Everyone talks about making a difference. It’s easy to become disillusioned into believing that talking is enough. The school of Aldea Yanapay is one of those rare exceptions, where words like love and peace are lived out every day.
Upon arriving in Cusco, Peru, it’s difficult to ignore the children. The sleepy-eyed boy relentlessly peddling cigarettes and gum, even at two in the morning; the sun-weathered girl in traditional dress, baby goat in arms, offering a forced smile for visitors’ cameras; the abandoned child crying on the side of the road as tourist buses roll by. These are just the visible faces.
Aldea Yanapay works to alleviate the social injustices faced by the children of Cusco. Directed by 28-year-old Yuri Barrio De Mendoza, the school provides a haven of love, creativity, and learning for the youth of the city. In existence for only 3 years, it has already impacted the lives of over three hundred children and forty volunteers.
Volunteers offer what they can of their time; some stay for a few days, others for as long as a year. Aldea Yanapay recognizes the skills of each volunteer, and everything from English lessons to musical performances to capoeira classes is appreciated. Anyone can work here, and all are welcomed with hugs and kisses into the Yanapay family.
The children come to the Aldea after regular public school to learn about another way of life. Whether working on homework, playing games, doing crafts, or studying English, they practice tolerance, respect, and freedom.
Many of the students at the school experience various forms of violence and intolerance on a daily basis. At the Aldea, they learn to communicate instead of verbally abuse and embrace one another instead of fight. Through the absence of gender stereotypes, this next generation receives the tools to actively work against the status quo of machismo. Every day, Juan Carlos showers the volunteers with hugs and kisses. Jhon eagerly anticipates knitting class. Boys painting flowers on each others’ faces are a common sight; here, love and creativity know no boundaries.
In an egalitarian world, the children are treated with the respect of adults, cultivating responsibility towards one another and the world. Daily tea-time discussions, led by the director, Yuri, break down the inferiority complex that has been imposed on these children throughout their lives. Like every other human being, they deserve respect.
Though everything that the students at the Aldea learn is valuable, what immediately strikes visitors is the abundance of love and compassion that emanates from this place. All the children know how to hug and kiss, and this school gives them the freedom to do so without fear. The volunteers quickly learn to do the same. Like the children, anyone who enters this world learns how to live another way of life.