23 June 2019

Fulbright TGC Day 4-5: Lima to Tarma

Our last day in Lima consisted first of a lecture by Anthropology professor Juan Carlos Callirgos regarding culture and its effects on education and vice versa.  Some his main points asked us to be aware that the educational system, and this is true of anywhere, not just Peru, does provide opportunities yet it can also perpetuate inequalities and eliminate diversity.  These were good distinctions to hear, because I think we educators often think, "Diversity, yay!" but don't consider that equal educational access to all can also be a homogenizing system that does not necessarily adapt to the populations it serves.  Rather, it demands that those populations adapt to the system, and this is probably especially true in countries like Peru which have a nationalized curriculum that is required to be taught in every school.

After lunch, we braved the Lima traffic again to visit the US Embassy.  Part of our visit was to understand what embassies do and the various branches that exist within them.  I do not think I could have imaged it as such a colossal building.  It is massive.  Security was intense as well.  The second half of our visit brought a dozen or so principals and directors of Peruvian schools to our conference table.  Their schools are all in the Lima area and they are all experiencing a huge influx of Venezuelan refugees.  To make a very long story short, due to the instability and difficulties (to put it mildly) in Venezuela, many are leaving the country.  Peru has a history of similar difficult times and recognized that Venezuela welcomed its citizens during periods of instability, and was ready to open its borders to Venezuelans.  The exact words used in the introduction is that Peruvians felt it was "their turn" and they are proud that their country is in a position to help.  However, massive, rapid immigration causes many issues and challenges.

The principals were hoping to discuss with us the challenges their schools are facing and to hear our advice and suggestions, as teachers from a nation of immigrants.  Many schools have so many students that they had to add a second shift of classes that go from afternoon to evening.  This was done with little government support or compensation.  Without a nationwide food program, like the free and reduced lunch program in the US, they don't have a way to feed these children, many of whom left nearly everything behind.  Many of these refugee students do not have adequate clothing for the cold climate of Peru.  There are not enough supplies, the homes they live in do not have sanitation, etc.  These principals asked us, what do we do?

Our answers made me realize the incredible privilege it is to have government programs and philanthropic organizations, adequate infrastructure, and parent organizations that all support schools, teachers, and students.  There are immense barriers between every suggestion we made and the reality of this situation.  It was incredibly humbling and eye-opening, and I found myself holding back tears.  When US schools face a high immigrant influx, the major challenge we see is that those students do not speak English in nearly all cases, and our first major goal for those students is the language.  However, even sharing a common language with these Venezuelan students still left so many huge challenges.  These principals were all united in their intense desire to provide the best education possible for these students, but their hands were tied in such ways as to make them feel that they could not do enough.  Their frustration and anxiety were palpable, and yet not one blamed the children or their families for this incredibly difficult situation.  This to me seemed one of the most tangible differences between the Peruvian directors' view of the situation and what a similar one would look like in the current atmosphere of the US.  And I truly believe that the recent experiences of Peruvians living through their own challenges is a huge part of that.  They understand the difficult choice of living under internal strife so absolutely untenable that the only option is to leave.  In the US, almost all of us cannot even imagine the options being tipped in such an unbalanced way.  It was difficult to leave this meeting with so little to contribute.

In the middle of the night, we departed our Lima hotel for the airport and our very short flight to Jauja.  My first impressions of the highlands were "Sun!  Blue sky!"  It was very refreshing to see the sky and feel the warmth of the sun after consecutive days without seeing either.  It is cold here and I am grateful for my layers of clothing.  Lima was hazy, foggy, and damp.  I could never quite get my bearings because I had no sun's trajectory to follow.  Our host teacher, Clever, met Brian and me at the airport and we rode in a taxi to Tarma.  This required passing through several small farming communities, over a pass, and into the valley where Tarma is.  On the way we saw small plots of land where people were harvesting potatoes, corn, and other crops (remember, winter just began here).  There was even a small herd of vicuña near the top of the pass.  It is a dry, grassy place, with few trees - those that are here were planted.

After checking into the hotel and napping, Clever arrived and we walked to his house.  He pointed out the two campuses of his school.  As Brian put it, the word for Tarma is bustling.  There was an incredible amount of activity in the streets.  Small cars and mototaxis speed through the narrow streets.  Dogs are everywhere.  Stores, restaurants and vendors are all open for business.  There is so much to pay attention to, including the obstacles of uneven sidewalks, narrow walkways, and pot holes.  I promise I will have photos, but there just wasn't time and space to do the city justice.  Tarma is definitely more of a city than I imagined.  I thought it might be a sleepy town like my own, but it is a hub of commerce with the farmers bringing in their potatoes and produce to sell and the other merchants selling just about everything you can think of.

Lunch was huge, prepared by Clever's wife.  We were served pachamanca, a traditional dish from this area which for our meal consisted of several kinds of potatoes, corn, chicken, beef, yuca, and a bean similar to a lima bean.  And we drank the traditional beverage chicha morada, made from boiled purple corn.  As is often the case with travel, even things that are similar (potatoes, corn) are not quite the same.  It was a generous meal with huge portions.  Their four-year-old daughter Sofie was also there and we spent hours talking and discussing so many different things in a mix of Spanish and English.  Clever walked us home after dark and the city streets were no less busy than earlier.  While we had lunch, Peru lost to Brazil 5-0, but it appears that outcome was not unexpected.

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