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Following these family visits, Brentwood students spent four days volunteering their time to a service project for Mosqoy’s Andean Youth Program. They had worked hard prior to the trip to fundraise $7,000 CAD to put towards supplies for this project. And because of Brentwood, we were able to move into our new and beautiful Casa Mosqoy (our student dormitory)!
The Brentwood students landscaped our dormitory’s outdoor space into a beautiful garden, cleaned and painted the walls, and moved furniture. One of the most exciting projects was a collaborative mural, envisioned by all Mosqoy and Brentwood students, based on the concept, “What does Mosqoy mean to you?” The remainder of the funds will be used for our new computer room and library, as well as our first visitors’ room, where our students’ parents can visit their children from remote communities.
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Perhaps the most beautiful experience of this trip was the final adventure hike. After two weeks of working together, all of the Mosqoy and Brentwood students (50 people total!) embarked on a three-day hike, summiting a 4,800-metre (15,800 feet) peak in the Andean mountains, before descending into the natural thermal hotsprings of Lares.
For many, it was the most challenging physical experience of their lives. There were injuries and illnesses, tears and frustration. Some suffered intense pain from altitude sickness. A few hundred metres from the summit, several students truly believed this was an impossible feat.But for each of these doubts, another student – either Peruvian or Canadian – came from behind to encourage them. One student was even carried on the back of another, since a sprained ankle prevented her from continuing on her own.
Upon arrival at the summit, one Brentwood student collapsed into the arms of two awaiting Mosqoy students, crying with simultaneous pain and relief. Neither spoke each other’s language, but it didn’t matter. A hug was enough.
Before the descent, Ebhert, a Mosqoy alumnus, led the group in a traditional Pachamama ceremony to honour Mother Earth. Three coca leaves were given to each student; everyone was to make three wishes, and then place these leaves under a special rock near the summit.
The descent was filled with elation. Brentwood and Mosqoy students who had previously walked separately descended hand-in-hand, now inseparable. This hike proved to be a physical manifestation of so many challenges these students will face in their future; of moments they believe to be impossible, but that with perseverance and courage, they can – and will – achieve. Ganas, in Spanish. A word that has no direct English translation. Will. Guts. Desire.
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A Brentwood student responded to Irene’s speech with his own: “I would like to share with you my three wishes from the summit,” he began. “One, that these mountains and this environment continue to exist in their beauty, despite the environmental challenges that you all face. Two, that Mosqoy continues into the future, because it is so obvious that programs like this are needed to continue revitalizing this beautiful culture, and that every one of you are deserving of these scholarships. And three, that I may be able to come back to Peru someday.”
This speech led to over a dozen others. And these coming from teenagers who, upon arrival, didn’t know each other. Teenagers who are at a time in their lives when a façade of coolness is integral to the maintenance and accumulation of social capital. Two weeks prior, these words would have been deemed too vulnerable, too real, to share without fear. But somehow, due to the unique experiences that were shared during these past two weeks, façades disappeared, barriers broke, and spirits were uncovered.
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The Mosqoy students didn’t bid the Brentwood students farewell at the airport because “one goodbye was hard enough.” Instead, they woke up that morning with a reinvigorated passion to “be better.”
They wouldn’t stop cleaning their new house, and spent hours that morning speaking Quechua to one another (when they usually only speak Spanish in the city). They had regained pride.
Meanwhile, the Brentwood students found their passions and learned that education doesn’t always come from books. They learned that compassion develops through connection, while a few even discovered that this type of social justice work might be where their true hearts reside.
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For those graduates and soon-to-be graduates of Brentwood:
You are welcome as part of our Mosqoy family, whenever you choose to return. But whatever you choose to do with your intellectual wealth, know that you have enormous potential. I have never in my life met a group of teenagers as insightful and respectful as you. And it obviously stems from the mentorship and education you have received.
Do something with this potential. It doesn't need to be development work or even volunteer service. But do let it come from your heart. Let it resonate from the compassion and connection that you have learned over this past month, as well as in your years at Brentwood.
As Juan so eloquently said in his farewell speech, you are the future. You are the ones who can change the direction of our world’s trajectory.
Yes, we are currently faced with crises and injustices. But we are also faced with hope. We have been given the gift of living in a time where our world is at a bifurcation point, a point of chaos and creativity. It awaits change. Beckons it, even. So let’s make this change one of less injustice, more beauty, greater layers of humanity’s rich diversity.
With you guiding us into the future, I am no longer worried.
With love and gratitude,