Saturday, March 14, 2015

Conchucos…a pleasant little village with problems

Conchucos is a 30 minute combi ride from Chiclayo. At first glance it’s an obviously poor village but one that is clean and reasonably maintained. That is unusual for a village located on a major road. The large principal park is trash free and has a colorful variety of flowers and shrubs.

The village has a good look and feel to it but it also has problems. No agency wants to accept responsibility for the operation of the village’s primary school. The root of the problem goes back to the 1960s when a military government decided that cooperatives…mining, agricultural and other associations was the way to relieve the poor and give them individual freedom. And it worked…for awhile.   

The economy of the Tumàn District is based mostly on sugar cane. Many villages in the district were incorporated into sugar cane cooperatives. The workers owned shares of the fields and the processing factories. They formed management committees and generally were autonomous communities. The cooperatives invested in village’s infrastructure and even had forms of welfare for needy families. And they built, equipped and maintained schools, and therein lies the problem.

Most of the cooperatives that formed in the 1960s and 70s no longer exist. Rusting, abandoned sugar cane processing factories are common sights.  Those cooperatives that still do exist are facing tough times financially. Late last year one of those cooperatives informed the office of education in Tumàn that it could no longer support any of the schools it had previously sustained. The district claims they were caught unaware and has no funds to support these ‘abandoned’ cooperative schools. Conchucos’s school No. 11570 is one of those schools.

Eduardo is an accountant by profession. Forty two years ago he agreed to temporarily teach a finance course. Twenty years ago he agreed to be the temporary director at Conchucos. He’s still there. He has 40 students registered but only ten to fifteen are attending because parents can’t afford school supplies previously donated by the cooperative. Notebooks from last year are being erased and used over. The cooperative is paying the salaries of Edwardo and the other teacher but has said it cannot provide anything more.

There is a second problem Eduardo faces that is unique to Conchucos. Splitting the village is a narrow irrigation canal (canal is center – school is on the left). The canal is the dividing line between two administrative districts; Tumàn and Patapo. Technically the school sits on the Patapo side of the canal but that district refers Eduardo to Tumàn, claiming that historically Tumàn has administered the school. Tumàn refers Eduardo’s requests to the cooperative. It’s a classic ‘pass the buck’ situation. Ed has put together a budget detailing the school’s circumstances and needs but he can’t get anyone to look at it.  

The school has three classrooms and a restroom. The furniture is ancient but sturdy and serviceable. Everything in the classrooms looks old and tired. Two of the classrooms have gaping holes in the roof but neither the staff nor students mentioned them.  Another classroom is being used for classes and as an eating place for the noon lunch, which is cooked outside in a mosquito and wasp infested grassy area.  Wasps have invaded the classrooms. The office of health in Patapo has promised to fumigate next week.

Somehow the issue of who is responsible for the school will get resolved and repairs will be made but it will take time and right now the kids of Conchucos and those who normally come to the school from surrounding areas are not attending classes. Eduardo is positive that if he can put out the word that he has school supplies, the kids will come back. He’s asked for our help.

Conchucos has a pronoei (pre-school) that also has problems… more severe than the primary school. The holes in the floor are the least of the troubles.

Fanny (center) is the director. Like most pronoei directors we’ve met, she takes ownership of the school. She spent her own money to provide a primitive restroom…no water; just a toilet over a hole in the floor, and to paint the interior and to provide the few learning supplies the school has. She has 15 registered students out of about 35 village kids eligible for pre-school. 

Not being able to afford school supplies is one reason why the other kids are not attending. The other reason is that Fanny is not able to seat them. Of the 8 tables and dozen or so chairs, less than half are serviceable. Fanny’s main concern beside the kid’s safety is that with the deteriorating furniture and lack of school supplies, the villagers are no longer viewing the school as a viable learning environment. Like Ed at the primary school, Fanny is certain that with school supplies and furniture her classroom would be filled with students.

Without outside help the pronoei situation is going to get worse. The parents association doesn’t have money to replace broken furniture. Individual families cannot afford school supplies. Fanny doesn’t have the resources to provide those things herself. In our view this is a critical situation.

Our visit to Conchucos convinced us that both the primary school and pronoei are deserving of our help. Ed has asked for 2 whiteboards and 40 school supply kits. The 2 white boards cost $160…the school supplies about $260.

Fanny has asked for 15 school supply kits for her existing students. She wants to replace the 8 tables and has asked for 32 chairs. The school supplies would cost $215. Eight tables cost about $185, and 32 plastic chairs $115. More seating will mean more students which raises the issue of more school supplies needed, but we’ll worry about that later.

We need $420 for the primary school, and $515 for the pronoei. We don’t have it. We need help to get the children of Conchucos back into the classroom. If you’d like to help us do that please visit the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.


  1. Have you thought about the sustainability of the whiteboards in comparison to blackboards? I have a feeling chalk is much less expensive than whiteboard markers. This article is also interesting regarding dry erase versus chalk and the environment. Like you said, getting school supplies for the rest of the children will come later but the basic infrastructure needs to be addressed right away.

  2. Hi Amy...thanks for writing.
    Nearly every school we visit including pronoeis asks for whiteboards. It's a subject we have discussed among ourselves and with school directors and teachers. It has long been on my mind to write a separate post about that topic, and your comment has decided the issue. Look for a post about whiteboards soon.