Friday, September 28, 2007

Schoolchildren of Choquecancha benefit from Becky Fund Volunteer Efforts

It has been another successful summer session for Becky Fund volunteers Aaron Ebner, Dave Scott, Sean Duffey, and myself, as we traveled to Choquecancha in support of the local elementary school. The small pueblo of Choquecancha rests halfway up the Lares valley, in a picturesque spot about two hours drive from the Becky Fund base in Calca.

Aaron and Dave arrived in early July to make preparations, after spending much of the previous year diligently fundraising thousands of dollars. They spent significant time and effort in the purchase and transport of materials, in hiring construction expertise, and in the general arrangements with the Choquecancha school administrators. They also purchased books and school supplies for the school library. Most of the materials had to come from Calca and Cuzco, so Aaron and Dave made many a trip among these towns via motorcycle, taxi, and the ever-crowded combi mini-bus! After days of making such arrangements, they were able to begin work on the kitchen/cafeteria building at the schoolyard. Traditionally, the schoolchildren are provided a nutrient-rich corn-meal and biscuit lunch by the Peruvian government, which is cooked on an open bonfire in the schoolyard. The new facilities, as funded by the Becky Fund, would provide a kitchen area with a gas-powered stove for the school cooks (often the local parents). The new facilities would also allow for some limited cafeteria space. Finally, a school library would be set up and furnished with new books and materials.

Bike trip to Choquecancha

To begin the work, Dave and Aaron carried dozens of mud bricks down a winding mountain road to the job site, where our construction experts were there to evenly cement them into place. Upon the completion of these crude walls, trees from astride the main road were felled to provide roof beams. After a thin metal roof was installed, a bright white layer of stucco provided an impressive aesthetic improvement. Much work remained on the interior of this building, however, and luckily Sean and myself arrived soon after to help tackle this task. Upon our arrival, we four merry gringos set to work digging out the floor of the new building and installing floor beams. We had a great deal of interest, and a bit of help from the schoolchildren as well, who would wake us from our tents in the morning and keep us entertained through midday. Magic tricks and the occasional futbol game often ensued during lunch periods.

We also constructed a second building in order to house some of the kitchen equipment, and this entailed the transport of some 300 adobe bricks from the village supply, about 150 meters up the winding road. Between carting these bricks and a great deal of cement mixing materials, we were quite filthy and exhausted at the end of our workdays. Our locally hired experts, however, often worked 10 hours a day for the entire month straight! Needless to say we were quite inspired by their work ethic; we often blamed our own short 8 hour days on the altitude!


During the continuing construction and completion of these two school buildings, we set to work furnishing the school’s library. We were able to purchase an impressive collection of books from Cuzco, thanks again to The Becky Fund. We brought full encyclopedias, Spanish-Qechua-English books (a favorite of the teachers), story books, practical guides, math and science books, and even a few Harry Potter translations! We spent a few days setting up the library and cleaning out the area, hanging maps and posters, and arranging the shelves and desks. As we neared our departure date, Aaron was able to bring a group of students into the library for a cross-cultural exchange. He had previously arranged for some local schoolchildren in Marshall, Michigan to write pen-pal letters to the students in Choquecancha. Now it was time to produce the return letters, which we all helped the students to write. It was a wonderful experience to work with these children on their letters, especially given the backdrop of the newly furnished library.

Upon our departure date, the school administrators were incredibly gracious. Many of the students lined up to sing songs of thanks, while the parents and teachers cooked us each a 4 lb choice cut of goat meat. A small ceremony was held during which one of our administrator friends, Ephraim, said a few heartfelt words of thanks. We broke a bottle of champage over the vestibule, said many friendly goodbyes, and headed on our way home.

New roof

Arrangements were also made for the 8th grade class to take a trip to Machu Picchu, and take advantage of this amazing Peruvian cultural center. Funding for this trip, as often provided by the school, was lacking this year. The Becky Fund was able to step up and secure a spot for each 8th grade student.

We would like to send our thanks and best wishes to our friends in Choquacancha, Calca, Marshall, and elsewhere. Our friends Ruben, Pio, Hector, Julian, and little Percy were an immense help during the construction phase. Jorge, Ephraim, Juan, Marco and the other school administrators were also dear friends during our stay. It was a delight to visit Hernan and Yolanda; as usual we benefited from Yolanda’s fine home cooking! Carlos from Cuzco helped a lot as well. We appreciate all the donations and assistance from friends and family from Marshall, and the surrounding areas in Michigan. Finally, to Dinny and the Becky Fund, once again we immensely appreciate the opportunity to do such meaningful and fulfilling work.

-Ethan Ebner

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