Aldea Yanapay


Yuri Valencia de la Barrio de Mendoza has done social change work in Cusco since he was 13. Today, he is an astute, university educated social entrepreneur who has built a hostel and restaurant and has used the profits from these two ventures to develop a school in Cusco for children of no financial means. The school, with 80 children, has been running for five years, and its operating costs are fully funded by the restaurant and hostel.

Yuri is able to synthesize development theory with the cold hard realities of Peru and yet maintain a positive, confident attitude, and an ambitious business plan. One key ingredient to sustainability of any education project is “buy-in” from the local community. In Peru, very few people volunteer. Studies suggest that Peruvians have one of the lowest rates of volunteerism in the world. Yet without local engagement, support, and a sense of ownership, a project ends up being an “intervention”, with short-term gains but no lasting impact. When Yuri started, 100% of his volunteers were foreign. But every week he conducted a parade with the children through the streets of Cusco and put on theatre pieces for the public. Today 25% of his volunteers are from Cusco, and his goal is to get to 50%. Clearly the local community is engaged in Yuri’s work.


Yuri has a long-term vision. He wants to expand the school, open a cultural centre for teenagers, and eventually build an orphanage. Alma is helping to fund the new cultural centre. The centre will focus on computer skills and arts education. Our research, and meetings with families and teachers, suggest that arts education can be extremely effective in Peru, and yet is not always being taught in schools. Computers are uncommon so computer skills are lacking. Yanapay has always attracted quality volunteers, and we feel that the cultural centre will leverage their knowledge of arts and computers. A building has been found and refurbished. About 20 local residents attend each day. To get an idea of what a unique place Yuri’s school is, please see his website: cultural centre will contain three facilities that will house the following programs: a theatre for performances; a cinema; a library with an internet kiosk. The theatre will focus on expressive arts such as dance, circus, puppets and mime — as part of daily life.


The cinema club will use film as a tool to examine and understand diverse ways of thinking and living. The club’s participants will explore comedy, drama, documentary, fiction, and children’s movies. We hope to promote film as a cultural tool to expand participants’ vision and possibilities. The library will contain general reference books and Latin American literature. As well, we hope to house research documents such as essays, theses, and monographs. Using the centre’s six computers, local residents will be able to  search the internet to complete homework assignments and do research.

Alma will be funding theatre-related equipment, and it will be contributing to staff salaries.

September 2011 Update

The cultural centre opened recently to people of all ages. Successful projects to date include a photo exhibit about child exploitation in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas, as well as doll making workshops for local women. Alma is helping to pay for staff salaries, equipment and renovations.

November 2012 Update

The school has been joined into the cultural centre. Attendance is good and we are happy with the work of the psychologist (whom we are supporting). Yuri continues to amaze us with his ability to engage the children.