June 4, 2011

Off the Gringo Trail

playing with kids near the village of Huacarpay

Cusco is perhaps the most popular stop on Peru’s “Gringo Trail,” so we did our best to get out of the well established tourist areas and get a better sense of what life is really like in this beautiful part of the country. We headed southeast of the city for two days for two service projects. First, though, we visited PROMESA, a Mennonite school in the nearby town of San Jeronimo, to meet some of the faculty and students and get a tour of the school.

Next we headed to the village of Huacarpay, which is still rebuilding after floods decimated much of the village nearly 18 months ago. Many buildings need to be built higher to protect from future flooding, so we spent last Friday moving dirt and rocks to help build foundations for three houses. (Celestino Cutípa is pastor at Huacarpay Mennonite Church, and the story about his town’s experience—as well as information about his church and his family’s home—can be read here.)

On Saturday morning we traveled to a nearby settlement where local families who were rendered homeless by the floods last January and February have been living. (Before these small, basic homes were built, many of the residents spent months camping or crowding into the homes of friends or family.) There the SSTers recruited about 40 children to attend a health education workshop.

Oral health education is not as common here as back home, so we focused our efforts on how to take care of one’s teeth. We started off the morning with some music—first the SSTers sang a few songs, and then the children sang in return. Then the SSTers performed some hand-washing and tooth-brushing skits, and finally we distributed toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap and instructed the children in proper tooth-brushing technique.

Not surprisingly, our efforts to get off the beaten path were particularly rewarding. The connections made and the work done during these two days were some of the most powerful experiences of our trip to Cusco.

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