Our year in Cusco began a little differently than we anticipated.
When we arrived, teachers were striking and all public schools were closed. Labor strikes and protests are a part of the political landscape in Peru because it is often the best way for groups to force the Peruvian Government to listen to their demands. This strike lasted for significantly longer than normal and longer than most people, including the teachers, anticipated. We learned about the complicated political atmosphere and saw first-hand how the teacher strike impacted the students, parents, and teachers, and the economy of the communities in which we work.
In June, the Unitary Union of Peruvian Education Workers went on strike to demand higher salaries and better working conditions. While the teachers protested, the students did not have school. Teachers marched around the Plaza de Armas and sometimes blocked traffic to main roads to demand that President Kuczynski follow through with his campaign promise to increase teachers’ wages. The teachers wanted their salaries immediately doubled (from 1200s/ –
approximately $370 – per month).
While the protests were mostly peaceful, in mid-July, teachers and supporters vandalized and blocked the road leading to Machu Picchu, which resulted in a two-day delay for the popular tourist attraction. As tourism and especially trips to Machu Picchu make up a large percentage of the GDP of Cusco, the Peruvian Government declared a State of Emergency in Cusco and surrounding areas, suspending all constitutional rights including the freedom of assembly.
The chica dinámicas students told us they wanted to return to school
And many studied during their time off to be prepared for when school resumed. Many of the children were left with nothing to do. We began holding impromptu classes at Santoni. We were excited that many girls came out to participate and learn ultimate Frisbee, even without school, and even if it involved running three laps first.
In August, more than 10,000 teachers traveled to Lima to protest and meet with the Peruvian Government. On August 11, after more than 50 days of protests and missed school, the teacher’s union came to an agreement with the government. In December, the basic teacher salary will raise to $617/month. Classes resumed normally the following week, and students jumped straight back into school. To make up for lost time, most public schools have class on Saturdays and will continue into January.
We were as excited as we have ever been for our “first day of school”
After giving presentations in all of our schools (20+ classes in total), we were met with an enthusiastic group of returning and new chicas ready for class! While it is unfortunate that students missed so much school, we are happy that our teachers persevered and were successful. Aside from the delay, our new year is off to a great start, and we cannot wait to share more of our experiences in future posts!