San Jerónimo is located along the main highway that connects Cusco, the region’s capital, to Puno, the port city at the edge of Lake Titicaca which forms the southeastern boundary of Peru. At 3,245 meters (10,646 feet) above sea level, the sun shines brightly most mornings and rain clouds often gather in the afternoons — local farmers are anxious for rain to water their recently-planted fields. San Jerónimo’s founding dates back to the time of the Incas: the royal family’s clan (panaca) was headquartered here. During the colonial period a large plaza and many stone houses were built in this fertile valley. Today this city is home to 30,000 people, hundreds of small businesses, a thriving traditional market and, most notable for our purposes, PROMESA School.
Rebecca and Ame are volunteering at PROMESA, a private school that promises a “bilingual, Christ-centered education.” The school was conceived as part of a three-pronged effort by workers from Eastern Mennonite Missions — education, health and church development. PROMESA has been very successful, attracting children who attend the Mennonite churches in San Jerónimo, Huacarpay and Lucre as well as local children with catholic or evangelical backgrounds. The curriculum emphasizes Christian values and classes are taught in both Spanish and English. A third language, Quechua, is taught to the older children. Each year the school adds another grade level and in several years it will offer the full range: inicial (4 and 5 year olds), primaria (6 grades of primary school) and secundaria (5 grades of secondary school).
Rebecca assists Señora Alicia, the main teacher in the four-year old classroom — school starts here in March and ends in December so most of the children have already reached their fifth birthday. Rebecca teaches basic English — colors, objects and simple vocabulary. The hope is that early exposure to English words and sounds, especially when uttered by a native speaker, will give these children a head start when they study the language more extensively at the primary and secondary levels. As in most parts of Peru, proficiency in English is seen as an important tool not only for communication with the myriad travelers who visit here each year but as a qualification for finding a job in a variety of sectors, including education, commerce, tourism and hospitality. Rebecca is calm, patient and kind, characteristics that are invaluable in the classroom as she interacts each day with a lively group of four-year-olds.
Ame has been asked to teach English here as well, though in her case the assignment involves helping teachers at several grade levels, e.g. Ms. Bethany in the 3rd grade class. Ame also assists in the library, spending time there at the close of each day helping students locate books, check them out for the evening and return them to the stacks the next morning. The library has many titles in English as well as Spanish and keeping everything organized and orderly takes time and persistence. More recently, Ame has been asked to work on a special assignment, helping to prepare the set for the upcoming Christmas drama, an adaptation in Spanish of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” Carrie, a long-time volunteer with the school, is designing the set and has asked Ame to help construct and paint the large panels that will provide the backdrop. Ame’s good-natured attitude and willingness to help out where needed make her a great fit for this assignment.