As we head towards the end of the Peruvian school year, it is time for us to close out our projects for 2014 in order to evaluate implementation and impact and to also make changes/ improvements for the projects that will continue into 2015. However, it is also the time of year that we begin to sit down with new communities and to discuss possible projects for the next school year. One of those new communities is Pampachaka. After various meetings with the community president, Lucio, during his visits to our Bilioteca Project in Tuksa, I was invited to speak with the entire community at their communal assembly.
Pampachaka, meaning something along the lines of “bridge on a flat plain” in Quechua, is the most isolated community in the district of Combapata. There are no roads that lead there, so to get to the community a hike is required. Place names in Quechua almost always describe something of the local landscape. Patacancha and Patabamba both allude to a “flat field/plain on top”; Apurimaq is the “god that speaks”; Huayrapunku means “wind gate/ door”; Tuksa comes from the Aymara word “toqsa” and describes the foul smell of the natural springs in the area. Therefore, despite warnings from residents in Tuksa, I expected a nice hike to “bridge on a flat plain”.
Leaving Tuksa (itself a 5 hour drive from Cusco) at 5:30am, peaking the local chain of the Andes at 4,600 meters above sea level, then dropping down into a diverse river basin before hiking back up the valley wall, I arrived at the community around 9:00am. It was beautiful, but it was not flat.
Along the way various small, foot and hoof-worn mountain trails converge bringing people from the distant sectors of the community together on their long hikes to Pampachaka in order to attend the assembly. It was an experience in itself watching the many bright colors of dress converge on the green pasture, red earth, and cream stone of the landscape. I had to ask how a community sitting on the edge of a precipice hundreds of meters above the valley floor got the name “bridge on a flat plain”, and despite the answer signaling the small natural land bridge we crossed on the valley floor as the source, all agreed that the name didn’t fit.
Pampachaka is different from many of the other communities I have visited in the Andes as it spreads out among various sectors, each hours away from the main sector also called Pampachaka. What is interesting is that Pampachaka itself only hosts 3 or 4 families, and the distant sectors claim the rest of the 57 families of the community. Nevertheless, the primary school is located in the Pampachaka sector, leading to logistical difficulties for the vast majority of families and generally forcing them to send their children to study elsewhere. This was a main topic during the assembly discussion, and we will see in the future how it will affect the possibility of implementing a project there.
The community of Pampachaka highlights a conundrum that we face often in the Alma Foundation project communities: costs versus benefits. I have written before that number of students impacted cannot be our only indicator- it is the individual student impact that is much more important. However, what about a community like Pampachaka, where an entire day is required just to get there, the student population is small and shrinking, and community members themselves are unhappy with the school’s location?
I am confident that the answer will be discovered during our next round of long discussion with the community. Our projects often begin in this way: a seemingly impossible obstacle that is eventually to be overcome with an innovative idea from the community then molded into an Alma project. Time will tell what the solution is in Pampachaka.