One of the most memorable moments from my trip to Peru was during a brief stop at an elementary school, high in the Andes. As part of a program with Gate 1 Travel called “Education & Enlightenment,” our tour group had the opportunity to personally donate school supplies to the young students at Virgen de Fatima elementary school. Located in a rural community on the road from Cuzco to Lake Titicaca, the school has six teachers and about ninety students in the first through sixth grades. Most of the children come from the economically challenged farming community of Tio, walking up to an hour each way to get to their classes. Unlike in America where it’s often hard to get kids to even want to go to school, in these poor communities of Peru, the children truly love school. This is because it beats the alternative—working in the fields. Plus, they have a chance to socialize and it’s a time for them to actually be kids.
As tourists, we often don’t get to interact with the locals. On this stopover, we got to meet and spend some time with the teachers and children of Virgen de Fatima school. It was purely optional, but many of us brought simple supplies like pencils, pens, notebooks, and pads of paper to donate to the children. It’s amazing how much we take for granted in our daily lives. Just receiving standard No. 2 pencils brought such incredible joy to these kids. Some people brought clothing or hand-me-downs as well, since during the months of June through August it gets very cold in the Andes Highlands and many of the homes don’t have heating. Someone in our group even brought Spanish language editions of the Harry Potter books. Our guide was emphatic that no one gives monetary donations though. They do not want these children to become beggars; they want to educate them so they can one day move to the city and start a professional career.
After passing out the gifts, the students invited us into their classrooms to see their schoolwork. I was amazed at their math and writing skills and especially by their penmanship—it was perfect! Besides showing us their studies, the kids were excited to play on the computers, which were donated by the tour company.
The children look forward to Gate 1’s regular visits throughout the year. As visitors, we really appreciated taking an active role, departing with the profound satisfaction that we contributed to the lives and education of these children. Although they are poor in an economical sense, these people are anything but poor in spirit. In fact, all over Peru you’ll notice smiling faces on practically everyone. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn and give a little in return.