Summer 2009 SST Unit in Peru

Follow along on our journey! You can click on any square picture to see a larger image.

Tue, 28 Apr 2009


The leaders for the Summer 2009 SST in Peru are Jerrell and Jane Ross Richer. We are joined by Sierra (10), Naomi (8), Teresa (6) and Jordan (4). These photos were taken on a recent trip to Parque de la Reserva in Lima.

Thu, 30 Apr 2009


Twenty-three exhausted students arrived safely in Lima before dawn this morning. By 6:30 we were at the hostel, Home Peru. Breakfast was served and they soon hit the sack. We plan to begin our orientation at noon with a walk to Goshen Tambo , the faculty leaders' residence and a resting place for the students. We will spend the day getting to know each other and finish with dinner at a restaurant in Miraflores that serves the Peruvian national dish -- Pollo a la Brasa (roasted chicken and french fries). Tomorrow we will have a full day of orientation with our special guests, Celia and Oswaldo. The students will meet their host families in the evening and spend their first weekend in their new homes.

Fri, 1 May 2009


We spent Thursday and Friday getting to know each other and exploring our neighborhood. Orientation began with a walk to the new Goshen Tambo in San Isidro. We introduced ourselves and later tested our memories with a name game. The group worshiped together, sharing a time of quiet, singing and scripture. Later we walked to the promenade overlooking the Pacific Ocean -- two had never seen an ocean in person -- and the students wrote letters to themselves describing their expectations for the next three months. They will open these letters during the retreat at the end of the semester. Oswaldo, one of our language instructors, offered insights into Peruvian culture. Celia, our program coordinator, gave practical advice for living with host families and the students role played appropriate greetings. We tasted fruit that most had never seen before and discussed what it is like to try something new. Students took their first taxi and later had a chance to ride a crowded combi back to Home Peru.

Sun, 3 May 2009

Host Families

We met the host families on Friday evening and the students had a chance to get to know them over the weekend.

Sun, 10 May 2009

Week 1

We began Week 1 with Spanish language instruction, or Castellano as the Peruvians call it. After spending their first weekend with host families, students were excited to see each other and share stories about food, family, church and the combis (small buses) they rode to get to class that morning.

Our instructors, Leonor Marin and Oswaldo Aguirre, are beginning their sixth semester teaching Goshen College students. We meet in a seminary centrally located in the district of Lince. After class we often eat a Peruvian lunch in the seminary dining room. In the afternoons we hear a lecture or venture into Lima to visit a museum, archaeological site or other activity.

Our theme this week is history. We learned about the Inca civilization from a local teacher named Rafael Leon. Inca is the name used for the king, a man his followers believed was descended from Inti, the sun god. The Inca empire spanned most of western south America for one hundred years before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores. The Inca maintained his empire through the principles of reciprocity and redistribution, taxing wool, cotton, food and minerals from each province and distributing most of it back to the people in a way that both prevented poverty and generated loyalty. The center of the Inca empire was the city of Cusco, known as the "Navel of the World". We look forward to traveling there when we visit Machu Picchu in early June.

We learned about the periods before and after the Inca Empire on several field trips. The first was a visit to Huaca Pucllana, an archaeological site dating from several hundred years after Christ. We walked to the site from Goshen Tambo, the directors' residence. The Huaca is located in the middle of an urban area in the district of Miraflores, a relic over 1,500 years old surrounded by apartments, restaurants and banks. Our guide was a knowledgeable, humorous archaeologist named Pedro Vargas, who gave us a tour of a large, flat-topped pyramid where religious leaders of the Lima culture hosted ceremonies to worship the moon, a female deity. Next to the pyramid complex was a native plant garden with a selection of flora that the ancients depended on for food and medicine. We also got our first look at alpacas and llamas, the grazing animals that Peruvians have domesticated for wool, food and transport.

On another field trip we visited the Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History and heard two experts speak on the topic of "Independence and the Republic". We learned about the significant role women played during the rebellion against the Spanish. And we were surprised to discover how the early nation profited from its greatest export, guano (bird droppings), which was shipped to the U.S. and Europe for use as a fertilizer.

On another day we visited the Castles of Callao, or Fortaleza Real Felipe, the largest military complex built by the Spaniards in the Western Hemisphere. The fortress was constructed in the mid-eighteenth century using a mixture of sand, lime and egg whites from sea birds (the same birds that produce the guano). We were stunned by the collection of armaments and weapons from various periods. But the show-stopper for our group was the visit to the King's Tower, a fortress within a fortress that consists of mazes to confuse invaders and a dungeon for holding prisoners. The dungeon is a narrow walkway that leaves no room for lying down or even stretching out your arms. In a few minutes we emerged from the maze and stood atop the tower, taking in the warm sunshine and the panoramic view of Lima's port. In an ironic twist described in the brochure we received from our guide: the fortress became independent Peru's main defense against the Spanish during their futile attempt at reconquest in 1866.

We ended our week with recent history, including a lecture by James Plunkett, an expatriot American who has lived in Peru for 45 years. Mr. Plunkett is president of the local chapter of Toastmasters International, which means he can give a very engaging speech. He spun a tale for us that combined his personal story of falling in love with Peru in the 1960s with a insightful description of each president who has led the nation since he arrived. It is interesting to note that two of Peru's presidents have held the office for two non-consecutive terms. Alan Garcia, the current president, was elected in 2005 after already serving from 1985 to 1990. Mr. Plunkett also reminded us how fortunate we are to spend three months in a nation with a wealth of biodiversity, a benign climate, an emerging cuisine, exotic fruit and friendly people.

Near the end of the week we had a chance to visit a beach near Callao, soaking up the autumn sun as we listened to waves splash against the shore. We ate a picnic lunch, threw flat stones into the water to watch them skip and did our best to get as close to the water as possible without getting (very) wet. If feels like we are making a little history of our own down here.

Sat, 16 May 2009

Week 2

Our theme this week was culture. We began with a lecture by author Eduardo Arroyo, a scholar who studies the ethnic diversity of Peru. We learned that the Criollos are descendants of the Spanish and populate Lima and other cities along the coastal plain. The Andinos are the indigenous peoples who originated in the Andes mountains, while the Amazonicos are from the rainforests of the Amazon River basin. The Cholo culture, in contrast, blends Andean, Christian and Western influences.

We formed travel groups of 4-5 students to visit the Museo de la Nacion (National Museum), one of Lima's premier collections of ceramics, textiles and other artifacts from the prehistoric period. The museum features an exhibit on medical practices during pre-Colombian and colonial times.

We have been reading recently-published literature by women authors from a collection entitled "Fire from the Andes". Professor Elias Rengifo helped us understand the breadth of Peruvian literature by describing the major epochs, from the pre-Hispanic to the Colonial to the Republican periods. Professor Rengifo teaches at San Marcos National University (Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos). Founded in 1551, San Marcos is the oldest university in the Americas.

After our weekly Goshen Tambo meeting, we walked down to the Promenade overlooking the ocean. The students met individually with Jerrell and Celia to discuss possible service assignments. While they waited for their interviews students had a chance to relax or walk down the long, windy set of stairs that leads to the ocean. Several members of our group initiated a conversation with soccer players from a local team and decided to accept their challenge.

The week came to a close with a field trip to downtown Lima. Celia walked us around the Plaza de Armas, identifying historic buildings and explaining their significance. We ate menu lunches at La Merced, an historic restaurant near the Plaza. We took a detour on the way back to our bus and ended up touring the Convent of Santo Domingo, a welcome oasis of calm in the center of a bustling metropolis. The buildings of the convent face a garden courtyard and fountain. And deep inside these buildings we found artwork and chapels dedicated to two native saints of Peru. Saint Rose of Lima was a well-known nun of the Dominican Order, the first Catholic in the Western Hemisphere to be declared a saint. Saint Martin of Porres was a tireless servant of the poor and the sick. He is often pictured holding a broom, since he considered all work to be sacred, no matter how menial.

When we returned to the bus our driver, Juanito, was ready for the last leg of our tour. He shifted the bus into low gear and we climbed the steep road up to Cerro San Cristobol, a 200-meter hill next to downtown Lima. The ride was a thrill, especially for those with a window seat on the down-slope side of the road. It helped to know that Juanito makes this drive several times a week. And the view from the top offered a 360-degree panorama of Peru's capital.

Sat, 23 May 2009

Week 3

Art brings beauty to our lives. Religion brings meaning. These two topics were our focus this week.

Victor Delfin is an extraordinary artist, an 81-year-old creator of sculpture, paintings, carvings and other graphic images. Delfin opened his home to us, offering us a peak at his work and insight into his world view. He describes himself as more an activist than an artist, a community member who is as comfortable at a political rally as he is in his studio. And what a studio he has, a multi-storied blending of form and function perched atop a bluff that overlooks the ocean.

We hated to leave Delfin's charming world, but within an hour of our departure we were immersed in conversation with students at Cenfotur, a college that specializes in the travel and hospitality industry. The Peruvian students we talked with relished their chance to interact with Americans, and we enjoyed hearing about exotic destinations in the Peruvian highlands, coast and rainforest.

Cuisine is a practical art form, and the dishes we have tried bring together fresh ingredients and rich flavors in a distinct style that is gaining admirers. Our visit to Cenfotur finished with a chance to don chef's aprons and hats and participate in cooking classes. Six lucky students learned how to prepare Mazamorra Morada, Arroz con Leche and Arroz Zambito, three traditional desserts that all of us had a chance to sample afterwards.

Dance is a ceremonial art form, one that inspires admiration and invites participation. Nelida Silva offered a colorful description of traditional Peruvian dances, finishing her lecture with a clip from a movie inspired by her life. After her talk, Pedro Farias demonstrated a variety of dances with his graceful partner. They then taught us how to emulate, as best we could, their amazingly athletic moves.

Religious life in Peru has been influenced by Christianity since the Spaniards arrived almost 500 years ago. But religion in Peru is diverse, a unique blending of indigenous practices, Catholic theology and an emerging evangelical movement. Carlos Aburto is a professor of church history at the Instituto Superior de Estudios Teologicos Juan XXIII. His lecture described how the the religious cosmology of the Incas was transformed by their adoption of Catholic beliefs and practices.

The intersection of these two different world views was brought to life by visits to the Monastery of San Francisco, site of a chilling collection of underground catacombs that served as a burial site for prominent church leaders, and the Museum of the Inquisition.

Our week ended with a fantastic voyage to Islas Palomino, home of 8,000 sea lions. Invited to slip into wet suits and visit these creatures at closer range, we plunged into the cold Pacific and moved as a group with a bit of hesitation, or was it disbelief? The lobos marinos gathered around us, entertaining our group with flips and splashes. We soon acclimated to the water and lost our fear of these fun-loving mammals. Where else in the world could we swim among the sea lions, experiencing for a moment the exhilaration of sharing the deep blue ocean with a creature that is perhaps not as different from us as we had imagined?

Sun, 31 May 2009

Week 4

This week we studied economics and, for the first time, ventured to a town outside metropolitan Lima.

Peru's economy is "looking good" according to an article we read in the Inca Times. The International Monetary Fund forecasts a 5% increase in output this year. This places Peru among the five fastest-growing nations -- China, Egypt, Qatar and India are the others.

Manuel Rimarachin (Hunter College) and his brother, Miguel (United Nations), offered another perspective. From a macroeconomic standpoint, Peru indeed seems strong when compared to nations like the U.S. that are suffering from recession. The official statistics reveal only part of the picture, however. An uneven distribution of income and a large informal sector mean that a significant proportion of the population suffers from poverty.

Psychologist Nestor Vergara works for the government Ministry for Women, Children and Teens. He described the problems people face when they migrate to the edges of Lima. Those who move to the emerging neighborhoods on the northern, eastern and southern "cones" of the city typically suffer from a lack of public services as well as high rates of domestic violence.

We enjoyed two excursions this week. Students formed travel groups of 4-5 people and had lunch in China Town on their way to a museum operated by Peru's Central Bank. The highlight of the week, however, was an all-day trip to the town of Chincha, home to descendants of African slaves. We feasted at Mamaine, a well-known restaurant that serves Afro-Peruvian cuisine. Then we ventured through farm country, enjoying the view of corn and cotton fields in the El Carmen area until we reached the end of the road.

Our guides, Ronald and Vladimir, two members of a local dance troupe who would later perform for us, led us on foot to a view of the river valley. Then something unexpected happened. One of our guides quietly left the group to climb a nearby hill to gain a better vantage point. Seeing this, one of our students decided to follow his lead. Then others did the same. The pull to follow them up the hill proved irresistible. In a few minutes we had, every one of us, climbed to one of two vantage points on this small mountain. What is it about open space, fresh air and a trail that leads upward?

We were in for a treat after our climb. Our guides led us down the valley to one of their homes where we enjoyed a friendly display of music and dance by the Ballumbrosio Family. The men played an assortment of percussion instruments, including the cajon, or wooden box. An older gentlemen accompanied them on violin while they tapped. And women danced in colorful costumes to the rhythm of the drums. The evening ended with an invitation to join them on the drums and dance floor.

Sun, 14 Jun 2009

Week 5

Nature was our focus during week five. Dr. Frank Cervantes showed us the plants that Peruvians from the highlands and rain forests use to prepare herbal medicines. He also explained how the Peruvian health system operates. Alicia, who since 2007 has assisted SST directors by cleaning Goshen Tambo in preparation for our weekly gatherings, demonstrated her first-hand knowledge of how plants are used to cure a variety of ailments. She prepared a delicious tea from Hierba Luisa and five other herbs, and told us how she and her brothers migrated from the highlands near Huancayo to the edge of Lima during their teen years in search of work.

Eliana and Ricardo Mauriola led a workshop showing how seeds from the rainforest can be used to make custom-designed bracelets and necklaces. We visited Villa Real National University to meet Jorge Lescano, an expert on Peru's national parks and natural reserves. Jenny, a social worker, brought along a resident of the rain forest to assist with her presentation on how mining and oil development are changing the landscape and affecting the health and well being of the indigenous peoples who live there.

The director of the seminary where we hold our language classes and lectures, Reverend Timoteo Kim, invited us to spend an afternoon worshiping, eating and playing with his students. We had fun singing together, sharing a meal and then mixing it up on the soccer field and volleyball court. The next day we visited Villa El Salvador, a recent settlement on the outskirts of Lima based on egalitarian ideals whose people suffered greatly during the 1980s and early 90s due to the activities of Shining Path terrorists. We walked through a new neighborhood at the edge of the city where recent migrants sort through piles of garbage trucked in from central Lima in search of building materials and other usable items. Later we ate in a soup kitchen in a more established section of town and then divided into groups of 2 or 3 to visit the homes of families who attend a local church.

The week ended with a despedida, or going away party, a chance for the students to say "thank you" to their host families and language instructors for all they have done for us. The group sang several hymns and recited a poem. Speeches were made. The families were entertained by a male quartet, a skit, an original ballad celebrating life in Lima, a ballet performance and other acts. And then came the grand finale, a twenty-student performance of a traditional Peruvian dance called La Marinera Ayacuchana.

As the fifth week drew to a close, our thoughts turned to the next week's visit to Cusco. Photos of a wonderful trip coming soon...

Sat, 20 Jun 2009

Land of the Incas

The six week study portion of our term was brought to a close with a fascinating journey to the departamento of Cusco. Traveling to Machu Picchu requires a plane, a bus, a train and another bus. Along the way we visited archaeological sites containing stonework that revealed brilliant designs and remarkable engineering.

The Inca Empire dominated western South America during the 15th and early 16th centuries. Four guides -- Michel, Michael, Rodrigo and Elvis -- led us on hikes throughout Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Macchu Picchu, explaining the history of this epic time and describing the social organization required to construct the many terraces, buildings and monuments we discovered.

Tue, 30 Jun 2009

Service Begins

The study half of our term ended with our excursion to Machu Picchu. Now begins our time to give something back to the people of Peru.

Seven students are currently serving in the Ancash Highlands, home to breath-taking views of the Cordillera Blanca, or White Range, and the highest mountain in Peru, Huascaran (6,768 meters = 22,205 feet). We had a chance to visit this group of students on a recent journey through the long valley, or Callejon de Huaylas, that separates the snow-covered Cordillera Blanca from the lower, dryer Cordillera Negra.

Kristen and Chelsea are volunteering at a Comedor, a soup kitchen and community center operated by a Baptist Church that serves lunch to 70 children after school each day. After lunch they mingle with the kids and help them with their homework.

Martin volunteers for World Vision, traveling each morning to rural communities to photograph children who are part of a sponsorship program and helping out in the office in the afternoons.

Derek lives further down the valley at a hostel operated by the family of a mountain guide. He teaches English in several elementary schools.

Ben volunteers for an agricultural development project funded by CARE International. He visits cuy (guinea pig) farmers in the mornings to collect quantitative data and enters the information into a database developed by a former SST student in the afternoons.

Lindsey and Emily live in the home of a woman who teaches traditional Peruvian dances. Lindsey teaches English to kindergarten students at a public school nearby. Emily is researching the life and times of a community leader who advocated for the rights of the campesinos and strove to preserve their dress, customs and customs.

While most of the students in our group were beginning their service assignments in Ancash and elsewhere, eight others needed to postpone their travel to wait out a blockade of the main access route to the cloud forest area of Junin. Indigenous groups from the Amazon Basin blocked access to La Merced and surrounding communities to protest government policies that promote petroleum extraction and, in their view, destroy the land on which they live. The dispute was resolved within a week. In the meantime, the students made the most of their extra days in Lima by volunteering their time for several causes.

The group of eight students traveled to a neighborhood of low-income families in the outskirts of Lima, designing and installing a roof to cover the section of a family's house that had never been protected from the cold and rain. On another day the students traveled to an AIDS clinic with several members of the Lima Mennonite Brethren Church, visiting with women and children who are infected with HIV. And, on a memorable afternoon, they accompanied members of the Mennonite Brethren Church to a Childrens Hospital in San Juan de Miraflores, another poor community located on the southern end of Lima. The students spent time holding abandoned babies who are seldom held, reading to children confined to their beds and painting pictures with kids who rarely have a chance to express themselves through art.

By week's end, three of the eight students whose travel had been delayed by the protest had accepted alternate assignments while the other five were able to travel to Junin as planned.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009

Service in Piura and Cusco

Peru consists of 25 Departamentos, political jurisdictions much like the states or provinces we know in North America. Piura, near the northern border of Peru, enjoys a warm, sunny climate. One of our students, Amanda, volunteers at the RBC Rehabilitation Center in the town of Chulucanas. On some days she tutors children at the center. On others, she travels to visit children who cannot afford to come to the center. Part of her work involves educating family members to help overcome the superstition associated with disabilities.

High in the Andes mountains lies the Departamento of Cusco, center of the Inca Empire and home to four of our students during their service terms. Andy and Karissa volunteer for World Vision, assisting with a project that promotes sustainable development in the rural communities surrounding the city of Cusco. They spend most of their mornings with program staff, interviewing families to determine eligibility for program support. The purpose of their work is to improve childhood nutrition, protect the natural environment and develop a sustainable source of income based on a new type of adventure tourism.

About two hours from the city of Cusco is a rural area known as Katiniray. Rachel and Liz volunteer for Fundacion Almeria, working on a program that promotes childhood nutrition and education. They get their hands dirty everyday, working in a garden and greenhouse to grow vegetables and farm animals that are affordable to local families and served daily to children who attend the project's school.

Thu, 23 Jul 2009

Service in Pasco and Junin

Five of our students are serving in the upper Rain Forest east of the Andes range. The departamento of Pasco is home to a variety of indigenous people and, curiously, a small population of German immigrants that settled here over a hundred years ago. Jordan volunteers at a comedor in the city of Oxapampa where children come after school to eat lunch, do their homework and have fun. He helps the cooks prepare a meal each morning and spends his afternoons with kids of all ages. The project is funded by Compassion International and is operated by the Alliance Missionary Church located next door.

Michael and Zach volunteer at a fair trade coffee and fruit company, Chanchamayo Highland Products, in nearby La Merced, Departamento of Junin. This innovative enterprise pays farmers prices far above market if they agree to clean up their land and employ organic practices. In addition to preparing fruit preserves and roasting coffee beans, the two students travel to local schools to educate rural residents about the importance of protecting our planet.

Marlys and Julia live on a coffee plantation that employs sustainable practices near the community of San Chirio. The owners of the farm grow coffee beans, avocados, bananas, yucca and other rain forest crops. Their cloud forest locale is a paradise for local flora and fauna, including the wild cutpe we devoured during our visit.

Fri, 24 Jul 2009

Service in Ica and Lima

The city of Chincha is located along the Pacific coast in the departamento of Ica. Houses and buildings in this city were destroyed by an earthquake in 2007. Eric and Jacob volunteered to do construction at a school operated by the Alliance Missionary Church. They have worked outdoors over the past five weeks, digging holes in preparation for a building project and excavating a playground to remove rocks, making the area safe for children to play.

Liz volunteered to serve at San Bartolome Childrens Hospital in the capital city of Lima. Her supervisor, Dr. Jenny Arauco, is a pediatric surgeon with a gift for treating patients from all over the country. Liz has had an opportunity to come alongside these infants and children who suffer from a variety of medical conditions, sharing their hope for a brighter future.

Sarah volunteered to spend her mornings at a public school nearby, Senora de los Milagros (Our Lady of Miracles). Her assignment involves teaching drama and art to children in the primary grades. In the afternoons, she tutored individual students and conducted a drama workshop for children at a local church.

All four students serving along the Peruvian coast have enjoyed their chance to interact with children. For many, our students are the first Americans they have met. Hollywood gives Peruvians one perspective of what it means to be an American. These real life encounters offer another.

Mon, 27 Jul 2009


Our students finished their service assignments last week and traveled back to Lima to reunite for a final retreat. After spending a night in the city, we boarded a bus for Cieneguilla, a small town nestled in a valley 1 1/2 hours from the capital. We spent two days and two nights at Mahanaim Retreat Center -- Mahanaim is a Hebrew word meaning "two camps".

Students worked on final projects while on service and had an opportunity to share their findings with each other. Titles included "Legends and Traditions of Peru," "Lost in Translation," "Women in Peru", "Community Development," "Deforestation and Reforestation," "Peruvian Desserts," "Peruvian Cooking" and "Adobe". Between presentations we enjoyed a bit of sunshine and played volleyball, including a competitive set of games against a group of Peruvians who visited the retreat center Sunday afternoon.

After the project presentations we hiked to the Lurin River to spend some quiet time reflecting on the last three months. On their first day in Lima each student was asked to write a letter to him- or herself that answered the question, "What do you expect to happen during your time in Peru?". These letters were sealed in envelopes and stored until Sunday when we handed each student the letter they had written and instructed them to find a quiet place next to the river to read what they had written. After reflecting on how their expectation matched their experience, we asked them to write a second letter, which we collected, sealed in envelopes and will return to them via campus mail in the fall.

On our last day of the retreat we returned to Lima for our final meal together, a buffet of homemade Peruvian dishes prepared by Goshen Tambo chefs Mervi and Esperanza and served at the Mennonite Brethren Church in the District of Magdalena. We were joined by President Jim Brenneman, his wife, Terri, and son, Quinn, who are returning from Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay. We savored a time of fellowship, laughter and tears as we sampled Peruvian delicacies, listened to remarks from President Brenneman and Pastor Jose Manuel Prada and participated in an awards ceremony to celebrate the experiences of each of our students.

Tue, 28 Jul 2009


The students departed Lima early this morning. We shared donuts, a few more stories and lots of goodbyes. Our family is sad to see them go.

We are also happy to have spent so much time with these wonderful people and wonder how our paths might cross again in the future. Safe travels, everyone!

Goshen College
International Education Office
Kevin Koch
+1 (574) 535-7346