Pachamama, Mother Earth in Quechua, plays an important role in Andean culture.
Pachamama is believed to take the heavy energy and stress of people and to give back light energy, much in the way manure is used as fertilizer. Many Cusqueñans leave sacrifices to Pachamama to show their appreciation. It is not unusual to see people, for instance, pouring beer or chicha, or leaving coca leaves and fruit on the ground. Yet, in the city center, this love for Pachamama does not always translate into actions that build healthy environments. Kyla and I constantly see people littering, and it often feels as if our canchas (courts) are dirtier every day.
I was excited to celebrate Earth Day with the Chicas Dinámicas by cleaning up our courts and teaching the girls about the importance of maintaining healthy environments.
We arrived to class with trash bags and gardening gloves. Our plan was to clean up the court and then have a discussion to reflect on actions we could take to improve the environment. I have to admit, on Monday before class at Los Nogales, I felt nervous. As a kid, I did not always enjoy “pick up the trash days,” and we often greeted the teacher with groans from when they introduced the lesson. However, to our pleasant surprise, it was fantastic!
We made the trash collection into a competition. The girls were paired up and had 10 minutes to pick up as much garbage as possible. They worked together holding the bag, digging through the bushes, and finding even the tiny pieces of plastic on the ground. Not only did they clean up the court, but they demonstrated leadership, communication, and teamwork skills. We decided to let the activity last more like a Peruvian 10 minutes (a.k.a. 20 min) because the girls were having so much fun and doing such a great job. Throughout the course of the week, the girls collected over 12 huge bags of garbage. At almost every school, someone came up to us and thanked us for cleaning up the space. The chicas faces immediately lit up when they heard this praise and the sense of pride they felt was evident.
Following the competition, we reflected on the activity and asked the girls to set goals for themselves on how to create a healthier environment.
At first, most girls gave very generic answers. A lot of them said, “I will protect the earth.” We pushed them to be more specific, and they started to think more critically. Yaqueline, a fourth grader, responded that she was going to come twice a week to water the plants in the school garden. At Mantay, Rosa said she was going to ask if they could put a recycling and compost bin in the house. And Mariella said once a week with her friends she would pick up trash around the school to keep both the court and school grounds clean.
The girls then asked Kyla and me to share our goals. We decided that on our future hikes in Cusco, we would bring an extra plastic bag to pick up the trash along the way. We hope through this small change, we can help maintain the beauty of these magical places.
As we left classes last week, I was reminded of Margaret Mead’s quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” We left the schools, not only, with cleaner courts, but also with a shared sense of positivity for the future and the fate of the environment.