A Refuge for Andean Culture in Peru

  • Maureen Valentine
  • 29 July 2010

With its origins in Peru’s central highlands more than 1000 years before to the rise of the Inca Empire, Quechua civilisation has an extraordinary cultural heritage of religious, musical and literary traditions. Unfortunately, a growing influx of tourism through Peru’s legendary Sacred Valley has left local indigenous villages fighting to preserve their Quechua way of life. Thankfully, an innovative local organisation aims to safeguard Andean mores by instilling confidence in the local people through education and by teaching the visiting public about their hosts’ native practices and beliefs.

The Sacred Valley of Peru

The Sacred Valley of Peru, where green rolling hills meet the snow-capped Andes, is a land of breathtaking vistas. No wonder Pachamama's Path wishes to preserve the traditions of this beautiful land.

Pachamama’s Path

Tourism may have brought new opportunities to the Sacred Valley, but as more money and influence flow through it, the ancient customs and culture of the Quechua people are gradually being lost to the press of globalisation and outside religious views, languages and experimental government politics.

To counteract this loss of cultural identity, the Vizcarra family, proprietors of the local Pisac Inn in the Sacred Valley, organised a noble initiative called Pachamama’s Path. The vision is “to sustain permanent, multidisciplinary activities oriented toward children, youth, and adults of traditional communities, towns and cities, especially in the Sacred Valley area of Cusco, Peru, through workshops, special events, cultural exchanges and other integral educational activities that reinforce, promote and protect the values and knowledge of Andean culture – and in this way, empower the endangered traditional way of life.”

Children in Sacred Valley learn about an ancestral coca leaf ceremony

Children in Sacred Valley learn about an ancestral coca leaf ceremony. The coca leaf has been part of life in the Andes since before anyone can remember and is used for everything from tea to medicine to religion.

The Vizcarras – Roman is Peruvian and Fielding Wood hails from Lexington, Kentucky – met in Italy but settled in the highlands of Peru to raise their children. The couple has run the Pisac Inn for the last 17 years and shares a deep respect for the local culture. By advocating for Quechua rights, the Vizcarras hope to share the validity and encourage a resurgence in the practice of the traditional belief systems of the Quechua people.

Educating about Culture

One well-established means of preserving culture is through education, so Pachamama’s Path went to work opening a pioneering elementary school at the base of the Pisac archaeological site. The Kusi Kawsay Andean School Project, which was granted legal status by the Peruvian Ministry of Education, has been functioning as a school since March 2009.

The school’s mission is to provide an outstanding curriculum while honouring the endangered traditional lifestyle of the local people. Now, instead of being forced to leave their villages to receive a conventional education – through which students are made to believe that to be ‘successful’ is to be a professional – Kusi Kawsay students are taught that an education can be had as part of a traditional way of life. Relying on the humanistic Waldorf approach to education, the school seeks to extend the reach of the nationalised educational system by respecting local highland culture and cultivating united communities of strong individuals with high self-esteem for their ancestry.

The Kusi Kawsay schoolhouse is situated at the base of the Pisac archaeological site

The Kusi Kawsay schoolhouse is situated at the base of the Pisac archaeological site overlooking the picturesque Sacred Valley in the highlands of Peru.

The Kusi Kawsay Andean School Project has been able to accommodate 65 students (kindergarten through sixth grade) for the 2010 school year. Four schoolhouses have been completed and two more are under construction, as is a new facility for the kindergarten. The success of this pilot program has been an inspiration throughout Peru and Kusi Kawsay’s teachers are writing educational materials for other schools wishing to incorporate lessons on the Andean way of life.

Pachamama’s Path has also established four cultural centres as spaces in which to host local celebrations and promote the practice of Quechua beliefs. The Vizcarras hope that other cultural centre projects will be initiated throughout Peru to cultivate traditional knowledge while fostering a greater sense of community.

After teaching about their traditional Andean culture, teachers let the children play outdoors to loosen up before returning to the classroom.

Off to a Wet Start in 2010

Many exciting projects are underway, but 2010 got off to a rocky start after intense rains, flooding and mudslides devastated the Sacred Valley. The Vizcarras survived a terrifying flash flood that destroyed the village of Taray along with their own home. Two cultural centres suffered critical damage and have been trying to hold finances together after Machu Picchu was closed for weeks and tourism came to a complete standstill. The higher grades of the Kusi Kawsay Andean School Project, usually previously held at the Taray Cultural Centre, have also had to move into a provisional classroom in another school. Though the flooding is no longer front-page news for the papers, the people of this region are still dealing daily with its consequences.

By visiting the highlands of Peru and booking accommodation with the Pisac Inn, guests are supporting the Pachamama’s Path foundation and contributing to the preservation of the Quechua culture in the Sacred Valley. For other accommodation options, tours and local tips, check in with Chaska Tours, the whl.travel local connection in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru.

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children, indigenous culture, language, local knowledge, natural disasters, Peru, responsible travel, responsible travel news, South America, whl.travel, world heritage,

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