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November 1, 2012

Machu Picchu

What is this amazing place, perched high above the Urubamba River on a granite mountain?  Who built it?  And why?  Hiram Bingham, often credited with discovering Machu Picchu, thought it was Vilcabamba, the famed “lost city of the Incas”.  It turns out that Vilcabamba, where Manco Inca hid from the Spanish, is farther down the river and much less spectacular.  And local farmers knew about Machu Picchu’s existence long before Bingham cut back the vegetation that covered most of the stones and published his photos in National Geographic a century ago. Another archaeologist who researched the area several decades later…

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October 30, 2012

The Incas

The Inca Empire thrived in the tallest mountains in the western hemisphere over 500 years ago.  How did they feed, clothe and provide housing for 12 million people?  We began our investigation with a visit to the Andean Weaving Institute in Chincheros, a cooperative operated by a group of women weavers.  They demonstrated how wool is dyed using natural leaves, insects and minerals, spun into yarn by hand and woven into beautiful textiles.  Then we sampled a variety of traditional Andean foods:  cuy (guinea pig), chuño (dehydrated potatoes), cancha (roasted corn), habas (broad beans) and a salad featuring native greens…

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October 27, 2012

Several million people travel to Cusco each year for a chance to visit Machu Picchu.  Indeed, we are among them.   But before joining the throngs of international visitors descending into the sacred valley on their pilgrimage toward one of the 7 Wonders of the World, we opted for a detour. Our destination:  a typical Andean village, far off the beaten path, named San Juan de Quihuares. Our hosts:  Pastor Zaqueo and the nine families that comprise San Juan de Quihuares Evangelical Mennonite Church. Our mission:  Experience life and customs, as they have been practiced for centuries, in a place…

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October 26, 2012

We began our adventure in the Andes, tallest mountains in the Western Hemisphere, with an afternoon tour of Sacsayhuaman.  This epic archaeological site is perched above the city of Cusco.  Built by the Inca civilization, it features a three-layered string of giant stones shaped like a lightning bolt and fitted together like pieces of a giant puzzle.  According to our guide, Hector, each layer represents an aspect of the Inca trilogy: the under world (where we came from), the surface of the earth (where we are) and the heavens above (where our spirits go after death). After a few hours…

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October 23, 2012

Last Days in Lima

The students finished their time in Lima, Peru’s bustling capital, with exams, language practice, a visit to a fortress, a tour of downtown and a workshop on jewelry-making. Eliana and Ricardo Mauriola Carrasco supplement their family’s income by producing custom-made jewelry from seeds collected in the rainforest.  Each student chose an item — a bracelet or necklace — then selected a variety of seeds, settled on a design and got to work fashioning a unique piece of jewelry. Downtown Lima is a fascinating place, a mix of colonial (1535-1821), republican (post-1821) and modern architecture centered around the city’s main square,…

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October 17, 2012

Children living on the margins of society are especially vulnerable.  Several speakers — the director of a school for the deaf, a gifted musician and a public-sector systems analyst — explained what they are doing to provide education and opportunity to marginalized children. EFATA School was started by an American missionary named Vernon Miller, a deaf man with a passion for teaching sign language.  The school’s director, Clelia Ocampo, described how sign language was brought to Peru and how her staff educates deaf children, many of whom live in dormitories on-site.  Jorge Garrido Lecca is a guitarist and entrepreneur who…

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October 7, 2012

CEBE María Auxiliadora (Mary our Helper Center for Basic Special Education) is a public school located in a middle class neighborhood in Lima’s San Borja district.  Disabled children are brought here from all over the metropolitan area to learn and develop basic life skills.  Some of the students are diagnosed with Down syndrome, others with autism and at least one with cerebral palsy — all with special abilities. We were met at the door of the school by the director, María Barnett, who introduced us to her multidisciplinary team of teachers and support staff.  By law all schools must admit…

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October 2, 2012

Peru is a “middle-income” country:  the average Peruvian earns the equivalent of $10,160 per year, taking into account the local exchange rate and cost of living.  But incomes are distributed much less equally than in the U.S. and most other countries on earth.  How did the large gap between rich and poor come about?  And how does this inequality affect Peru’s politics, religion and art? Eduardo Arroyo is an author and sociologist who writes on the topic of race and class in Peru.  In his talk, Dr. Arroyo explained how income, wealth and political power were concentrated in the hands…

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September 19, 2012

Lima is a desert — the area receives less than an inch of rainfall each year.  How does this city produce enough food for 8 million people?  It doesn’t — food is trucked in from the Andes mountains and the Amazonian rainforest.  Without access to distant markets, the population would starve.  Recognizing the precarious nature of this arrangement, the local government is encouraging people to plant community gardens.  We visited one such garden, known as Paraiso (Paradise), with the intention of helping out. Of course, there are many ways to help when it comes to gardening.  Planting, weeding and harvesting…

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September 17, 2012

We often take for granted the pipes that bring drinking water into our homes and take waste water away to the treatment center.  But what would it be like to live in a house without running water or a sewage system? We didn’t need to drive very far from our program’s headquarters to find out.  Less than an hour from Good Shepherd Church in Miraflores is one of many neighborhoods that were began as “invasions” within the last several decades.  The sector we visited, Chavin de Huantar in the city of Villa El Salvador, is 13 years old.  In 1999,…

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