Photos by Justine Leung
Sacred Valley Project Build,
Complete construction of a greenhouse, layout a new bakery and store, and install a camera security system
September 19 - October 2, 2019
In Peru, indigenous communities are dispersed throughout the Andes Mountains and lack access to many public services, including education. Children must walk several hours to the nearest elementary school and high schools which are often only located in larger town centers, often a distance that is too far of a journey to be made by foot. This lack of access to education presents an even greater challenge for indigenous girls. While many boys move to urban centers to pursue educational opportunities, this same option is not available to most girls.
Only four in ten Peruvian girls from rural Andean communities will graduate from secondary school. Education for women is an especially important investment as the benefits impact future generations and families. Female education is proven to have a substantial impact on reducing poverty. Studies show that an educated woman is more likely to have a smaller and healthier family, a stronger voice in family negotiations and the ability to advocate for herself and her children.
Currently the Sacred Valley Project has two dormitories, each supporting separate communities. One dormitory is located in Ollantaytambo, and the other about an hour and a half away in Calca. Some of the girls commute from as far away as a fifteen hour trek from their home village in the Andes.
Each dormitory houses twenty girls, ranging in age from 11 to 17 years. An additional ten girls come for tutoring and mentorship. Each dorm has a house mother who is at the home for support and assistance in all aspects of life.
Building The Sacred Valley Project, Calca, Peru
The 2019 Building Humanity trip to the Sacred Valley Project in Peru was a two week experience that not only built physical structures, but also created connections with local communities in meaningful and authentic ways. The result was a completed greenhouse and bakery/store design layout that will drive independence, learning opportunities, and sustainability at the Calca girls dormitory location of the Sacred Valley Project.
The spaces that were created at the Calca dormitory during the Building Humanity trip serve several purposes. The greenhouse will allow the dormitory to begin growing its own food to support the nutritional needs of the program. It will allow the girls who come from farming communities to maintain closer ties to their roots and incite a sense of home. For girls who are not from farming communities it will be an opportunity to learn new skills. In the future, excess produce grown in the greenhouse will be sold in the store to help financially support the program.
The bakery/store was designed as a multipurpose space with the intention of becoming a community hub. The space will be utilized for baking breads and pastries as well as being used as a store which will sell grocery items, excess produce grown in the greenhouse, and freshly baked goods. Additionally, the girls will have the opportunity to learn new skills, like baking and store management.
The Sacred Valley Project was founded to create access to high-school-level education for girls in Peru who are met with an abundance of obstacles when trying to get an education. Only four in ten Peruvian girls from rural Andean communities will complete a secondary school education. While there are many factors at play, a big one to overcome is distance. The far-flung mountain ranges that make Peru such a beautiful and unique place, are also what makes it difficult for the young women from rural communities to further their education.
The girls who are supported at the Calca location of the Sacred Valley Project trek from their Andean village homes as far as fifteen hours away to receive their education. The Sacred Valley Project exists to make education for these girls more accessible by providing dormitories located nearby the secondary schools. The dormitories house, feed, nurture and tutor those girls who otherwise would not be able to attend school due to distances and circumstances that are inhibitive.
Adventure and the opportunity to explore was abundant and made it easy to balance the best parts of travel with being a part of a meaningful project and something bigger. Every volunteer plays an important role in the successful completion of a project and leaves their stamp on something that creates change and drives impact long after leaving.
Day 1 (Thursday Sept. 19th) Cusco: The Building Humanity team flew in from all over the world to meet in Cusco, Peru. Volunteers from Europe, Hong Kong, North America, and the UK met for introductions, an overview of what the next two weeks would look like, and then headed out to get to know one another over lunch. A short guided walking tour of the city and its main squares helped the team get their bearings, and a brief history of Cusco and the Sacred Valley provided cultural context. The rest of the afternoon was free time to get settled in and acclimatized to the 11,152 foot elevation and to avoid altitude sickness. Later that afternoon, everyone reassembled for a group dinner.
Day 2 (Friday Sept. 20th) Cusco/Calca/Mendozayoc: With an early start, the team packed up the van and headed out to begin the day-long trip to Mendozayoc – a rural Andean community where some of the girls who are currently living at the Sacred Valley Project in Calca are from. After a quick stop in Calca to pick up the girls who were returning home for an infrequent visit, we began our drive through the Andes. Immediately it was easy to see how the terrain and vast landscape made accessing larger town centers difficult for those coming from outlying communities. The mountains were stunning, but stretched for miles on the horizon. Along the way we stopped at an Incan village where ancient trails that zig zag across the hillsides are still used by travellers heading to Cusco on foot. We were also able to stop, and have a great lunch with the family of one of the girls who was heading home for a short visit. Being able to see her childhood home and meet her family was a great start to our introduction to the many communities of wonderful people the Sacred Valley Project has connected. We continued on our way after lunch and reached the end of the road just as the sun started to dip behind the mountains. This is where the trekking started. We unloaded our gear, organized what would be carried on our backs and what would be packed by donkeys, and started our 2.5 hour trek to Mendozayoc just before sunset. The girls led the way, first descending a steep sloping path into the valley, then crossing a river over a small bridge and ascending back up the other side of the valley. We arrived in Mendozayoc after nightfall, headlamps beaming. We were met by twinkling fireflies, friendly members of the community who came to greet us, and a few excited dogs. We introduced ourselves to the children of the village and got to spend a little time with them before the donkeys arrived with our packs full of gear. We set up camp and had dinner just in time to avoid a thunderstorm.
Day 3 (Saturday Sept. 21st) Mendozayoc: We woke up in Mendozayoc to amazing cloudy views of the Andes overlooking the river, warm tubs of water at each tent door for washing faces and hands, and a well prepared breakfast. For the day, the group was given two options for the morning. Go on a trek to a neighboring village three hours away to make contact with a new community and share information about the Sacred Valley Project, or go to “the stadium” with the children, teachers, and some parents from the community to play games. Once everyone chose their morning activity, we were off.
The stadium is a soccer field the community carved out of the side of the mountain by using only hand shovels and picks. When they would come across an “unmovable stone” (one which was too large to move by hand), they would build a fire around it. Once the stone was hot, they would pour cold water over it forcing it to crack into more manageable pieces. What they carved out of the mountain, they leveled and turned into the expansive playing field that juts from the side of the mountain and overlooks the nearby peaks and valleys of the area. The process took one year, and the finished product is an amazing field in the clouds high in the mountains. The morning spent with the kids and teachers of the village was full of fun games, smiles, and laughter. We played ‘birdy on a perch’ which led to some hilarious team-building moments, ‘red light/green light’ (Rosso/Verde) where the kids could really stretch their legs and show their speed, and of course soccer, before descending back down to the village for lunch.
The group that had set out for the other village came back beat and exhausted. Prior to going, there were varying accounts as to how far “said” village was. Most had said it was one hour of flat walking. When they returned, they explained that they had hiked up steep mountain sides for hours. When they had come across a local on the trail, they were told it was another three hours still to the village. Not knowing for sure, they decided to abandon the trek and return to camp. They told stories of coming across a half dozen locals with developmental issues. With such a small gene pool in these remote areas, it is common to see developmental issues and physical deformities.
After lunch the girls led us on a tour of “Grandpa’s” property where he grows pineapples, oranges, apples, bananas and coffee. The girls had a chance to practice their translating skills from Quechua to Spanish, relaying our questions to the couple. Grandpa (91) has been farming this land since his early 20’s when he came to the village as a visitor, fell in love with his wife (86) and never left. We were treated to a fermented sugar cane drink and ate coffee berries from the trees. We learned how intensive coffee production is for small operations like this. Alex Ball, the founder of the Sacred Valley Project has been trying to entice girls from this community to create a co-op for this region. Currently there is only one person who comes to the end of the road to buy coffee from Mendozayoc, and he sets the price. A co-op would enrich the region and give the farmers more leverage. A distressing story the couple shared was the loss of a large portion of their crops the past year due to a strange plant illness. US planes had flown into their remote valley to spray coca crops owned by a drug cartel several miles up the river. The winds had spread the deadly spray and affected crops miles from the original spraying. Many locals were losing trees and crops ever since. After we had shared all we could with Grandpa and his wife, we headed down to the river for a quick dip before hiking back up for dinner.
Day 4 (Sunday Sept. 22nd) Mendozayoc/Calca: Day four started off with a sunrise wake up, breakfast, and a trek back to the road. It was time to say our goodbyes to the community and make our way back to Calca for a good night’s rest. Trekking back to the road in the morning sun was a very different experience from the one we had on the trek out in setting sun. Being able to see the views from the mountainsides was breathtaking, and as the path weaved through crops you could catch glimpses of the river as it rushed below. The drive back to Calca was a welcome change of pace after all of the strenuous activity of the previous days. Cat naps and watching the mountains, valleys, llamas and alpacas go by was a great way to spend the rest of the day on the way back to Calca. Once everyone was settled in their rooms at Hotel California we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Restaurante Kawsaytika.
Day 5 (Monday Sept. 23rd) BUILD DAY 1: We started the day by heading to the Sacred Valley Project’s Calca dormitory. After the majority of the team spent the weekend trekking together to Mendozayoc, a quick re-introduction game was all everyone needed to warm up and jump right in. After a tour of the dorm and being brought up to speed on the projects that would be the focus for the week, the group split into teams. The first team headed to the bakery to start organizing and measuring the room’s layout and all of the appliances, table tops, display cases, shelving, etc. to begin the process of designing a functional layout. The second team headed outside to begin work on the greenhouse. The first set of tasks for the greenhouse build were to clear the space of rocks and debris, level the ground that it would be constructed on, and create a pathway for easy access from the main building. A third smaller team headed by a particularly tech-savvy volunteer, James Clarke, was tasked with installing security cameras around the building to increase the girls’ safety. A girl had been attacked outside at night several weeks before, so a security system was critical to ensure everyone's safety.
With groups working in unison, these tasks were made easier and more efficient as the day went on, and day one wrapped up with substantial progress having been made. The girls returned to the dormitory around 3:30 pm daily and would join the Building Humanity team for amazing home cooked meals provided by our trusted trio of cooks. Being able to get to know the girls and talk with them over the course of the week allowed the team to form a deeper connection with this fun and lively group of young women.
Day 6 (Tuesday Sept. 24th) BUILD DAY 2: With everyone raring to go, the greenhouse started to take shape. What was once a rock littered piece of land beside the dormitory was now a level, marked out plot. The girls also had the day off of school and had a chance to work alongside the team. All of the adobe bricks that had been handmade months before needed to be moved from the other side of the dorm to stage for placement for the greenhouse. A train of girls and volunteers passed each brick, one by one down the line into their new stacks. Others were taking turns digging a 2 foot deep foundation trench around the greenhouse perimeter. The soil was hard and digging was slow. During lunch the trench was filled with water to help loosen the soil which made for a muddy, dirty afternoon. All the soil and mud was wheelbarrowed to one end of the area and raked to level the ground. On the cleaner side of things, several volunteers were tasked with cleaning all the bakery appliances. With the new bakery layout ready to be implemented, all the cleaned equipment was moved into its new allocated spots. The biggest effort was put into moving the bread oven (which weighed a literal ton) to its new location in the corner of the bakery. With the help of a half dozen people and good ol’ Peruvian engineering, it was rolled on logs into its new location. After a productive second day, both projects were well on their way.
Day 7 (Wednesday Sept. 25th) BUILD DAY 3: Today was a half day of work with the afternoon scheduled for a field trip. With the foundation trench finally completed, it was time to start constructing the retaining wall and the rock and concrete foundation which was symphony of moving parts. Like a busy bee hive, wooden forms were built, rocks were being selected and placed in the foundation, water was being carried from an irrigation canal, concrete was being mixed, carried and placed. Other volunteers were still moving adobe bricks into their new staging area, one by one, and the surveillance camera system also had its first round of testing completed. After a busy morning and to celebrate Hump Day, the afternoon was spent exploring the Maras Salt Flats. This collection of 3,000 salt ponds, in use since pre-Inca times, is fed by a subterranean stream. Different layers of salt are collected as the moisture evaporates from the family-owned ponds that have been passed down through generations. The way the ponds are covered in salt contrasted with the mountain range and made it look as though a cluster of clouds had snowed over one patch in the middle of the mountains. It was an amazing site to visit and a fascinating process to learn about. As we headed back to Calca we made a stop at Cerveceria Del Valle Sagrado Brewery for beer tasting and a tour of the beer making process. Dinner at the dorms concluded with a surprise birthday celebration for our youngest Building Humanity teammate, Gwyneth Morrell who turned 12!
Day 8 (Thursday Sept. 26th) BUILD DAY 4: After days of organizing equipment and finding missing cables and wires, the surveillance system was strategically positioned and installed. Outside, the team was completing two more sides of the foundation walls. The last day of mixing concrete by hand, loading into buckets, and carrying into place. By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted and in dire need of a shower. After a short siesta at the hotel we were back at the dorm for dinner. After dessert, the Building Humanity team passed out items that they had brought for the girls: sweet treats, toothbrushes, soap, wash cloths, chopsticks, keychains, colored paper, markers, and hula hoops were just some of the items that the girls received. The hula hoops caused some temporary confusion, but once they got a quick lesson, the fun was contagious.
Day 9 (Friday Sept. 27th) BUILD DAY 5: The last section of the foundation of the greenhouse was completed, and it was time to build the adobe walls. The mud used as the mortar between the bricks was made by adding water to the soil that had been sifted and removed from the site during excavation. The best method of mixing the mud was by walking and stomping through the mixture with bare feet. Once the mud was the right consistency, adobe bricks could be placed carefully to create straight walls and squared corners. The team worked hard under the guidance of our trusted foreman, Carlos, and pulled together to get the walls of the greenhouse prepared for the door and window installation that was set to happen over the weekend. Toward the end of the day the team realized that all the adobe bricks would be needed, so the last 120 bricks would need to be moved. It was all hands on deck, creating a human chain to pass the final bricks into the staging area.
Inside, the camera system applications were installed on the main computer system as well as on a mobile device, and tested for usability and functionality. James had worked all week and finally the cameras were mounted and completely operational. This new security system would hopefully prevent any further threats at night, and help make this home feel safer and more secure.
Once the work day had ended, the team was invited to watch some of the girls dance in a competition in the main square. Their class’ group had won a local competition and was now showcasing their winning dance at the local festival. They performed a vibrant harvest dance in gorgeous traditional clothing. Being able to see “our girls” perform and show our support was a great end to the week.
Day 10 (Saturday Sept. 28th): Visiting Peru is not complete without a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. In the morning, the team took the van from Calca to Ollantaytambo where we stopped and had an incredible lunch before boarding the train to Machupicchu (previously known as Aguas Calientes). As the train wound through the mountains past rivers, farmland and through tunnels, the group took in the scenery, chatted, and played games (Bananagram and Uno were undoubtedly the favorites of this trip). Once in Machupicchu Pueblo and settled in the hotel, the team had free time in which many opted for massages, while others took the time to walk around the city and explore the squares and market before a group dinner. After dinner some of the group went out for drinks and took advantage of the vibrant touristic nightlife available in this newly created, fast growing town.
DAY 11 (Sunday Sept. 29th): The team broke out into two groups for the tour of Machu Picchu archeological site. The first began early in the morning for those who would hike Machu Picchu Mountain, which is an hour and a half long hike straight up the mountain, peaking out at 3061 meters above sea level. The incredible view peers over the dwarfed Machu Picchu site below. The rest of the team took a more relaxed morning with a bus ride up the mountain and a guided tour of the Machu Picchu site. It was an astounding place to visit. The thought, labor, time, and effort that went into the construction and layout of the town is stunning. The history and theories that have been proposed of the site and the Incas are equally as interesting and captivating as the physical location itself.
After returning to Machupicchu from the Machu Picchu archeological site, it was time to hop back on the train and return to Ollantaytambo. Once back in Ollantaytambo we were able to visit the Sacred Valley Project’s second dormitory location. The team was able to meet and have dinner with the girls, and spend a bit of time getting to know them before heading back to the hotel and turning in for the night.
Day 12 (Monday Sept. 30th) BUILD DAY 6: The morning was spent exploring several historical sites at Ollantaytambo. Some of the team took a short guided hike to a Quechua site that overlooked the city, learning about the history of Ollantaytambo town, while the rest enjoyed free time to explore the city center and do some shopping. Arriving back in Calca the team was eager to put the finishing touches on the greenhouse. The roof was the last piece of the puzzle and was a great, final team effort to lift and pull the roof taught over the adobe walls and hold it in place as it was secured to the structure. Once complete, the Building Humanity team, together with the students were asked to christen the greenhouse with a traditional ceremony. Chicha, a purple corn drink, was placed in two jars and tied in the door frame and window with flowers. Then, Building Humanity’s youngest and eldest volunteers, Gwyneth and Tamara were asked to christen the door. With a small speech and both holding the hammer, they smashed the jar of chicha over the threshold.
For the window, our second eldest volunteer, Stephanie, was asked to christen the window with two of the Sacred Valley students. They all made wonderful speeches with tears in their eyes, and together broke chicha over the window, completing the christening and igniting several more speeches from participants expressing gratitude and thanks to all. It was a beautiful moment.
To celebrate the completion of our work and celebrate our new friendships, we had a Pizza Party in downtown Calca. Fifty people crammed in a small pizza parlor. We had to borrow tables, benches and stools from neighboring establishments to accommodate everyone, but it made it all the more fun to be smashed together. As the night came to a close, there were hugs and tears and promises made all around. After a week of bonding with these amazing young women, it was hard to let go.
DAY 13 (Tuesday Oct. 1st): The last day was spent packing up and heading from Calca back to Cusco. Along the way we had the privilege of stopping at a textile weaving women’s center. These incredible women showed us how textiles are created from washing the wool to spinning, dying, setting up the weaving foundation and finally weaving their intricate designs. It was an impressive process that was fantastic to watch and participate in.
Once back in Cusco, the team checked into the hotel, and began the lengthy process of repacking and preparing for their next leg of travel. Some people went up to Saqdaywaman archeological site for some last views of Cusco, while others shopped for last minute souvenirs. We had one final group dinner, final drinks, and final tears before saying goodbye to those we wouldn't see the following day.
The last day is always bittersweet. It had been an amazingly successful trip, where 22 people from around the world came together to complete an awesome project that will impact the education of young girls for generations to come. Over two weeks, the Building Humanity team not only finished a challenging build, bakery/shop layout design and camera installation, but also learned new building techniques, was immersed in a new rich and brilliant culture, made lifelong friends, pulled together as a team, overcame language barriers, and made an impactful difference in a wonderful community.
**Thank you to all our volunteers, donors and individuals that made this project possible. Thank you to AECOM for supplying the Blueprint Travel Grant for this project. Most importantly thank you to the Sacred Valley Project for supplying a wonderful place for young Peruvian women to get their education and a better start in life.
Celia Ngai Yan Chan / Hong Kong
Daniel Ferguson / England
Davis Weir / Pennsylvania, USA
Erin Colshan / California, USA
Eva Sendra / Spain
Francis Xiao Jun Wong / Hong Kong
Gwyneth Morrell / California, USA
James Clarke / England
Jeff Zheng / Texas, USA
Justine Leung / BC, Canada
Kathryn Brown / England
Lauren Woodward / England
Lida Krimpeni / Greece
Marissa Williams / Texas, USA
Michael Morrell / California, USA
Oana Sala / Romania
Pablo Belinchon / Spain
Patti Abrecht / California, USA
Stephanie Colshan / California, USA
Tamara Morrell / Ukraine
Tanis Marchand / France
William Miskelly / England
Check out this great video from our volunteer Dan Ferguson!