Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Cultural Co-op

A Cultural Co-op 

The "Last Supper" made by members of Ichimay Wari

The "Ezimngo Fellow Supper" made by members of Ichimay Wari

Learning to fly in Peru has a way of working up quite the appetite.  We hike up and soar down the sand dunes on Para-gliders.  We each cheer loudly as the Fellow’s feet lift off the ground and they take flight. Para-gliding is an eco-friendly way of seeing Peru. If you feel like flying in Peru,  flyadventure Peru offers safe, fun, and affordable eco-friendly tours.

Luckily for us, a special Peruvian meal, Pachamanca, cooks underground while we soar through the air. Our host removes layers of cloth, and hot rocks, from a hole in the earth. As the rocks are removed, chicken, pork, beef, corn, peas, and two types of potatoes are uncovered. Peruivians are well-known for cultivating over 4,000 types of potatoes. The food cooked in the ground for hours and now a wonderful aroma fills the air, signaling the completion of the cooking process.  We feast on Pachamanca and reminisce about how this cultural cuisine has passed generation to generation and is now arousing our taste buds, filling our bellies, and satisfying our hunger.The meal is only our first taste of culture during the day.

Our hosts are also a part of a cultural cooperative (society of artisans) that emphasize preserving traditional arts and crafts. The group is as known as Ichimay Wari, after the native god of the Lurin Valley. By hand, they craft, paint, and bring to the market a variety of ceramic figurines. Many of the figurines are heavily influenced by Catholic religion given Peru was colonized by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro in 1533. Among the line up are Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the Last Supper scene, the nativity set, and a slew of angels playing various instruments. Other figures include children circling the world, women with children, and small to medium sized boxes with campesinos playing instruments in them. The artists fire the figurines in special ovens, carefully paint them, and let them dry.  Members of the co-op have workshops and points-of-sale at various locations, however, they band together as a community-based co-operative and reach the market with more power than they would be able to as individuals.  

Our host for the day, kindly allows the Fellows to try their hand at creating a figurine from the clay and hand-crafted mold. In trying to create a small girl holding a drum, a deep appreciation is gained from realizing just how much detail is needed to obtain the smooth curves of the flawless pieces that are on display. We thank our hosts for the authentic experience and part with a customary kiss on the cheek.

To learn more about Ichimay Wari, visit: or find them on Facebook!

Audriana Stark
NexGen Fellow
Peru, 2015

Monday, July 6, 2015

What Does it Mean to Thrive?


Weekends are great creations.

This one happened to be quite the exceptional one. Saturday started off with a workshop at work on the Theory of Change and how it applies to one of the Lonely Road's objectives of fostering thriving communities. It was the perfect Tori-style workshop, complete with sticky notes, huge sheets of white paper tacked up to the walls, and popcorn-style input from everyone present. It was a great glimpse into the deeper workings of the Lonely Road, but the word thriving has really stayed with me.

A big part of the workshop from my perspective was to really look at that word, thriving. Of the six words that make up the three Lonely Road objectives - Happy children, Thriving communities, and Effective development - three of those words have very unique properties, they are open to interpretation. 

So what does it mean to thrive? 

And how is thriving different from functioning? The Webster definition of thrive is "to grow or develop successfully: to flourish or succeed." And the consequent Webster definition of flourish is, "to grow well: to be healthy." When I picture the word thriving I picture a mermaid. The picture in my head is saturated with deep blues and greens, the mermaid girl is healthy with long, strong hair, full features, she is physically agile. Her surroundings are covered in fertile sea-greens, the sun is shining down through the water in patterned ribbons, and there are scores of rainbow hued fish all around her. The point is, thriving evokes a sense of surrounding as well. Both the subject and their background are flourishing, strong, and there is a sense of its organic nature. The scene seems like it was meant to be. 

So what does a thriving community look like? (A) There isn't one answer to the question. (B) There isn't an easy question to the answer. (C) We still tried to work up to one. What the focus group came up with was a popcorn of different adjectives and descriptive phrases. A few of my favorites were love, play, access to opportunity, freedom of choice, and social cohesion. 

We ended the session happily, knowing we were nowhere close to painting the perfect picture of a thriving community (nor should we be), and fully acknowledging the fact that not a single member from the community was present during the discussion. The session was, however, valuable in that it made the team really think. It made us think about what we are working towards. It made us think about why we are working towards it, and it made us acutely aware of our limitations, in the best way possible. 

Now, what does it mean for me to thrive?


Saturday, July 4, 2015


“It requires trust in yourself and trust in others”- Alex, Arena y Estrella

The road turns to dirt as we bump along in the van. Our driver is a pleasant man, a smile always on his face. The homes are stacked, level upon level. Clothes and towels  strung along lines as they dry in the warm air. We have left the tall buildings, glamorous shops, and paved roads of Mira Flores to experience  Peru- from the margins.

The building is covered in color, painted on both the outside and inside with pictures that look as though they come straight from children’s books. It contrasts much of the browns and red shades of the roads and buildings. We are visiting Arena Y Esteras. The group is based in a community center started in the 90’s in order to have a place where people could escape from the violent terrorism sweeping the country.

The space also serves as a daycare, Cuna Arenitas, to enable mothers to work during the day and provide the children in the community a safe and stimulating environment.  There is a small library in the entrance with places to sit and read. Venturing farther into the building, we enter a wide-open space with long colorful drapes. A man sits on the bleachers picking his guitar. The music echoes in the large space and fills it with its sweet sounds. We continue to explore the building, each hall revealing new paintings- a boy in a scarf surrounded by stars, a girl playing an instrument that has birds flying out into the air, and calligraphy. We enter a room filled with masks and props. Then, a room filled with guitars, and boxes used as drums, and flutes. At the top of the building is a room with two large tables and a window into the kitchen area. A wonderful aroma fills the air.

We walk three flights of stairs back into the main room. This time four boys all dressed in brown trousers and vests with patches on them are waiting with instruments in hand. As we take our seats in the bleachers, one of the guys begins to fill the air with the sounds of a flute. I imagine birds flying from the flute, just as in the painting on the wall. A guitar and ukulele join in. A drum beats steady along with the other instruments.  Girls in brightly colored green dresses dash out from behind a curtain and dance to the rhythm of the music. Two of the boys set down their instruments and begin to balance on each other, making a variety of shapes with their poses. They are strong, balanced, and confident. When they return to their instruments, another guy takes lets down a drape and starts to climb, higher and higher, wrapping himself in the drapes as he goes. He lets go, twisting and turning  rapidly until he is near the ground. He rejoins the group and continues to play his instrument. The group is committed to preserving their arts and culture through music and dance. They learned their crafts and now teach others, both children and adults alike.  The space provides the room to do so.

The group breaks up and brings out cajons (box drums) and zancos (stilts) for us to play with. A mummer from the group breaks out. “I don’t have rhythm, I can’t play the drums”. “I am afraid of heights, I can’t walk on stilts”. The small voice in my head warns me against trying to do something that I am inexperienced at, something new and unfamiliar, something that I might fail, and something that may even result in physical injury.  But “can’t” and “no thanks” were not acceptable answers. One by one, we started drumming to the rhythm. One by one, we went up, up, up toward the ceiling on stilts.  One by one, we conquer our fears and rise to new heights with the sound of beating drums echoing through the building.

We sit in a circle and reflect on the joys, the triumphs, and the sensations of awakening the inner child. We reflect about the trust it takes in ourselves and in others to do the unthinkable, to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, to take a chance, and in some cases to fall down, get back up, and try again.

While this reflection was triggered by a particular experience, the lessons apply to business, education, and life in general.

For more information about Arena Y Esteras visit their webpage or "Like" them on Facebook.

Audriana Stark
Emzingo NexGEN Fellow
Peru, 2015