Though located only 4 miles from the city of Tumàn, the village of Calupe seems much further as the collectivo from Tumàn navigates the winding road with uninterrupted fields of sugar cane on each side. And like most desert villages, the transition from nothingness to village is abrupt…suddenly without warning you’re there.
Calupe is larger than many villages we’ve visited in the Tumàn District and actually looks more like a city than village though it occupies an area no more than 500 by 500 meters. The streets are straight and in a grid pattern. It has a large, attractive principal park; a library and even a small police department. There is a modest open-air market offering most food types, and a few tiny general stores. We didn’t see any restaurants. The streets and sidewalks in the central section of the village are wide and well maintained. And even the edges of town that butt up against the fields are clean. It’s a quiet village. Sounds were limited to rosters crowing and an occasional donkey braying. The only vehicle traffic we saw were the collectivos arriving from and departing to Tumàn about every 15 minutes. I can understand why people would live in Calupe.
Calupe has two schools…a primary school for grades one through six, and a kinder. We were in Calupe to visit the kinder. For Maribel and me entering the kinder complex was a real eye opener. It is the largest, cheeriest, best equipped, best organized and best maintained kinder we’re seen in Peru.
Martha Martinez is the kinder’s director, and after only a few minutes of discussion it became apparent that she is the force behind everything we were to see this day. She gave us some background information about the school and community, indicating that there is a strong parent’s association that takes their kids education seriously. At present there are two classes, one with 28 students for kids 3 and 4 years old, and the other with 24 students age 5.
After our discussion we spent the next 30 minutes taking a tour of the complex. I use the word 'complex' because the kinder occupies a large, completely enclosed area containing three classrooms, a kitchen, two well equipped play areas, a shrine, and an attractive elevated stage to hold events and ceremonies. This photo shows the classroom of the five year olds. We’ve been present at many kinders during lunch break, but have never seen anything like this. It looked more like a high school cafeteria in Lima than a kinder in the desert. And the demeanor of these kids was incredible. The respect they showed toward the teachers, staff and other students was impressive.
The kitchen, offices and restrooms were clean and well equipped. Martha was especially proud of the kids play area. Some months ago her kids had won 1,500 soles in a singing contest. The prize money was used to construct a roof to protect the kids from the sun.
While returning to Martha's office we commented that the school seemed to have everything it needed. In response she took us to a vacant classroom and said, “Our problem is we are turning away students. We have the classroom, furniture, school supplies and a waiting list of students. What we don’t have is another teacher.” By law the maximum student-teacher ratio is 26 - 1. With 52 students, Martha and the other teacher are at the maximum. The crux of the problem again rests with the current confusion regarding responsibility for the school between the District of Tumàn and the sugar cane cooperative. It’s basically the same problem the primary school in Conchucos is facing.
But unfortunately the school problems are an aside to a larger issue. Every day in Tumàn and lately in Chiclayo sugar cane workers and educators from the Tumàn District are gathering to stage protests against the sugar cane cooperative, claiming mismanagement, fraud and other charges. Some workers and teachers say they have not been paid in over four months.