Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Villages of Payesa and Tùcume Viejo

It’s been over a month since Maribel and I had visited a village or done any Promesa Peru activity, so last Friday with our batteries recharged we decided to check out two of the villages we’d previously been invited to.

Tùcume is both a large city and a district in the Lambayeque Region. Within the district is about 25 caserios; all of them classified as poor thus making their kinder and primary school students eligible for free government food. In Tùcume there are mototaxi stations that serve Payesa, Tùcume Viejo and other nearby caserios. I don’t know how the more distant locations are accessed. Payesa is located about two miles from Tùcume. By mototaxi it takes about twenty minutes because the road is mostly just a bumpy dirt path. It gets a little smoother and wider as you enter the town.

The town is tiny…no more than 200 yards from end to end. They have electricity and water but nothing else. There are no stores or medical facilities. If they have a church we didn’t see it nor did we see a central square or park. The blue building in the center of the photo is school I. E. 10230 “Virgen Milagrosa”. It is the reason we were there.  

Virgen Milagrosa is a primary school with 98 students ranging in age from 7 to 11. Graduating students need to go to Tùcume or Tùcume Viejo to attend secondary school. There are 6 teachers including Jose Obregon the school’s director. Inside the 5 classrooms poverty is evident with some students without shoes and in clothing that has been handed down many times. Still, the students and the school seemed reasonably well equipped with school supplies, chairs and tables. When asked how we could help them their request was modest. They would like storage shelves, two whiteboards, and some volley and soccer balls for physical education.

We hadn’t planned on visiting the kinder school but it was close and the day was young so we stopped by. The building is old and was cheaply and quickly constructed of dry wall by the regional government to serve as a temporary facility to relieve overloaded kinders in nearby villages. There is no water or electricity. The cane structure behind the school serves as a restroom.

Inside we found 31 students in overcrowded conditions. Teacher Gloria Damian has been at the kinder for seven years. She was very frank with us and voiced some frustration with general conditions. There are few storage shelves so many things are piled in corners on the floor. There is no whiteboard. The chairs and tables do not belong to the school. She has been borrowing and returning chairs and tables for seven years. She said that several years ago an NGO visited and promised to donate furniture but they never returned. As we were leaving she asked if we could help. We said we’d try. 

This is Julia Maria. She lives across the road from the kinder. She was shelling peas as we walked past. She invited us to stop and chat for awhile. For the next 20 minutes we answered a few questions but mostly listened to her talk about her grandchildren, the village and her life in it. These are the moments I enjoy most.

Getting to Payesa from Tùcume is no problem. Getting back to Tùcume is the trick. What you do is start walking and sooner or later an unoccupied mototaxi will pass by. In the meantime it’s a pleasant walk with some nice scenery along the way.


From Payesa we returned to Tùcume and then took a mototaxi to Tùcume Viejo (old Tùcume). It’s a larger town with a church, small medical clinic and surprisingly large central park. There is a mixture of new houses scattered among the old. It’s still small but has the appearance of looking toward the future rather than the past.

We’d been invited to visit school I.E 10233 “Captain Jose Abelardo Quiñones Gonzales” by the director Andres Alcantara. He is responsible for the operation of the primary school with 130 students, and the secondary school with 160 students. They are located in separate buildings. Many of the 290 students come from 10 different caserios, some walking as much as one hour.

When visiting the different classrooms we noticed the signs of poverty were less evident here than in Payesa. We didn’t see any students without shoes, and most of them were in uniform. The school was built 55 years ago and is showing its age but is still in serviceable condition. The furniture is worn but it too is still serviceable.

Because the school is overcrowded a ‘temporary’ classroom was constructed for 5th grade students. It too was crowded but seemed to be adequate. After some brief discussion the teacher asked us if we’d like to hear a student recitation. When we replied that we would, the boy and girl in this photo started talking with each other, but it wasn’t really talking. It was a combination of talking and chanting, and in a language I was not familiar with. I thought it might be Quechua, the language of the Inca, but when they finished we were told they had spoken in Mochik. I had assumed that language had died out a thousand years ago, but was told that it was still being spoken by a handful of people in the village of Eten in 1920. In the last few years a body of Peruvian professionals has attempted to ‘rescue’ the language and it is slowly becoming part of school curriculum in schools on the northern coast.

We had an enjoyable visit at the school. Andres and his staff were helpful and friendly. When asked what we could do to help him, he said his number one headache, and that of his staff, the students and the village parents was the school’s lunch program. The government donates food for the students, but has given them nothing to cook the food with. Food is prepared without overhead shelter on a wood fire. Parents take turns cooking and use their own home kitchen pots and pans to do it, which are totally inadequate for the number of students. He said it takes from two to three hours to cook for and feed 290 students, which cuts into class time and makes it difficult to find volunteer cooks. 

What Andres would like to have is commercial size/grade cooking equipment like that shown in this photo. The pot hanging above the man’s head has a 46 liter (12 gal) capacity.  The pan hanging to the right has a similar capacity. Andres says he could use five pots and one pan. To the right of the man’s head are large wooden handle skimmers. Andres would like four of those. For his classrooms he would like to replace the eight disintegrating chalkboards with whiteboards. He asked if we could help. We said we’d try.

As we were leaving Andres suggested we stop by the park and look at the ruins of an old colonial church. What a massive and impressive structure that must have been. It is huge, with walls six feet thick. We were told it dates back to 1520. Authorities in Tùcume have apparently recently taken an interest in it and are considering both excavation and restoration. Walking through this church was a bonus to an enjoyable visit to Tùcume Viejo.


Since our visit on Friday Maribel and I have done some investigating to determine prices for some of the items requested.

For the primary school in Payesa:

Two whiteboards - $160
Two storage shelves - $65
Total - $225

For the kinder in Payesa:

Five tables and 31 chairs - $825*
Two storage shelves - $65
One whiteboard - $80
Total - $970
* If constructed by a local carpenter. Another option might be to have the tables built but purchase 31 plastic chairs for $125. We will discuss this with the director.

For the school in Tùcume Viejo:

Five 46 liter pots - $145.
One 48 liter pan - $31.
Four large skimmers - $15.
Eight large whiteboards - $640.
Total - $831

Smaller miscellaneous items asked for in the three schools…balls, abacuses, tangrams and other educational material would be about $100 total.

We need to give some thought to these requests, but whatever we do we’re going to need help. If any of these projects appeal to you, please visit the Promesa Peru webpage to donate. It would be much appreciated.