Andean Alliance

strengthen the educational and economic base of Andean communities

Testimonial – Ember on Youth to Youth Tour 2015

Reverse culture shock. That’s what I feel as I sit here typing up this article, sitting outside on this beautiful fall day with an Americano in my hand, listening to all the sounds that fill up our everyday lives; the vehicles roaring down mainstreet, a motorcycle gunning their engine, the constant drone of conversation all around me…It’s a beautiful, modern world we get to live in. 
But on July 31st, myself and 9 other youth from Edmonton discovered a very different world. A world that is centred around people depending on each other, thriving because they know they can count on their neighbours in times of trouble. A community that is learning how to become self sufficient because they know they cannot count on their government, or anyone else but themselves for protection, comfort, and support. 
On the evening of July 31st, after our van broke down at 3500m and we had to hike with our luggage in the pitch black, we arrived in the beautiful community of Yurac Yacu, in the Cordillera Blanca. Prior to this, we spent 3 excitement-filled days in Lima, walking around the city which is the most similiar to Edmonton, with its large buildings and industrial set-up. We took a (extremely touristy, but very informative) bus tour of downtown and the catacombs, participated in a chocolate making workshop at a chocolate museum where they deal in only fair trade and organic product, and spent endless amounts of time browsing and shopping through the local fruit and artisan markets, marvelling at the gorgeous alpaca sweaters, hats and scarves and trying our best to communicate with the mostly Spanish-speaking artisans.
From there, we spent 8 hours driving on curving, narrow, teeth-shattering roads, in a bus where if you have to use the washroom, you need to ask the driver to pull over to the side of the road. Obviously it was a big dilemma for us whether to drink water and hopefully alleviate any symptoms of altitude sickness, or to refrain and avoiding the pain of a full bladder for endless hours. The struggle was real. We survived though, many by popping probably double the prescribed dosage of gravol, but we finally made it to Huaraz, where we spent the next two days exploring the much smaller city, enjoying breakfasts and great coffee at the quaint and beautiful Cafe Andino and taking day trips to different ruins nearby.
During these days that we spent being tourists, we had some very memorable moments, including the time Johnny ordered a “Peruvian coffee” without the knowledge of the adults, and was horrified to discover it contained Pisco, a strong Peruvian booze, and insisted he was drunk after only one sip. Or the time Mahad went on a wild hat rampage and bought at least 6 hats from various vendors. And of course when Paul tried to say “my friend” to our chatty tour guide, but instead used the words “my love,” earning him a few weird looks and a good laugh. Our experiences helped draw the whole group closer together, and by the time we arrived in Yurac Yacu, our main destination, and location for our project, we were a tight-knit, (but open-minded) little family.
We spent a little over a week in the community of Yurac Yacu, graciously hosted by Wayne and Diana at the luxurious Lazy Dog Inn, a beautiful eco-friendly lodge, which, within it’s gates, pretty much houses its own little world while being surrounded by the rest of such an impoverished community. Three of the days here were spent dedicated solely to our stove-building project, which involved full days of work at four separate houses in the community, constructing adobe stoves (and in some cases, new roofs, new electrical and several other “extra” jobs) out of whatever tools (or pieces of tools), and equipment these families owned. For example, in my case, I spent 45 minutes one day sawing rebar with the handless blade of a dull hacksaw, and another cutting a hole in the thick tin roof with a pair of kids kindergarten safety scissors. The Peruvian’s definitely laughed at me as I struggled with that last one-talk about uses for everyday things we would never dream of using them for.
We spent these days at our assigned houses learning how to work together with an unfamiliar group of people, with a language barrier which sometimes accounted for comical moments of misinterpretation was we attempted to translate things into and from three very different languages. It is so satisfying to see that the native language of Quechua is still so prevalent in this community, even if all we ever learned to say was that we were “extremely full” and could not eat anymore.
During our work days, the families of the houses where the construction was taking place would cook all morning, to provide us with a sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate lunch-time meal, served to us as if we were the guests of honour as per (unsettling) tradition where they do not eat until we have eaten, and even then, eat squatting outside while we are served at a cloth-covered table. We ate a range of dishes, from chicken and noodles to a great assortment of soups, potatoes cooked in every way imaginable, and were also lucky enough to be able to try Cuy, a peruvian specialty, which is quite literally, Guinea Pig. It tastes sort of like chicken.
After the construction days were finished, resulting in four beautiful new stoves and many exchanged hugs, thankyous and new freinds, we got to spend a few days exploring the gorgeous countryside around Yurac Yacu. One of the most satisfying achievements of the group was a day hike we did to Lago LLaca (lake LLaca), in Huascaran National Park. At such a high altitude, the hike stretched many of our group’s physical and mental abilities, but was so rewarding when we reached the top at around 4700m, with the view of a glacier and snow covered mountains all around. A few of us that needed an extra adrenaline rush stripped down to our underwear and took a dip in the “refreshing” glacial lake, much to the amusement and feelings of horror from everyone else.
Besides over-exerting ourselves at ridiculously high altitudes, which we did all day everyday, we spent our time bouldering, writing in our journals, playing many games of hearts, and building relationships with the Peruvians which I am so happy to say are continuing to last since we have returned to Canada and our lives here. On our last day in the community, a few of us hiked down to a big field to participate in a much awaited soccer game with a bunch of boys and men from the community that we had yet to meet. As pathetic as we were, out of breath after running half the length of the field while the Peruvians danced around as if they were at sea level, it is one of my favourite memories just watching the friendly competitiveness bring everyone together, and them yelling “muy bien!” over and over as we repeatedly had to stop and catch our breath, or when there was an especially good play.
Once we were all good and sweaty, we hiked back up to the community centre for a Pachamunca, a gathering of the community where pounds and pounds of potatoes and other vegetables are cooked in an “earth oven” and then served up for everyone to eat with their fingers. It was the coolest feeling walking up the hill with everyone, watching people from all over the community making their way there, by foot, motorbike, donkey or battered car. It was a beautiful way to end the trip, with so many people from the community all coming together to share a meal together, kids running around wildly and parents and families sitting scattered across the grass, the beautiful colors of Peru making the space look like a bright patchwork quilt, but constantly changing and morphing as people mingled and moved through the groups of friends. 
There was a mixture of feelings as we got into the vans to make the long trip back to Lima, some homesickness and excitement, but many tears and painful goodbyes as we left the people we become so close with in such a short amount of time. The connection between some was so strong and real that having to let go of that hug, and looking into their eyes saying goodbye, not knowing when or if you would see each other again still gives me chills when I think about it. 
It was a quiet bus trip back down the winding roads, with a short lunch stop at a beachfront seafood restaurant, where afterwards we all jumped giddily in the ocean, laughing as we got pulled in by the huge waves and running like wild horses down the sand. We arrived at the Lima airport around 7 PM, knowing we had over six hours to kill before our flight, only to discover it was delayed by another 3 hours, which meant missing our connecting flight in Toronto, and basically left us with no idea how or when we were going to get home. We played the waiting game, using our food vouchers at 2 AM for crappy airport coffee and overly-sugary donuts, playing leapfrog on the moving sidewalks and getting to know a bunch of other sleep-deprived travellers who were in the same boat as us.
After being separated onto more than 6 different planes, and over 32 hours of travel later, we finally arrived in Edmonton, tired, but incredibly satisfied, and, at least in my case, with the bug for travel even more engrained in me, as well as a burning desire for Costco french fries and real maple syrup.

Testimonial – Rita Milligan & Mary Leah de Zwart

In April of 2015, Rita Milligan from Bon Accord, Alberta and Mary Leah de Zwart, from Vernon, BC (sisters-in-law) volunteered to lead a four-day sewing workshop at Yurac Yacu.  This was their second visit to Yurac Yacu, staying at the Lazy Dog Inn.  A $3000 grant from the Canadian Home Economics Foundation helped to enable the building of a crafts room/kiosk and the purchase of sewing machines.  Following are their observations about their stay:

Mary Leah:  First I’d like to acknowledge the great motivation and perseverance of the women and youth of Yurac Yacu, who came to the workshops despite the heavy workloads they have in their daily lives.  I found that they had a great desire to learn and that they were very quick to do so. In the four days, many participants learned how to use sewing machines for the first time; how to make patterns; measure fabric; and custom-fit liners into hats they had previously made with the knitting group.  They also learned about North American and European sizing to enable them to make products for a wider market.  It was a very intense and rewarding four days, and a number of local people showed leadership in helping others – I think that will be the key to achieving and maintaining quality standards of products. I also appreciated everyone’s great sense of humor and patience.

Rita:  I’d also like to acknowledge the work of Diana and Wayne in setting up and keeping this project going.  They are very dedicated people who are making a big difference in the Yurac Yacu Community.  It was great getting to know everyone, from the six-month olds to the sixty-year olds.  It was a great community effort, with everybody helping each other, holding babies so young mothers could sit down and sew, the Lazy Dog Inn providing lunch, and especially the language support from Elina and also the sewing help from Carmen and Herlinda.  The women made aprons with custom-designed pockets – I remember one person making her pocket the right size for a piece of bread and her chicles (chewing gum)! The young sewers from ages 8 to 16 made mochillas (back packs) and hand puppets, and we also spent some time tracing our large North American feet and hands as guides for future sizing.  There is a lot of energy and excitement in the Yurac Yacu community about this and other potential income-generating projects.

Nicolas Dargaud (Aiglon College Teacher, French)

Our visit to the Lazy Dog Inn was amazing and a real eye opener for our students. We left with this feeling of having contributed to a worthy cause and made a tiny difference in this community. Although we were only able to work on the foundations of the community centre and were not lucky enough to see the whole building completed before we left, in a kind of symbolic way, we felt proud to have laid out the foundations for what is more than a building but a real long-term educational project for the Yurak Yacu people. We are looking forward to coming back with another group of keen students in 2011.

Testimonial – Laetitia Prahin (Aiglon College teacher, Swiss)

What a trip!!! Despite managing to be ill most of the time: altitude sickness first and then stomach bug, I loved every minute of it. It was my very first time in South America and even in the southern hemisphere… and being “head down” transformed my viewpoint on things! Continue reading

Testimonial – Prakriti Shah (Indian student from Aiglon College, Switzerland)

The Lazy Dog Inn was a great place to stay. The local people are very hospitable and work very hard. It was nice that we could go horse-riding or mountain-biking. This was a change from our usual routine of helping with the community building. Horse-riding was particularly memorable because we rode out in the open and in the Western style. This was a change from the ‘proper’ style of British riding. The food made by the ladies was good and it tasted particularly delicious after a long day’s work! I would definitely go back to The Lazy Dog Inn if I had a chance.

Testimonial – Ariel Ho-Kjaer (Chinese student from Aiglon College, Switzerland)

Peru just started off as a service project for me but as I began to mold into the culture and experience of the country it became so much more. Volunteering building the school brought me out of my comfort zone and into a realm of new faces and places. The people at the Lazy Dog Inn and in the community welcomed us warmly and made me feel comfortable in my surroundings. I will keep the experience in my heart for the rest of my life and will hopefully one day return.

Testimonial – Jacopo de Bernini (Italian student from Aiglon College, Switzerland)

Last summer July 2010, four classmates and I went to Huaraz to build a community center for the locals. It was an amazing experience not only because I was able to visit a country where I had never been, but also because I was able to do something good for someone else and maybe contribute a little bit to improving their living conditions. I felt I contributed in insuring a future to some kids.

Testimonial – Alia Bazarbachi

Alia Bazarbachi (Indian student from Aiglon College, Switzerland)

The Lazy Dog Inn was an incredible place to stay in. I felt that the local people were extremely hospitable which allowed us to engage into a new culture. Apart from our daily routine of working on the building site, we went horseriding where we were swept away by the breath-taking scenery. Working with the little Peruvian Children was also extremely entertaining and heartwarming because we were able to teach the kids and actually interact with the local community. Overall, my experience at the Lazy Dog Inn was incredible and I would definitely like to return to it.

Testimonial – Carol from the U.K, May 2010

I spent about 3 weeks volunteering at the Lazy Dog in May 2010, helping with a few different projects running at that time: education programme; bird list; first thoughts for designing the community project information for the website.  This was near the start of a 3 months sabbatical that I was going to enjoy in Peru.

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Aiglon College Volunteer Group 2011

This month, for the 2nd year in a row, 12 students and 3 teachers from Aiglon College, Switzerland travelled to Peru, to complete a service project within our community. Their help included teaching the local children in the Yurac Yacu Early Childhood Program, painting a mural and constructing a playground for the children. They also got to experience the local culture with a welcoming Pachamanca meal, prepared by the local neighbors.