Up In the Andes: Dr. Melissa Gibson

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Dr. Melissa Gibson

What does a just education look like here, this world so different from Lima…and yet so much more similar to what foreign tourists imagine when they think about Peru?

The parish retreat in Andahuaylillas, where we stay.

Up in the mountains of the Cusco region is a small town called Andahuaylillas. It is framed by the hills of the Andes, a greenish yellow ground cover reflecting the high altitude rays of the sun. A tiny plaza sits outside a masterpiece of a church, and by day, the plaza is rimmed by a dozen vendors of woolens and jewelry and llama-themed tchatchkes. After three weeks in the traffic and smog and fog and noise of Lima, Andahuaylillas is a still oasis.

If you’re lucky, you might catch a traditional celebration on the steps of the church, percussion leading the dancers who wear the furs of baby llamas on their backs. If you’re even luckier, you’ll get to know the people who live in this town. As part of our program, we spend a few days here, hosted by the local parish in their retreat center, and welcomed by community members: The directress and students of the local Fé y Alegría school, which consciously offers up a Quechua/castellano education for highland children to try in its own small way to counteract the anti-indigenous forces that demean and degrade the communities of the Andes. The youth workers and participants in the Wayra Ludoteca, a rowdy after-school program where kids from all over Andahuaylillas come to get their wiggles out and their artistry on. The residents of the even-higher village of Cuyuni, who welcome us at 14,000 feet to their community dining room, to their homes powered by recycled biofuel, and to their ceremonies of offerings to pachamama. And members of the Jesuit social projects that have renewed local churches on the Baroque Route, including Andahuaylillas’s own “Sistine Chapel of the Andes.”

A mural in Andahuaylillas depicting indigenous communities and celebrations.

Andahuaylillas is a quiet, reflective time in our trip—partly because of altitude, which forces us all to slow down and adjust, but also because it is so different from the world of Lima we just spent three weeks in. And, the educational context is different. The languages are different (Quechua). The constraints are different (three-hour walks through the high Andes to get to school). The resources are different (isolated, small town lacking teachers). What does a just education look like here, this world so different from Lima…and yet so much more similar to what foreign tourists imagine when they think about Peru?

In this round of blog posts, the students consider these questions as well as similarities they see between race in the US and ethnic and indigenous groups in Peru. And while I’m not there with them (I made it safely home to where my family has now taken over my nursing), I am delighted to read that they are still learning and thinking together in Andahuaylillas.

A celebration in anticipation of Corpus Cristi, outside the church of Andahuaylillas.

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