It takes three separate taxi rides to get from Cusco to Cuper Alto. As you climb out of the city, gradually, the cars and sounds of humanity give way to rolling hills and small farmsteads. Look out the rearview and you will see the city spreading out beneath you like some intricate tapestry.
Keep driving, and winding down the road and suddenly the snowy mountain-tops of the Andean mountains come into view. Eventually you will reach Lake Puray, immaculately reflecting the expansive blue sky and golden hills above. Above the lake is the small town of Cuper Alto, Chinchero, where some 200 Quechua people are going about their daily lives.
On this particular day, however, something is different, the town is abuzz with excitement. Peak through the arched wooden door at Visantina’s house and into her grassy courtyard and you will see why: Eight Indigenous youth from Canada are sitting in the yard, sharing bannock and tea with their host families.
The group is now more than halfway through their time in Peru, where they have been living, working, and exchanging since early July. It is the first time that CWY has been able to send a group of youth on an international exchange since 2019.
“We have Jonathan who is Nunatukavut, we have Anishnaabe, we have Cree, it’s beautiful seeing everyone all over Canada come together and all having something in common, but not being exactly the same,” said 18 year-old Marley Sunshine Rose Moose, who is from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, in Treaty 5 Territory.
While the program began with eight youth from Canada, one youth from Garden River First Nation, near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, had to return home last week because of severe altitude sickness. The community said goodbye to him with a going away potluck, and promises to keep in touch.
Chinchero and the surrounding communities are approximately 3,800 meters above sea level. One of the advantages of this is that the community is surrounded by incredible scenery.
“The stars, the night sky and the moon are definitely my favorite things to look at,” said Marley. “They are so beautiful here. You gotta see em’ they are so lovely, they are so bright.”
Overall, Marley said the experience has made them more comfortable in their own skin. “I came on this trip and I just told myself, okay, I can just be myself, it doesn’t matter if I’m weird or whatever, because I’m never going to see these people again. But I’m finding that people like it more when you are just yourself. It’s nice to be able to be my authentic self here.”
The group from Canada are joined by four Indigenous youth from cities across Peru, and volunteers from the Brigada de Voluntarios Bolivarianos del Peru (BVBP), our partner organization. All participated in the virtual internship program earlier this year.
Working with BVBP is Jona Diaz, who also participated in a CWY exchange program in 2012 along with our very own Operations Manager, Julien Michel!
During their time in Peru, the youth are continuing to volunteer with BVBP, and also to participate in the reciprocal sharing of knowledge and traditions from each other’s communities. They are learning about the historical and contemporary context of the Quechua Peoples, who are descended from Inca and Huari cultures.
“Growing up, we were raised Christian, and we weren’t given the opportunity to learn our culture,” said participant Hannah Whiteway, who is from Berens River First Nation in Treaty 5 Territory, Manitoba.
“Coming here really opened some doors, and I want to go back and learn more about my culture. Learning from the group has been amazing, they know how to do their dances, speak their languages, they have spirit names, so I want that for me, I want that for when I have children,” said Hannah.
Last week, the group got to learn Quechua customs, history, and traditions from Antaurko Patsakamaq, who is an Inka Knowledge Keeper and Spiritual Leader from an Andean Quechua community in Peru. As a Quechua, who now lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, he was the perfect bridge between these two cultures.
During his 2-day visit, Antaurko led everyone through making an offering to PachaMama, or Mother Earth. After sharing teachings from his culture, he also guided the group in how to express gratitude, pray, and set intentions with Kintos, which are made from coca leaves.
Quechua ceremonies, explained Antaurko, ofter involve the burning of palo santo, whereas on Turtle Island, ceremonies might include the burning of sweetgrass or sage. As the palo santo was passed around, the youth from Canada showed Hugo, and the other Peruvian participants, how they can smudge with the fragrant smoke.
“Exchanging is really important, especially for youth,” said Antaurko, “because they get to see the world in a different way, for example respecting another culture, respecting a different way of living. I think that’s a value that we all need to learn.”
When she returns back home, Hannah said she will be bringing a lot of the lessons learned in Peru with her to her community. “I want to work with youth, I want to show them that it’s possible to come out of your comfort zone, and to experience life, and meet new people, make a change, break cycles for the generations below me, especially my little sister and niece.”
“It’s nice to know that I can go outside of my comfort zone, meet new people.” said Jonathan, who is from St. John’s, Newfoundland. He said one of the highlights of the trip so far was organizing and playing soccer with the local children and mothers.
“I was raised to go to school, university was a must, you had to do this and that,” said Jonathan.
“So in my head I thought that I couldn’t be happy or successful if I didn’t do that. But I’m here, and I can see that these people are as happy as they could be, and they have a great life, and they work for themselves, they make their own things, they help each other out, they trade. It’s definitely a way of life that I had never considered to be an option.”
The IAYI program is funded by Global Affairs Canada. This group of youth are in Peru for just over a month, but to really learn another language and immerse yourself in a new culture, CWY believes the youth need longer. That’s why we need your help to keep this program going, and to bring these experiences to more Indigenous youth across Canada.