Minnesota Students Work in Solidarity with the Quechua People of Chirapa, Peru
On Xperitas Community Partnership Programs, local communities work with Xperitas to design an itinerary that allows participants to contribute to the community in an impactful way, in addition to building global connections and friendships. In July 2018, ten rising seniors from Hiawatha Collegiate High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, along with their teacher, Estrella Almaguer, left for a 12-day Xperitas Community Partnership Program as part of our Global Learners Scholarship Program. They chose a program partnering with the indigenous Quechua community in the small town of Chirapa, Peru, where they could help with construction on a new schoolroom for the local public school, gain a better understanding of Quechua culture (as well as their own), and make meaningful, long-lasting and transformative connections with the Peruvian locals.
It was the first time any of the students had taken an international trip, as well as the first trip of its kind for Hiawatha Collegiate High School. Prior to departure, the students prepared themselves for immersion in a different lifestyle from their own, including limited access to running water and no internet or cell phone connection. The students were understandably nervous, but they were equally excited to help build a school for the local children while learning about a new culture.
The Quechua in Chirapa, having partnered with Xperitas on past Community Partnership Programs, knew the U.S. students would need some help adjusting to a Peruvian life. They made every effort to make their visitors feel welcome from day one. They shared fresh cacao beans with the students upon their arrival and brought fresh fruit to their host families’ homes. The locals even slept on the floor and saved extra water so the students would be more comfortable during their stay.
After a few days in Chirapa, the students settled into a routine with their host families. Hiawatha’s students are almost all bilingual in English and Spanish, so the students were quickly able to make connections with their families, engage with the community, and learn the basic skills they needed to assist with the schoolroom construction project. The students played with the local children and taught them hopscotch, and enjoyed games of soccer after dinner each night.
Even though the building project was physically draining, the Quechua passed on their “Work hard, play hard” philosophy. Students and their hosts enjoyed many interesting conversations about cultural differences over dinners of the local delicacy cuy (pronounced “kwee”), roasted guinea pig. The students said the Quechua people were particularly curious about the snow in Minnesota.
Throughout the trip, the bond between the students and the community members strengthened. Although may students struggled with homesickness, the daily reflections and group discussion circles led by Estrella and Xperitas Team Leader Christina Jennings allowed the students to cope with their feelings as a group in a healthy and productive way. Estrella, told us that, “Because we couldn't use our phones, we had to connect with everyone around us.” Some students reported they felt like they were children again, living in the present moment and not worrying so much about social media and the world outside of Chirapa.
When we checked back in with Estrella recently, she told us that many of the participants are applying for colleges, with some moving away from home. For several students, the Chirapa program sparked a desire to pursue a career of service and helping others, as some are pursuing careers in elementary education and nonprofit work. The group would like to return to Chirapa in five years, once they have all graduated from college, to have a reunion of sorts.
Although this was the first trip of its kind at Hiawatha Collegiate Academy, the group’s positive and transformative experience has encouraged the school to hopefully continue taking students on Xperitas Community Partnership programs in the future. Xperitas’ Community Partnership Programs originated from a desire for travelers to make meaningful connections with indigenous communities in a way that allows the communities to have a voice of the process. We are grateful that through our Global Learners Scholarship Fund, we were able to give this opportunity to deserving students who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to participate.
As Estrella so wonderfully said, "This program gives our students purpose and inspires them ‘to be the change they wish to see in the world.’ Our students gained perspective through their lived experiences on this trip and it shows in the way they lead by example. This program changed our outlook on life; we have a deeper appreciation for the small things in life. Xperitas opens up a world of opportunities for our students and they are able to serve the common good through this life-changing and transformational experience."