My final Global Giving project, and what’s brought me to the bustling high altitude town of Cusco for so long is a girls’ primary school nearby. Chicuchas Wasi was started by Rae Lewis, who I had the pleasure to touch base with first in California. She told me the story of how the school began when she was travelling in Peru. Moved by what she saw and wanting to help, she did so at first by looking after street children in her own home.
I finally get to meet her partner in all this, Ruth Uribe, who lives in Cusco and directs the school. She picks me up at the bottom of the steps to her home and we drive the short distance over to the school, including a struggle with a rocky dirt road. We bond over our language studies, as Ruth’s learning English just now, speaking in both Spanish and English over the idiosyncrasies of our languages, double-checking vocabulary and points of grammar with each other.
Placed amicably among the rolling hills of Cusco’s suburbs, the school couldn’t be more happily situated, the eco-friendly coloured-bottle bunting and plant pots, the flowers that spill out of them and the brightly coloured buildings with one central painted mural all adding to its character. But the most beautiful thing about the school are the smiles of the girls who fill it with their laughter.
Ruth, Rae and all of their warm and welcoming teachers – not to mention other staff – have created a safe, happy haven for these girls, many of whom struggle to find any of these comforts in their own home lives. In a culture that normally side-lines girls’ education, the school teaches these girls not only the subjects you’d expect to find in any school, but how to look after and respect themselves – about love and honesty and other key life values. One teacher is even using mindfulness techniques with her kindergarten students to put them in the right frame of mind for learning.
They also carry out nutrition tests on the students every year to check the girls are getting the most from their diets, and after finding out that many of the girls were anaemic, plan school meals accordingly. They even have an on-site dentist.
But what makes this place so special is the love and affection clearly shared between everyone here. The teachers that have worked here for years, the students who hug and kiss you in greeting and Ruth herself who wanders around and into each classroom like some kind of disruptive whirlwind of affection. Misunderstanding slightly something one of the teachers has said, I ask if she has any children – but she laughs and shakes her head, saying, “These are my girls!”
I make a video during my week at the school, interviewing the students in the sixth grade who are just about to graduate. We talk a bit about the future, and they all have fantastic and far-reaching ambitions – and the school has undoubtedly given each a wonderful first step in their lives. But such is the girls’ attachment to the school and the teachers, many are sad to leave. I couldn’t help feeling sad for them and trying to come up with wild fundraising campaigns to get the money to build them a secondary school. Maybe that’s a little project I’ll save for when I’m back in London…