The Willka T’ika Children’s Fund, established in 1995, supports the education of Quechua children in remote Andean villages that receive no local, national, or foreign funding. It began when Carol Cumes, founder of Willka T’ika luxury retreat in Peru’s Sacred Valley, first visited the isolated village of Patakancha, at 14,000 feet elevation and a thousand feet above the nearest dirt road. To her amazement, she found two teachers who hitchhiked and walked from the Sacred Valley to Patakancha each week to teach in the village’s dilapidated one-room school. Lacking desks, blackboards, school supplies, and textbooks, the two women improvised, using song and dance to teach reading and writing in Quechua and Spanish, and taking the children outside for math class, using pebbles on the ground.
A few years later, when the dirt road was extended to Patakancha, Carol began bringing her Magical Journey travel groups on day trips to this Andean village far from the tourist routes. Each time, the group brought a few school supplies with them. The participants also began leaving small money donations, which were immediately put to use. The Willka T’ika Children’s Fund was born.
Meanwhile, word spread about the work of these two teachers, and more and more children enrolled in the Patakancha school, some walking for two or three hours across the mountains each morning and evening in order to attend. Donations coming from visitors to Willka T’ika allowed the Willka T’ika Children’s Fund to build the first library in an isolated community.
When a mountain path passing near Patakancha became a popular tourist route, the school, by now well established, began receiving assistance from other sources. The Willka T’ika Children’s Fund moved on to begin serving schools in other, more isolated high mountain communities that received no funding whatsoever.
The Fund’s operations are inspired by the Andean principle of ayni, loving and caring reciprocity, creating an opportunity for visitors to give and providing support for the children in these remote villages to be educated and thrive. All donations go directly to the schools and their surrounding communities. Operating costs are donated by Willka T’ika. The Fund’s maintains a policy that every child at the schools it supports is included in all gifts and programs.
Currently the Willka T’ika Children’s Fund assists six hundred Quechua children in four schools in communities critically needing assistance. The Fund helps to provide school buildings, libraries, kitchens, multipurpose rooms, books, and school supplies. The Fund also supports mothers in traditional weaving programs, and provides blankets and traditional Andean clothing for children during cold winter months. Emergency medical assistance, clothing, and schools supplies are offered to hundreds of Quechua children each year.
The two smaller schools, at Kkapackmachay and Cochamocco, currently have single mixed classes of all ages. The two larger schools, at Chumpepokes and Huama, now have classrooms fitted with desks for every grade, small but growing libraries, and kitchens that provide hot lunches. Some students have passed national exams and are continuing with high school level classes, and a Young Women’s Academy has been set up for high school girls. These two schools receive limited electricity from the valley below and thus can offer computer classes, like schools in the Sacred Valley.
The children attending these high mountain schools love to come to school and are eager to make something of their lives. School attendance approaches 100 percent, diminished only when snow blocks the long walk over mountains from home or parents are sick or need help with animals or crops.
In addition to the regular education curriculum, the Fund fosters self-sufficiency training through its School for Life programs, which teach life skills—such as business skills, greenhouse projects, carpentry, ceramic production, and raising guinea pigs for protein—and also encourages the continuation of ancient Andean traditions.
Initiative for 2013/14
The Fund’s 2011 initiative is to provide the school at Chumpepokes with twenty-five new computers. With six elementary grades and three full secondary classes taking turns in the computer room, the ten computers on hand means up to four children must share a computer during class. When they use the computers, these mountain children feel proud and equal to children studying in schools in the valley below. With no television or movies in their villages, for these children the computers open up the whole world.
What Visitors Can Bring
Group retreat participants may wish to bring supplies in their luggage to donate. The most appreciated items include:
- Books or DVDs in Spanish (topics relevant to nature-based lifestyles are best)
- Quality school and art supplies
- Durable, gently worn clothing for children ages 4 to 14 (clothing colored red, black, or blue is welcome in any style or texture). Andean children are slimmer and shorter than their overseas counterparts. Adult-size clothing is not required.
- Basic medical supplies
- Energy-efficient flashlights, garden tools, and seeds
Soccer balls and small toys (saved to give to children at special events)