Our second day of orientation took place in the city of San Jeronimo, nestled high in the Andes Mountains. We first flew to Cusco, then took a bus to the San Jeronimo Albergue, a retreat center owned by the Peruvian teachers’ union that hosts educational groups such as ours. At 3,244 meters (10,643 feet) above sea level, we combined worship and information sessions with plenty of down time to give us a chance to acclimate to the thin air. The setting was beautiful — we marveled at the views of the surrounding mountains and got a rare glimpse of a snow-capped peak, or apu, far to the southeast.
The next morning we traveled further down the valley to the village of Huacarpay. We were met at the Evangelical Mennonite Church, one of two churches here, by Pastor Celestino, who gave us a warm welcome. One by one, host families from Huacarpay, San Jeronimo and nearby Lucre arrived and were introduced to the students. After a brief program and refreshments, the students gathered their bags and set off for their new homes, where they will live for the next two weeks. Pastor Celestino assured us that the timing of our visit couldn’t be better — it’s harvest season and the students are invited to help gather potatoes, corn and other crops when they are not occupied with studies and program activities. The families will be happy to have extra hands around!