Monday, July 11, 2011

Flight on time

Hello parents,
Quick note to say that LAN flight 0530 left Lima on time at 11:55 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive on time at JFK at 8:35 a.m. on Tuesday, July 12th. Thank you for a wonderful program!
Ross Wehner, World Leadership School

Final Post from the Lima Airport

It seems like days and days ago when it was raining, as we have been enjoying the gorgeous Andean blue sky throughout the week. However, realizing that this blog serves as a journal for the students (and us) as well as a way of keeping in touch with parents, I wanted to note some of the students' responses during our discussion about what our "work" is during this experience. A few students suggested that our work is to create something tangible--in essence, to help the community build the sports court. And here are some other ways in which the students describe their “work” in Peru: to lead to other changes in the community of Ancco Pacha; to change attitudes; to create enjoyment; to create hope; to help people --us and Peruvians--think about the world in deeper and more expansive ways; to engage in a community building; to engage in a cultural exchange; to recognize that we need to unplug and dig in; to become more mindful of our privilege.

So much of this work was done so well throughout our time here. Yesterday in Ancco Pacha we asked the kids to reflect upon what aspects of their experience here in Peru they would want to bring back to Groton. Below is what they had to say.

A Stronger Sense of Community:

“We should bring back a sense of community and mutual respect as seen in Ancco Pacha, Ollantaytambo, and in our group.”

“I think we should bring back to Groton the sense of community and generosity shown to use by the families in Ollanta.”

“I hope we can bring back the sense of community that I’ve experienced here. Although Groton already has a close-knit community, I think that we can improve and strengthen it by looking out for each other and caring for each other even more.”

“I think we should bring back our sense of community. During this trip, I have grown close to a number of people who I probably never talk to at school. At Groton, it is very easy for us to get comfortable in our separate friend groups, and I don’t think there is enough community among the student body.”

“Here in Peru, I discovered a sense of human openness, which I surely would like to both maintain in myself and bring back to Groton. This openness encompasses all of the aspects of this trip that have struck us: the tight community, the amicability and hospitality of the people, the interdependence, and the happiness.”

Toward common goals:

“We should bring back the sense of ownership toward common goals we saw at Ancco Pacha.”

“We should bring back the teamwork we created when we were working toward difficult and frustrating goals.”

“We should bring back the sense of drive that will allow us to realize goals despite obstacles.”

“We should bring back the attitude of common goals and joint efforts that we have founding in Ancco Pacha. So much of what we do at Groton is for our own personal gain, instead of for the group as a whole, and people often have trouble being able to say that they need help.”

Gratitude and generosity:

“We should bring back thankfulness for the benefits of living in the United States.”

“We should bring back gratitude for all our parents do for us.”

“Watching all our families in Ollantaytambo have done for us, I’m reminded that I don’t thank my folks enough.”

“We should bring back the generosity shown to us by the families here. Each one of us was welcomed with open arms and given food and shelter by complete strangers—something that rarely happens in 1st world countries.”

Students are scattered now through the food court in the airport in Lima, and most have gorged on western delights (one student ate food from McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Papa John’s pizza) while we await the red-eye to New York. We will say our good-byes tomorrow and head our separate ways for the balance of the summer. Once again, we are grateful you have shared your children with us and with the communities in which we have worked and lived for the past weeks. They have been a delight and would have made you proud. Please do be in touch should you have any thoughts or questions subsequent to our trip. We will be landing in JFK around 8:30 a.m. on July 12th. Our best to you all!


Nancy and Craig

On Machu Picchu

A trip to Macchu Pichu meant an early rise and an hour and a half train trip to the tourist town of Aguas Calientes. As we rode on “Peru Rail” along the Urumbamba River, we had both riveting vistas coupled with a complimentary snack that even Chris Farley wouldn’t touch (essentially flower covered in bad chocolate). The main plaza of Aguas Calientes consisted of several classy buildings alongside eateries, featuring a sign with an extremely racist cartoon depiction of a “chino” (Peruvians assume all Asians to be Chinese) basking in the sun with a bowl of noodles. After what seemed like a long wait in this Gringo oriented Hell hole, we began our climb up narrow switchbacks to Macchu Pichu via bus. Affected by queasiness and near death experiences at every turn, the 16 Groton students dismounted gratefully onto terra firma. Our guide introduced himself to us, but the mysteries he described about Incan civilization and the construction of Macchu Pichu didn’t match the mysteries of his dialect and pronunciation. He looked somewhat like a husky, short Peruvian version of Sean Connery and his voice conjured his inner Gorbachev despite his Peruvian and Spanish background. Understandably, about one in five words spoken could be considered English. As he trundled around the ancient ruins with his beautifully groomed sole-patch, we heard “Hiram Bingham”, “Macchu Pichu”, and “Inca” interspersed among mumbles that only a KGB trained decoder could fully comprehend. Due to the prominent language barrier, we quickly crafted a game of pure skill: a photography contest of our guide. Discreet shots ranged from goofiness to pure toughness not unlike a portly Vlad the Impaler. If you want to see award winning photographs, email or check the Facebooks of Mitchell Zhang, Bobby Min, or Nick Funnell.
Cynicism aside, the ruins of Machu Picchu are quite incredible. Using flawless Tetris skills, the Incans were able to construct a town full of architectural masterpieces perched atop a mountain using methods still unknown to us. Credible scholars say the Incans made the city using only manpower and other stones as tools. Less credible scholars, such as Sinclaire Brooks, offer alien invasion as the reason for the magnificent dwelling. Whatever the reason, extraterrestrial or not, Macchu Pichu could best be described as majestic.

Hugh McGlade and Nick Funnell

Friday, July 8, 2011

Day 12: Peru Humor

The funniest moment of these past weeks was the part when LAN lost my suitcase, and I resorted to soliciting clothing from 30+ year old women, Peruvian and American alike.

The funniest part of these past weeks was when Jason, one of the more “comical” leaders, convinced Mitchell, Sinclaire, and me that we were being accused of trespassing by a scary Peruvian lady and subsequently, had to be flown home immediately to avoid the harsh Peruvian judicial system. We have our reactions on video.

The funniest moment of the recent days for me occurred high in the Peruvian mountains. As I was bundled in winter gear ready to slip into my sleeping bag, I went out for a final mountainside urination. As I stood looking at the stars, I glanced to my left, and sitting, at most, two feet away was a large alpaca and her kin. I was subsequently stared down and grunted at before I fled the scene. I have just ordered alpaca for dinner.

It was a warm afternoon, a pleasant departure from the several days of rain and cold. One of my roommates, Byunghoon Bobby Min decided that this would be an ideal day for a shower. Although I knew the shower would be downright frigid from prior experience, I didn’t think much of it as I sat in my room. However, I soon heard laughter from outside the room and I walked out to see our mother laughing. She pointed to the bathroom, where we could hear strange grunts coming from our dearest little Min. He later claimed a side cramp to be a heart attack. #Language barrier.

Just few hours ago, I was at the market to buy some souvenirs. Then I saw some rugs (Peruvian style hoodie/sweater in my opinion). As I tried one on from Silvia’s store, it was WAY too small for me. However, Silvia claimed that it would become larger after putting it in the laundry. Being the cynical person I am, I pulled out my iPhone (which I was not supposed to have at that time) and opened the Spanish dictionary application. I searched the word “promise” and asked Silvia, “Dame una prometa que es la verdad.” (roughly translates to “Promise me that it is true”) She promised me, so I bought one. Yet I am still “un poco” worried that it would never fit my barrel chest.

It was a cold night in the middle of the Peruvian mountains, during our overnight stay. I had been prolonging the call of nature for about an hour (since it was absolutely freezing out) when I absolutely had to leave the tent. I rushed to zip open the two tent flaps in just boxers and a pair of hiking socks, and hurried outside—right into a pile of Alpaca dung. Needless to say, I had to ditch the socks. And I no longer find Alpacas adorable.

Two words :Sinclaire's sunburn

After talking to our host mom, Vicky and I found out that some of the vendors in the marketplace were overcharging all of us and Vicky wasn’t having any of it. So the next day, we went back to the marketplace to finish buying our gifts and after hearing that a bag was 50 soles, she tells the vendor, “Es muy costo(she meant “caro”, which means expensive) ... tu sabes!” and she ended up getting it for 30 soles. #winning.

It was the first night after we arrived at Ollantaytambo, and we were all staying at the hotel Inca Garden. After having showered and unpacked, some of the girls, Sam, and Kyle decided to play Uno all together in one room. The innocent game grew more intense and heated as the minutes passed by, and finally we were to a point where people were openly cheating and even throwing cards at each other. Finally, after Naomi said, “we’re all going to feel so different when we wake up tomorrow,” Kyle, who was one of the most aggressive players, said “well, let’s hope that everyone does wake up tomorrow.” Let’s just say, I prayed for my life that night.

It was the first day that we were working at Ancho Pacha, and we were moving lots of rocks. We were lined up in a long fire line to place the rocks, and I was in the middle. Bobby was in front of me, and while passing a relatively big rock, warned me that it was heavy. I had underestimated the weight of the rock. As soon as he let go of the rock, I held it for a few seconds but before I passed it to Vicky, I fell backwards with the rock on my stomach. I started laughing because I couldn’t get up, but I was finally able to after I moved the rock.

A group of us on the trip decided to walk to a pool across the river (which was a rather large distance away) after the long overnight hike for some relaxation. When we arrived the realization hit us that the pool freezing cold. We all jumped in, immediately climbed back, shivering, and then put our clothes back on. After we had gotten out of the water, Nancy Hughes decided she wanted to jump in as well. She dipped her foot in the water and was immediately rethinking this thought. She stood their for long moment and then Craig Gemmel nodded to me to push her in. I proceded to do so.

Day 12: Being Fully Alive

The Overnight Hike: The Sweet Ache

By Vicky Zhang and Naomi Primero

Camping is generally a relaxing, family-oriented activity, looked forward to by many summer-awaiting individuals. Now take camping to the next level: 12,000 feet above sea level in the Andes in a field congested with alpaca poop.
The two-day overnight hike was an event that we were both apprehensive of and anticipating. Hiking? A bit tough, but no big deal. Camping? Sure, most of us have done it before. Little did we know that we were in for a challenge.
Our journey began with the actual “hiking up the mountain” part. Several of us charged up the mountain (aka Adolpho, our sturdy guide), while others simply did not (aka yours truly). To be sure, breaks were appreciated greatly. However, for all of us, it was a push into the “stretch” zone. Though we arrived at the camping site overjoyed and exhausted, we soon realized that hiking was only the first of the challenges this trip offered.
Camping itself was a limit-pusher. The already frigid area combined with a strong wind made for an experience in the extreme cold. Whether in the dining tent, around the much-needed fire, or in our own tents, we huddled together against the conditions. During the night, many of us wore four layers or more. In addition to impending upon our personal comfort, the cold also made another activity difficult: going to the bathroom. We can say pretty confidently that we’ve had the most variety of bathrooms during this one trip, including in the bushes, among rocks, and even in a makeshift port-a-potty tent among the alpacas.
However, among all of the hardships, we still had fun playing cards, drinking tea, talking and laughing. With the help and advice of our guides, teachers, and local helpers, we had a smooth and incredible trip without passing into the “danger” zone. When we finally touched down on ground level, we looked up at the mountain, feeling accomplished and satisfied.
…And then we woke the next morning, literally feeling “the sweet ache of being so FULLY alive”.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Students back from overnight!

I walked up and greeted the travelers as they emerged from their trip to the higher altitudes. Despite the very cold night (they awoke to frost-covered tents!) and the long trek back this morning, their spirits were high and most students plan to meet for a walk up to a mountain-side pool for a swim in just a few minutes. More later from Nancy.


Craig Gemmell

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

Monday, July 4, 2011

Groton Peru Day 7

On Food in Peru
Naomi Wright and Catherine Walker-Jacks

Do you enjoy eating roasted guinea pig with a side of piping hot jello and papaya juice? No? Well some of our classmates do. For those of us who don’t, Peru offers myriad other unique foods as well. From “carne asado” to “juevos con pan caliente,” the food here is nothing quite like anything we’ve ever experienced. Everyday there is a new type of food for us to try and, despite apprehension, enjoy. Furthermore, all of us have found new favorite candies such as “Sublime” and “Golpe” bars. Though our host families feed us portions much larger than we would’ve ever imagined, it is simply an extension of their hospitality, causing some of us to loosen our belts “un poco”.

Other than just an opportunity for experimentation, meal times are also an incredibly social aspect of life in Peru. Families convene for all three meals of the day to share and reflect on the happenings of each day. We are completely included in these exchanges despite our ability to speak perfect Spanish, and we are treated as though we are part of the family. Throughout these meals, our families are constantly inquiring about our lives “en Los Estados Unidos,” thus, promoting a sense of unity among the family.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Groton Peru Day 6

Sunday, July 03, 2011

It’s raining for the third day in a row, something none of us had expected here. However, in spite of the mud, the cold and the wetness, I am truly surprised to see all of the students, teachers, and even our Peruvian family members still wanting to contribute to the work. I actually think that we’ve been quite effective in terms of filling up the land with rocks, despite the inconvenient weather. As for me, I’ve been a little bit sick and staying at home for the last two days, which gave me time not only to sleep but also to reflect on my first few days.
I came to realize that our jobs here aren’t nearly as simple as placing rocks on the ground or creating a study space. Of course, we have great faith that what we do for the people in Ancho Pancha will make a huge difference for them. However, I feel that this trip will be even more beneficial for us. First of all, we have the chance to experience and adapt to a whole new culture. I know that this may be a kind of a challenge for some of us who don’t speak Spanish very well—I know it definitely is for me. Having dropped Spanish a year ago, I found myself attempting to say something to my Peruvian family, and not making any sense at all. My goal is to at least try, no matter how badly I might make a fool of myself, so that I can show my family how much I appreciate what they’re doing for me.
Second of all, coming here has made me realized how unaware I’ve been of the world. I knew that going to boarding school would make me a bit isolated, (hence the “Groton Bubble,”) but I’d always considered myself as pretty familiar with global issues. However, I realized how wrong I was on the first day I arrived. We hiked up to see the granaries on the mountain in Ollantaytambo, and when we reached the top, we could see the breathtaking view of the town surrounded by the mountains. It was this view that first made me realize how oblivious I’ve been, and how I had lived in such a small bubble even in Korea, what I had considered to be the “real world.” Also, when Naomi and I first arrived at our house, the kids were ecstatic to see us and our gifts that we had for them. They were little things, like markers, nail polish, and magnets. It was really amazing to see how such little things could make them happy. Even though the people here don’t live in mansions or have flat screen TV’s, they’re perfectly content with their lives, if not happier than those who do possess such materials.
The last thing that I’ve discovered here so far is the importance of teamwork and the sense of community. Before coming to Peru, when I found out who was coming, I was somewhat relieved yet disappointed to see that the majority of the people were in our form; I was relieved because I knew it wouldn’t be that awkward, yet disappointed because I also wanted some people from different forms that I’d never talked to so that I would get to know them better through this trip. This partially came from listening to stories from people that went to Peru last year. Gia, a very close friend of mine, told me how this trip created bonds between her and other people that she would’ve never expected, especially with students in other forms. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to have this kind of experience, since most of the people were fourth formers and I already knew Bobby pretty well. However, I was once again proven wrong. We’re barely half way through the trip, and I have already found out so many things about all of the people that I never knew before. I thought that I had already known them well enough, but I now realize that there’s so much more to learn about everyone else here. As we work together in the mud placing heavy rocks, it’s amazing to see the teamwork that we are capable of creating. As Teddy says, all the students get along with each other very well and also with all of the host families. In fact, Naomi and I live right by Connor, Hugh, and Mitchell’s house and we had the opportunity to play Uno with them and their family almost every night. Also, when I was sick and lying in bed, Naomi and Hugh went out to get help while Connor and Mitchell came into the room to check on me. Later in the evening, everyone else came to visit me, which already made me feel a lot better to have some company. Just being together with people gave me an incredible amount of comfort and helped me appreciate the closeness of our group.
During my free time, I read a book called “Cyrus the Great; the Arts of Leadership and War,” which recounts the story of Cyrus, the Persian Emperor who is known to be the most successful and benevolent leader. It talked about how although Alexander the Great conquered far more land, he was also far more brutal and tyrannical when it came to handling his subjects. Cyrus, on the other hand, desired no wealth for himself, listened to everyone’s opinions, and treated each of his subjects with respect and careful attention. One of the first discussions that we had was about different leadership styles, and both Mr. Gemmell and I turned out to be INFJ’s, who aren’t outspoken leaders but still contribute behind the scenes to help achieve our goals. Like Cyrus, I hope to develop myself as an effective leader that everyone can benefit from. Furthermore, I hope that as we continue our service during the rest of our time here, I will be able to stretch myself, overcome my challenges and create long-lasting relationships with the people here.

Stephanie Kim
Form of 2013

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Groton Peru Day 5

Day Five

“I would just work. And then I would work some more. And try to pay attention to whatever the work was teaching me.”
Jacqueline Novogratz, The Blue Sweater

Rain again today—the cold, soaking sort of rain—and we trip leaders were surprised to see such weather two days in a row because we are in the midst of the dry season. We decided to keep students from the work site for the morning and met the students at a local cafĂ© instead in order to continue our focused discussion. Interestingly, most students were quite clear that they wanted to get out to the worksite and continue on our quest to cover the field with large rocks as a substrate for the concrete we’ll be pouring next week, and it is entirely conceivable that we would have submitted to their desire to work in earlier versions of this trip, but we’ve come to recognize that there are many ways we can use our time together well and that our work in Ancco Pacha is not the sole focal point of our experience.
Yesterday afternoon, we discussed a bit of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift—a book that considers the nature of gift-based cultures—and used this as a means of talking about how cultural misunderstandings emerge and how we can come to start defining service. We also considered some quotations from Jacqueline Novagratz’s The Blue Sweater as a means of gaining a deeper understanding of how one comes to understand how to serve the needs of others through self-awareness, careful listening, and respect.
This morning, we met in the center of Ollantaytambo and continued our discussion over tea in the hope that the cold rain would abate and allow us to head to the worksite. After circling back to the matter of personality types through a group problem solving project, we asked students to spend some time reflecting on what the work was coming to mean to them as individuals and as a group. Below are excerpts of responses.

On individual purposes of work:

“The work for me is a complex concept. I’m here for more than just lifting and placing rocks in a dusty patch of ground….I’m here to learn... Learning entails not only gaining an understanding of culture and service, but also a full contemplation of myself.”
Nick Funnell

“My work is to make a difference in someone’s life in a positive way.”
Sam Gosden

“My work is to help others to get rid of some of the notions that some people have of Americans by adapting to the culture….I also consider it my job to realize and break stereotypes that I may not have known existed within myself.”
Naomi Wright

“Of course there is manual labor and trying to speak in Spanish. My work is in trying to show my appreciation for all my Peruvian family is doing for me.”
Stephanie Lee

“My work is to be so truly alive within these 17 days and to truly experience the spirit of service, and to try my best to spread it out, not only in Groton, but also in my hometown in China.” Vicky Zhang

“I define the work for myself as what I need to do on the worksite to help further our project.”
Sinclaire Brooks

“My work here is to realize that life in the U.S. is not normal, and by interacting and sharing cultures, I will appreciate more the life I have in the U.S. and the beautiful traditions of other cultures.”
Connor Popik

“My work is to be able to understand what service is.”

“My work is to reassure myself that I have the power to help others in need.”
Byanka Llugo

“My work: the lifting of rocks to eventually make a concrete field puts a strong sense of humility into my soul. I can understand what it is like to truly improve a community and reflect on what really is important in my life.”
Kyle McKiernan

“My work here is to meet others who are both so alike from me and so different from me. In addition, I need to build on relationships I have with people I already know.”
Naomi Primero

“The work for myself is to better understand myself through interacting with different people and a different culture. Through our discussions of leadership styles, I hope to understand how to be a more effective leader.”
Anita Xu

“My work, my goal, is to become the son of my family”
Bobby Min

“ My work is to be present.”
Hugh McGlade

“My work as an individual is to better myself and widen my cultural horizons.”
Mitchell Zhang

On the work of the group:

“Our work is to understand and attempt to embody the school’s motto, for through our work, we can lead all sorts of change, no matter how small.”
Catherine Walker-Jacks

“Our work is to improve the United States’ global image, one service trip at a time.”
Mitchell Zhang

“Our work together is to place the puzzle pieces of our individual ideas together in order to work most effectively.”
Hugh McGlade

“Our work is to understand the customs and culture in order to listen better to their needs as a means of understand how we can help them.”
Anita Xu

“We are here to create hope and build love.”
Bobby Min

“Our work here is to connect to others through the best of our abilities”
Naomi Primero

“Our work is to understand the meaning of community.”
Kyle McKiernan

“Our work is to show that we care about others and are interested in being in their position.”
Byanka Llugo

“The work of the group is to learn how to work together as a collective efficiently. In so doing, we will learn how to be better listeners and better leaders in the future.”

“The work of the group is literally more concrete than our individual work. I believe it is the group’s work to build the concrete playing slab.”
Connor Popik

“The work of the group is more than a concrete slab. It is not the completion of our project but rather a measurable assimilation of culture between us and our host families.”
Sinclaire Brooks

“Building a court for people is great and meaningful, but beyond that, it’s more about how the work we did here leads us to do more when we are done.”
Vicky Zhang

“Our work together is to build long lasting relationships on the trip with our families. We also need to build deeper relationships with each other so that we can all work together more effectively at Groton.” Stephanie Lee

“Our work is to connect with both communities that we are in and make them feel as though they are making a difference for us as well.” Naomi Wright

While I was compiling these excerpts, the weather broke, and students headed down to Ancco Pacha with Jason and Nancy and Teddy (our ten year old) to move some rocks. We had planned to go on an overnight trek this weekend, but snow is covering the higher altitudes, so we are planning to stay in Ollantaytambo and look forward to the possibility of heading off for a trek when better weather emerges. Until then we plan on continuing to build relationships with our host families and on laying more rocks down on the field in Ancco Pacha.

Now, as darkness falls, students are heading back to their host families for dinner and what will doubtless prove to be a night in which they turn in early.

Nancy and I continue to be truly amazed by and grateful to be with your children. We hope osmosis renders our ten year old as kind, determined, flexible, fun, and trustworthy as we have found your children to be.


Craig Gemmell

Friday, July 1, 2011

Groton Peru Day 4 Update

Well, today has been unseasonably wet. It started raining last night and it just hasn't stopped. Unfortunately, the rain kept us from our work in Ancco Pacha, but the students were able to catch up on some sleep and spend good time with their host families and each other. We also met as a group at 3:30 to talk about the first chapter of Lewis Hyde's "The Gift" and Novogratz's "The Blue Sweater."

Just to keep parents up-to-date, please know that we are postponing our hike. We will not be leaving on Saturday as planned because more rain is expected -- and there is about 16 inches of snow now where we were planning to hike! So we will be changing our route and, we hope, heading out on Wednesday.

Our best to you all. nmh

Groton Peru Day 4

As Craig shared with you all, we began on Tuesday morning by rafting down the Urubumba River. The students enjoy the rafting obviously, but I am pleased that we have kept this element in the program because the rafting allows the students to see Ancco Pacha, where we work, and Ollantaytambo, where we live, from a different perspective. We then take the kids up Pinkuylluna to the Incan granaries, and here the students are able to look down on all of Ollantaytambo; they can see the town’s central plaza, the river, the sun temple, the agricultural spaces, and many can spot the tops of their host family’s houses. And yesterday we began the day with a tour of the remarkable Inca ruins here in Ollanta, which house the sun temple. Yet another perspective from which to view the town below and a chance now to look across to Pinkuylluna to the granaries where we gathered days before.

Visiting these locations, we try to emphasize the benefits of coming to know a place by seeing it from multiple perspectives—from the river and from the mountains, left and right. We foreground this idea, for it serves to illustrate what the whole experience is offering our students – a chance to gain new perspectives about themselves, their peers, about their homelands and the developing world, about what community and service mean.

In our last blog we shared with you some of the students’ reflections about the first active day of work in Ancco Pacha. We also asked students a few days ago to reflect upon what new perspectives they are gaining about themselves during their time in Peru. A number of students suggested that they had previously regarded themselves as being very picky about food and fastidious about personal hygiene, yet a few days into their stay here they were realizing that they were quite comfortable without a daily shower and that they were less picky eaters than they had previously imagined. A few students also reflected upon how they had regarded themselves as fairly reserved when meeting other people, but were realizing that they could be outgrowing and were, in fact, quite adept in making connections with member of their host families. Some are realizing that their Spanish is not as good as they thought it to be and others are realizing how they can make themselves understood and understand others without much Spanish.

We also asked them to share with each other any new perspectives that they are gaining about life beyond the self, and their observations were quite remarkable. Many talked about how they were being led to wonder about how they define happiness and success, as they recognize how joyful and content so many of the people they were meeting were—people with so few resources and so little opportunity in comparison to all of us. Students commented on how they were becoming more conscious of their own privilege through their time in Ollanta, and one student then noted that while he recognized his privilege, he was seeing how attractive this lifestyle is, how appealing in its simplicity and sincerity. Others commented on how they were recognizing the value of community and tradition in new ways. I was particularly interested by these observations because, of course, at Groton School we try to emphasize the importance of community, yet sometimes we all need to see something from a different perspective to be able to understand the idea more deeply. I am reminded again about how these experiences abroad are so valuable not only as a means of stretching our students and exposing them to what is unfamiliar but also as a means of strengthen our School community.

Just as our students have been moved by their host families’ hospitality and warmth, Craig and I are continually struck by your childrens’ openness, flexibility, and kindness. Here in Ollanta they are representing Groton School and your families in the most honorable ways, and we thank you again for allowing them to live and work with us in Peru this summer.


Nancy Hughes

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Groton Peru Day 3

Rain all night last night and into the morning, and the group donned rain coats and traveled to the ruins of the Incan Sun Temple in Ollantaytambo. Adolfo led us on a tour in espanol, and Jason did his best to translate for the non Spanish speakers in the group. After finishing the tour, the sun broke through the clouds as we headed to Ancho Pancha and our first day of real work on the site.
Craig and Adela met with the municipal engineer early in the day, and a plan was laid to transform the site from muddy, uneven ground into a concrete playspace for the children of the community—the project the community asked us to work with them on during our stay. That a member of the municipality is willing to help in this project is important because this community has not yet been recognized as an entity within the region and has thus been deprived of basic services, and residents are not allowed to vote in local elections.
Once we all arrived at the worksite and after Craig explained how we were going to build the 18m x 30m playspace, the group set to the task of laying a base of stones. These stones—thousands of them—were collected by members of the community, and this base of stones will ultimately be covered by a 25 centimeter thick layer of cement we will mix and spread by hand under the direction and with the help of members of the community of Ancho Pancha.
The students have been impressively positive and have coalesced into an extremely functional, determined group in the short few days we’ve been together. We will head back to Ollantaytambo for a late lunch with host families, and then we will gather as a group to discuss the results of the Kiersey Temperment Sorter—a test all students took last night as a means of ascertaining how each functions as an individual within the context of a group. Students take this test as a means of helping them understand themselves, and such understanding is important because serving the needs of others and acting as a leader requires ample self-awareness.

Some initial observations from students:

Stephanie: I’m having fun, though manual labor is a lot harder than I would have thought. Makes me realize the importance of team work.

Naomi P.: I’m so excited to be starting this great project!

Naomi R: It warms my hear that the people appreciate our help.

Hugh: It’s hot! The scenery is incredible, and we’ve made much progress in one day!

Nick: The work’s tough; we don’t have a lot of brawn. The people are very nice.

Connor: Everything is disorganized in Peru, but it’s fun.

Byanka: The work has been excellent, and it has pushed our limits a lot.

Kyle: the work is hard but enjoyable; this is totally worth it.

Bobby: I’m having fun, though the work is hard and I’d love a shower.

Anita: We’ve done a lot, very tiring, though. My host family is fantastic.

Vicky: The work is harder that I would have thought, but the group makes it much easier. Great to see the product thus far.

Monifa: Never have I seen so many rocks! It is amazing to see the community help out.

Sinclaire: It’s tough but fun.

Mitch: who knew that lifting rocks could be so much fun.

Sam: it’s been really fun but lots of hard work

Catherine: This sure is physically taxing, but seeing the progress we have made makes it worthwhile.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Groton Peru Day 1

Dear Families
We arrived in Ollantaytambo last night in the dark after seeing some remarkable historical sites in Cusco and, later, in Pisac. Students ate well and then fell asleep quickly.
 As I write, students and other leaders are rafting the Urubamba River and getting a sense of the broader landscape. This afternoon, they will return to the hostel in which we stayed last night to meet their host families and will spend their first night at their homes in Ollantaytambo tonight.
This morning, we went over all safety and procedural information, and we will check regularly with students through the course of the trip in order to ensure that all students have a great experience with their host families.
I just returned from Anco Pancha, the village where we will be working for the next few weeks, and the students will, I think, really enjoy working alongside residents of Ancho Pancha to build a large play area for the children of the village.
We will update you daily on our progress. Until we report again, know that we are so grateful you have sent your children along on this experience, and we look forward to watching each student learn much about him or herself, others in the group, this magical region, and about the nature of service to others.


Craig Gemmell