'Round the Girdled Earth: Setting the Stage

By John D'Antonio | 1/11/13 9:00am

This term I am working with the non-governmental organization Awamaki in the small town of Ollantaytambo in Peru. Ollantaytambo, known as “Ollanta,” is about an hour-and-a-half drive outside of the city of Cusco, near Machu Picchu.

Awamaki operates three programs for locals and volunteers from around the globe: eco-tourism, education and women’s business cooperatives. I will be working in the education sector, teaching classes in both English and Spanish.

All English and computer classes are taught to local businessmen and women, ranging from ages 25 to 55. Many of our students work in the tourism industry, interacting with English-speaking customers in hotels and restaurants that stop in Ollanta on their way to Machu Picchu. Our students are looking to improve their English and computer skills in order to better serve their clients and gain an edge in their industry. In addition to these adult classes, Lauren and I will be working in a local kindergarten on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, assisting at their summer school.

Ollanta is a gorgeous small town, nestled in the Sacred Valley surrounded by the Andes Mountains, and is one of the only Incan villages that are still inhabited today. Some of the buildings, foundations and doorways throughout the town have survived from their original construction by the Incans and still stand today.

It is apparent from walking through the town that it is still a developing part of the world. Most homes do not have things such as hot water or a refrigerator, though my homestay has both! Ollanta is a very cozy town where everyone knows each other, and it grows on you fast.

As an education minor at Dartmouth, I was eager to teach on my off term, but I also wanted to travel. I decided to apply for a Tucker Fellowship, which funds community service-oriented international work, and the next thing I knew I was flying from New York to Miami to Lima to Cusco.

I have now been in Ollanta for two full days, and it has been incredibly exciting. Teaching doesn’t actually start until next week, but I have been able to explore and learn as well as make some Peruvian friends. I have also quickly discovered that NGOs are not the most efficient or organized, but I am looking forward to the many hours of teaching, traveling and learning.

John D'Antonio