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Scholarship Recipient Helps at Weaving Coalition and Computer Class in Peru

by Connie K. Ho | September 5th, 2011

Teaching in a rural classroom with computers that were over ten years old. Hand washing clothing for two hours. Returning to the United States, Cari Jeffries reflects on the challenges she faced while volunteering in Peru with Awakami, a non-profit that focuses on issues such as health, education, and working with impoverished Quechua woman to revitalize their weaving tradition.

Awakmaki was formed in early 2009 as a weaving project for the indigenous communities of Ollantaytambo, Peru.  Kennedy Leavens, Founder and Executive Director of Awakmaki, first visited Ollantaytambo in 2001 on a high school trip. It sparked her interest in Latin American and international development. In 2007, she returned to Ollantaytambo as a volunteer and met Miguel Galdo; together, the two started the weaving initiative of Awakmaki.

“I started calling the founder, we talked two or three times, and it sounded like an amazing place,” said Jeffries. “I always wanted to go to South America and being immersed in a small town was really appealing.”

Jeffries was involved in the health and education branch, where she taught computer and English classes during the day to elementary students as well as public health courses at night.

“Teaching was very different from what I expected. I’ve done some teaching in the US but, when I got there, everything was completely different,” remarked Jeffries. “There were third graders who didn’t know the alphabet, so it was just a wakeup call. It’s very different there and so I was playing a little catch up.”

Besides lesson challenges, Jeffries came to understood the difficulties rural Peruvians face. Many of the students had to walk one to three hours to arrive at the school. On a given day, the classroom would only be filled with half or two-thirds of the students. Students did not have internet access and the director of school wasn’t familiar with the internet either.

“I learned a lot about education worldwide. I have always felt that there were problems in education in the United States, but, in Peru, it’s very different. It’s seen as a means to advance their lives,” said Jeffries. “I couldn’t teach everything that I intended, but even the smallest successes are huge for them and for me. It was a very eye opening experience.”

Apart from the classroom experience, Jeffries was able to take part in Peruvian life with her home stay family. She lived in a small, rural community ninety minutes outside of Cuzco. In the nine weeks that she was there, she was able to try delicacies like cuy, a whole suckling pig, and witnessed Señor de Choquekillka, the biggest festival of the year with four days of dancing and drinking.

“Every day in Peru was a learning experience. Insane, difficult, and perfect all at once. Discovering new things and having things constantly thrown at you, you just learn so much about yourself and about the world. My Spanish skills grew enormously as well as my humility and my ability to handle things,” said Jeffries. “I felt as if I was a part of the community, a sense of belonging–I couldn’t have asked for anything else.”

After her time volunteering in South America, Jeffries still has hopes to return and to continue the international development work that she started with Awakmaki.

“I would love to go back. It’s a giant continent and while there are some similarities, there are so many things that are different. The culture is so rich and wonderful,” said Jeffries. “I would love to go back to see it all, see if I can make an impact.”

Photos via Cari Jeffries

Cari Jeffries is a student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC). She is a recipient of the Morehead-Cain Scholarship at UNC. The scholarship recipients pursue a different experience each summer and, this past summer, participants were to focus on an activity that highlighted public service.

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