Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Groton Peru Day 9

July 6, 2011

The sun is beaming in Ollantaytambo, and students left early this morning to hike up the valley, where they will camp for the evening. Jason, Nancy, and Adolfo are accompanying them, and they will be tended to also by a group of porters. Judging by the size of the bags students loaded onto horses, the group has ample clothing for even the coldest night of tent camping.

I remained in the village today because I am still recovering from knee surgery and didn’t want to run the risk of damaging my new ligament. Instead, I went down to Ancho Pancha, the village in which we have been working, to check on the worksite. At mid-day, twenty-six men from the village were setting stones across the entire expanse of the 16 x 30 meter field. These were stones—thousands and thousands of them—that Groton students had carried and placed over the course of a week of work.

Nancy has commented that service is a form of community building, and I was struck by how her words ring true, at least in Ancho Pancha on July 6th--for it is clear that the village is determined to make this playspace a reality and has rallied together to prepare the surface for the arrival of sand and forms and concrete tomorrow morning. Such collaboration is surely a good sign for Ancho Pancha, comprised as it is of two disparate groups that ended in this floodplain after being displaced from their original homes. That the village is rallying together is also a good sign for the burgeoning relationship between Groton and Ancho Pancha moving forward.

As I was preparing to leave the village this morning, Julia—the treasurer of Ancho Pancha—approached and asked if the students were all doing well, if she could do anything to make their stay better. And at that moment, I realized that our students had been wholly welcomed into and appreciated by the community. True, we are not nearly as strong or as deft with stones (we are working with people of Incan descent, after all), but this community has come to appreciate the fact that we deliver on our promises (quite unlike their experience dealing with the local municipality), we act with humility and gratitude and respect, and we love working and laughing along with them.

Such community building has also been happening with our homestay families. Yesterday afternoon, a group of students (Catherine, Sinclaire, Hugh, Nick, Connor, Mitch) headed off to play soccer with some local high school students—and walked back winded and impressed with the skill of the Peruvian players. At the same time, our son Teddy (10 years old) and Margo White (Form of 2010) hiked high into the hills with Christian Arenas, a local friend, who took them to a mountain pool for a chilly swim followed by a jog back home. Others in the group surely enjoyed hanging around with their families. And last night, Hugh, Connor, and Mitch’s homestay family had Jason, Teddy, Nancy, and me over for dinner of trout the boys and their homestay father had caught way above Ollantaytambo earlier in the day.

Watching this disparate group head off for their hike this morning, listening as I did to the banter, I was struck by the fact that such service work builds community among the participants, as well. These kids will have deeper, more extensive, and richer relationships for having spent this time in Peru. They will, I think, make better use of their education at Groton as individuals and as a group. I, for my part, have never seen more clearly the value these trips have for our students in present and future, for our school, and for others who are partners in our efforts.

Tonight, prior to dinner, Nancy will be working with students to help them to determine how they will continue to perpetuate the ideas and values that have emerged during the course of our work together—in casual discussion, in our homestays, at the worksite, and in our curricular work together. I’m sad I won’t be there but expect that this will be but the start of a longer discussion.

We continue to enjoy and appreciate each and every student with whom we are working. We are so grateful to be working with such a remarkable group.


Craig Gemmell


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