Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed: A New Volunteer’s Trip to the Villages

Written by guest blogger Calina Ellwand

About Me

Calina Ellwand sitting amongst the women in Chupani

I’m a new volunteer with Threads of Peru and have been involved for the past month in promotions and grant-writing. I hail from Toronto, Canada but consider myself an avid traveler. Since January, I have been traveling throughout South America, beginning in Argentina, continuing on to Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and now Peru. In September, I will be back in Canada starting my Master’s in political science with a focus on women’s organizations. Threads of Peru’s work on women’s empowerment and leadership training is of a particular interest to me and my future research.

Want to Take a Trip?

I discovered Threads of Peru while surfing the web looking for volunteering opportunities in Peru. When I contacted Ariana, she suggested I visit the weavers’ villages and see first-hand how the organization is helping women improve the quality of their weavings. I jumped at the chance. As a student studying women’s organizations back in Canada, this couldn’t have sounded better.

Weaving workshop

Senora Augustina shows the women how to make their thread finer

My community visits to Chaullococha and Chupani (March 25-26) began with a spinning workshop led by Señora Augustina. The women in the communities are accustomed to sitting outside to spin wool and that is exactly where they were waiting for us. They spin alpaca and sheep’s wool using a phuska, a traditional spindle that has been perfected over 2,000 years. While Augustina told the women how to make their thread finer, I walked among the weavers and recorded attendance. This was harder than I expected. Many of the women speak very softly and have Quechua names that I had never heard before. Thank goodness for Urbano, our Quechua translator!

Cooking Workshop

The cooking workshop was our opportunity to have a frank discussion with the community about hygiene, nutrition and balanced diets. Malnutrition is a serious problem; most of the children have parasites and are in a state of chronic malnutrition. By exposing the community to new and simple dishes, we hope to encourage the preparation of more varied, nutritious meals.

Martin leads a cooking workshop

In Chaullacocha, our workshop was delayed by the arrival of a group of people from the municipality of Urubamba who spoke about nutrition, balanced diets and food security. This group spoke on many of the same topics we wanted to communicate. Unfortunately, because of the arrival of these speakers, Martin did not have time to get the women involved in his preparation of a veggie, potato, and barley soup. He showed them what he’d done and talked about hygiene and hand-washing. I’m still not sure how well this message was conveyed—I didn’t see any of the women wash their hands before eating.

In Chupani, the cooking workshop was a bit more successful as we had more time. Martin brought a table outside and showed the women how he was chopping up the various ingredients. Many of the women chipped in, peeling potatoes and frying onions. I helped with the potato peeling but was miserably slow compared to the women!

Food Program

The school director in Chupani distributes apples to the children as part of the food program.

The food program is a joint venture between Reach Out Children’s Foundation and Threads of Peru. We are aiming to improve the nutrition of the children because currently many of them are suffering from chronic malnutrition. We delivered flour, quinoa, apples, cinnamon, yucca, milk, and sugar to both villages. My responsibilities included recording a list of the food delivered, checking the quantities with the community members and getting the person who received the food and Urbano to sign my lists. We also chose someone in each village who will be responsible for recording the quantity of food used each day so that we can adjust our deliveries accordingly.

Interacting with community members

I found it frustrating not to be able to communicate with the community members. Few of the women or children speak Spanish and they are quite shy. I was hoping to be able to have a few conversations through our translator but there was little time to coordinate this.

I had some success interacting with the kids by drawing in my notebook and getting them to guess what I was drawing. They loved this game. I drew houses in the distances, horses, the school and even tried to draw them. They found this hilarious and would run away every time I looked up to pick a new subject.

Hanging out with the kids

What I learned

The trip to the villages exposed me to the many challenges of doing development work in remote locations. This creates difficulties for communication, transportation of services and supplies and, generally, makes any development work more arduous and expensive. Activities that require regular and frequent community visits are impossible without considerable resources. The best solution I can think of is to ensure that all development activities and programs are self-sustainable and can continue without much participation from Threads of Peru. However, I quickly understood that getting to this point takes a long-term commitment and involvement from the organization.

Overall, the trip was a very valuable learning experience and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to do volunteer work with Threads of Peru or any other organization working in remote communities, dealing with language barriers, literacy and nutrition issues.

This entry was posted in Community work, Volunteers by angiehodder. Bookmark the permalink.

About angiehodder

Threads of Peru is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization (ngo) registered in Cusco, Peru. The founding members represent the countries of Canada, Australia, and Peru. “Threads of Peru has been created to educate the world about the unique beauty and cultural significance of the Andean people and their textile traditions. Through the web, community tours, and international sales, we connect indigenous Andean weavers of Peru to a global market; contributing to the survival of this art form and to the health and well-being of the people that sustain it.” This is our blog where we write about our community projects and activities with community members. Our website it

8 thoughts on “Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed: A New Volunteer’s Trip to the Villages

  1. Looks like you had quite the adventure Calina. I’m really glad that they have the cooking workshop and hope that is something that continues to be successful. I guess you’ll have to peel more potatoes to get better and faster.


  2. Fantastic post Calina! I’m so jealous you got to hang out with the villages, Urbano, and Augustina! I’m hoping to go back in 1 – 2 years.

    I’m really curious to know who it was from Urubamba that delayed your workshop? Is it just a coincidence that they were there on the same day? Or is Chaullococha becoming a hot spot for workshops? 🙂

    The story of you drawing the children sounds like a great memory! I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

    • Jason- it was a fantastic adventure. I’m so glad I got the opportunity to take part in the trip. I had just started volunteering the day I left!

      The people from Urubamba were representing the municipality as well as another organization called Arariwa. I think it’s unlikely that Chaullococha becomes a workshop hot-spot, at least not until the road is fixed! But the more services that get to the community the better.

      thanks for the well wishes!

  3. What a wonderful experience!!…the photographs are beautiful and the weaving…well!! Humbled once again by the universe and how it ‘weaves’ it’s magic… I am astounded that this post arrives on the very week that I signed up for a weaving course! A lifelong dream because of “ties” to my grandmother and wanting to experience the loom and how they worked it. I am amazed at how similar life may have been in Ferruzzano, Calabria…so far away from Peru, but the remote village no matter where it may be, relies on self sufficiency and hard work of it’s peoples…. Read this blog post and my comment and you will see how timely this all seems to be…very cool! ahhh… Keep up the great work!!

  4. I think you got the drawing in the notebook game from Dad. He’ll be pleased. The pictures are astonishing. It’s such a shock to see life in such a time capsule. It’s almost sad that modernity has to invade it.

  5. This is really fantastic, Calina! Wow, I want to volunteer with Threads of Peru, too.

    There is so much to learn from these communities. We all live so differently from one another.

    Yes, the language barrier is a challenge, but definitely making friends with the kids is a way to break that down.

    Congratulations on your work. I’m so proud to have a sister like you!

  6. Thank you Calina,
    A fantastic post and well written! You provide wonderful insight into the mountain regions you visited. My wife and I are itching to go back. She learned the basic weaving skills whilst there, but sloooow compared to the wonderful skills of the local people. Had cuy yet…?

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