Lee Oneness Foundation Ambassador, Elizabeth Gale, Visits our Peru Project

Six hours past the hustle and bustle of Machu Picchu and two hours beyond the sleepy town of Urubamba there are two tiny towns in the heights of the Peruvian mountains: Huama and Poques. They’re the kind of places untouched by the tourism that has infiltrated the rest of Peru, and as such, have not received the kind of money that comes from foreign visitors. Driving through the winding dirt roads up into the heights of the Sacred Valley, you pass neatly ordered farmland, sheep and alpaca grazing on the hillsides, and a run down “greenhouse” constructed from wood and used plastic. My tour guide Richard, who is also the principal of the primary school in Huamas pulled over on the side of the road and excitedly asked me to follow him. He carefully stepped through the broken plastic sheeting and offered me his hand, explaining the different varieties of vegetables in the meager garden, mostly overgrown with grass with a few rows of produce peeking out in between, and how the students are taught to farm and then eat the literal fruits of their labor at school. He turned to me with a large smile and in rapid Spanish said, “It is what we would call (and then in English) sustainable.”

The overwhelming sense of pride in the small communities of Huama and Poques are both inspiring and palpable the moment you step into the schools. I was immediately greeted by the beautiful, rosy cheeked faces of Peruvian children handing me flowers, demanding hugs, and wanting me, the extremely pale foreign visitor, to see all that they had in their school and all that they had learned. The teachers quickly ushered them into their class lines, and they presented poetry, songs, dances, and handicrafts to say thank you for the “alimentos,” or food, they had received from the Lee Oneness Foundation.

These mountain communities exist in a way that is almost incomprehensible to someone who has grown up in the United States. Every family lives below the poverty level, but that poverty level is significantly lower than anything one would find in the first world. Everything that they have comes from the land, and because farming and animals are limited, nutrition is compromised. Potatoes are the primary crop of the area, but if there is a bad harvest the entire community goes hungry. As the community has grown, they cannot produce enough food to physically sustain the population. There is no variety and very little protein, and because of their isolated location, there is no access to resources to supplement their diets.

Because of the sparse population in the area, students hike anywhere from 2-3 hours each way through high-mountain passes to attend school, then return home around 2 pm to continue farming. The meager breakfasts at home were not enough to sustain them through an entire day of school and farming, and as a result students were suffering from malnutrition and unable to focus during the school day. Sicknesses associated with malnutrition became more and more common in the community because of poor diets and too few calories, and they had no way to fight it.

The addition of a high protein “almuerzo,” or lunch, in the schools has made all the difference for these children. They have higher attendance rates, more work accomplished in the classrooms, and the schools have become a center of stability in the ancient communities. With the added nutrition, students are able to work at school, developing their minds as well as life skills from 8 am to 2 pm and then head home to continue working in their families’ communal farms until sunset.

At the school in Poques, after about 16 poems, 8 songs in both Spanish and quechua, as well as a traditional dance, the Mayor of the town came out to give a speech and explain the significance of this food in their community. Translated from Quechua to Spanish to English and surrounded by the entire town, he was brought to tears thanking “the wonderful person” who had allowed another generation to survive. Grandmothers in traditional dress came to me crying, speaking rapid Quechua and kissing me on the cheeks to say thank you. Fathers came to shake my hand and show appreciation: a significant act for a young woman in a male dominant society. The amount of influence that the gift of fortified rice had on an entire community was overwhelming. Something so simple has completely changed the future of these small villages.