Even in Canada I had heard of Yuri Valencia de la Barrio de Mendoza in Cusco. One Canadian NGO told me he was "by far" the most impressive person they knew in Peru. Yuri has done social change work since he was 13. Today, he is an astute, university educated 31-year-old 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.
The cultural centre will contain three facilities that will house the following programs: a theatre for performances; a cinema; a library with an internet kiosk. A centre director has been hired.
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 provide staff salaries and to develop a theatre in the centre.