Monday, September 15, 2014

December in Peru means Chocolatada….

…but what does chocolatada mean? Googling ‘chocolatada’ results in information about chocolate. Searching ‘chocolatada Peru’ produces more references most of which essentially describe a chocolatada as... a Peruvian custom where people with the means to do so organize an event the week prior to Christmas at which poor people are given hot chocolate, sweet bread and a gift.

I don’t know how many Peruvians would agree with that description, but I do know that in the desert villages of the Lambayeque Region, that definition is not even close. In the villages of San Miguel, Puerto Arturo, Monte Hermoso, Payesa, El Faicalito, Collique Alto, Las Colmenas and hundreds of others a chocolatada is supposed to be a school event in December marking the end of the school year and graduation to the next grade. The intent is also to recognize the achievements of individual students, teachers, and contributions to the school by members of the parent’s association. Most Peruvians would add that it is also a celebration of Christmas and the birth of Jesus, though of all the chocolatadas I’ve been to I have never heard a prayer spoken or seen any religious imagery.

A chocolatada is normally staged in a large classroom or schoolyard. It begins in the late morning or early afternoon and lasts for about two hours. Speeches start the event, followed by a meal consisting of hot chocolate, paneton (sweet bread) and a piece of chicken.  During the meal it is common for some of the students to sing or dance. After the meal some form of entertainment involving the kids takes place. It is during this time that awards are presented for individual accomplishments. Finally, toys are handed out and while the kids play the parents and school staff clean up. The event is funded by the parent’s association through direct contributions and/or fund raising activities.

That’s what a chocolatada is supposed to be. In reality it is always something less and frequently doesn’t happen at all. Let’s look at a real example of an attempt to organize a chocolatada that's happening right now.

This is Rosa Lopez. She is the director, teacher, caregiver and custodian of Pronoei “My Sweet Home” in the village of San Bernardino. She is responsible for 26 kids ranging in age from 3 to 5. She is also responsible for organizing a chocolatada. She’s facing an up-hill battle.

At an April parent’s association meeting it was agreed that the parents of each student would give Rosa four soles ($1.45) each month to pay for a chocolatada. That would have amounted to $265, but that has not happened, nor did she expect it to. Two families have lived up to the agreement but most have contributed much less, and in the case of the four girls indicated in this photo (the two on the left are sisters), nothing at all. Their parents told Rosa they could not afford to contribute and that their girls would not be attending. Rosa told them that food would be provided for their girls but apparently pride has made up their minds. Those girls not attending is just not right, but the issue may be academic. There probably won’t be a chocolatada, though Rosa is still holding out hope that there can at least be hot chocolate and chicken for the kids. That’s not a chocolatada.

This is what it would take to put together a very basic chocolatada for Rosa’s Pronoei in San Bernardino…

1 box Chocolate = $7
1 six-pack Milk = $7
2 kilos Sugar = $2
1 box Paneton = $43
80 Empanadas = $7
Total = $66

This assumes that the 7 chickens needed would be donated, but with a value to a family of $6 per chicken that’s not a sure thing. Anyway, that’s $66 Rosa doesn’t yet have. And that does not include entertainment or toys for the kids. In our experience it is the clown and toys that make a chocolatada a special and memorable event.

These kids are from 3 to 5 years old. They don’t need sophisticated expensive toys. They would be very happy with toys ranging from $5 to $7. At $7 x 26 kids the cost for toys would be $182. A clown would add another $75. We’re talking about $323. Add in $70 to transport everything from Chiclayo and we’re looking at $400. That’s a lot of money for nothing tangible. That money would pay for 25 school uniforms or school supply kits. It would buy 5 whiteboards. From that perspective, is a chocolatada worthwhile? Yes it is.

It may not be tangible, but the smile on a child’s face as they receive what is probably their first real toy is priceless. So is the look of joy in the eyes of the parents and teachers. And the shared feeling of camaraderie and success at the conclusion of a chocolatada lasts for a long, long time.

There are two pronoeis within sight of each other in San Bernardino with a total of 48 kids. It wouldn't be right for one to have a chocolatada and not the other. A joint chocolatada would cost about $650 - the clown and transport costs wouldn't increase. A donation of $15 will provide a toy, food, entertainment and a very special day for a child. You can do that at the Promesa Peru webpage

We didn’t sponsor a chocolatada last year because we didn’t have the money. San Bernardino and most of the other villages mentioned didn’t have a chocolatada last year for the same reason. All of us are hoping this year will be different.


  1. I just donated. I have participated in chocolatadas in the Sacred Valley and they are definitely worth every penny. Good luck with the fundraising!

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