Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The school at Monte Hermoso

A 45 minute combi ride from Chiclayo gets you to Morrope. From Morrope to a nameless intersection in the desert wilderness is a 30 minute back breaking, head banging combi ride over a wagon trail ‘road’. At said wilderness intersection you wait for a moto to take you the remaining 2 miles to Monte Hermoso, and when you finally arrive you ask yourself…”Why?”

Main Street in Monte Hermoso. The town is pretty much like hundreds of other small desert settlements…adobe brick houses in varying states of decay; the people scratching out a living through subsistence farming. Yard occupants are mostly scrawny cows, pigs, goats and other livestock. It’s a flat country with no hint of mountains anywhere on the horizon – an unusual condition in the Lambayeque Region. The area is subject to flooding during the ‘rainy’ season, with the 1998 El Niño flood causing extensive damage.

The school…Jorge Châvez Dartnel sits like an island on the main street. It is larger and definitely better maintained then I expected. Upon entering there is a vibrancy… a something is happening feeling in contrast to the quiet of the surrounding town. It’s almost lunch time and some kids are outside playing while others are organizing classroom material; cooking lunch, and making liquid soap to be placed in empty pop bottles and distributed where ever it makes sense to wash hands. Signs mounted everywhere state in one form or another, “Poor does not mean dirty.”

Several kids were tending the gourd gardens located all over the school yard. These gardens are the source of the raw material for their handicraft project. It takes an average of 10 months from seed planting until a ripe gourd of sufficient size is available. To become familiar with the production process is the reason we were there.

Last March some of the high school students under the direction of teachers began making artifacts from gourds. The meager tools and material were supplied by parents. The artifacts sold surprisingly well at various handicraft fairs throughout the region. This room is dedicated to artifact manufacturing.

This boy is proud of his creations. The designs come from purchased stencils but also from some of the more creative students and teachers. The common theme is their Moche heritage. During the Moche culture people from the Morrope area believed in an iguana god, so a representation of an iguana is featured on many of the finished products.

Shared oven to cook lunches and heat the painted gourds. Paint tends to smudge on the hard surface of the gourds if not heated. Besides competing for time with the cooking crew, the present oven doesn’t give them any control over the temperature or allow for even heat distribution.

A teacher and the school director Martin Rolando Angeles displaying several different products. It is my understanding these men are the driving force behind the project. Encouraged by early success, they would like to expand the concept to provide for increased production and better quality. To do that they need $450 to construct an oven, purchase hand tools and replenish materials such as lacquer, paint and paint thinner. If successful their plan is to use the money from sales to help parents purchase school supplies, keeping only enough to make the operation self-sustaining. Martin joked (perhaps) about someday exporting to the United States. Who knows? We think their project is worthwhile. We like to see people trying to help themselves rather than simply asking for charity.

On September 23rd Jorge Châvez Dartnel celebrates its 25th anniversary. We plan on being there.


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