Global Affairs Fellows Blog
Brammy Rajakumar graduated from Norfolk Academy in 2019 and is currently in her first year at Harvard University. As a Global Affairs Fellow, she developed a particular interest in refugee issues and the vulnerability of women in those crises. Brammy recently published a piece titled "Female Syrian Refugee Rights: Women As The New Leaders of Syrian Society" in the Harvard International Review.
The following article first appeared in the September issue of The Belfry.
This past July, the Global Affairs Fellows enjoyed a week-long trip to the beautiful country of Peru. Embarking on the third voyage to the coastal nation, the 2020, 2021, and 2022 cohorts sought to expand on some unfinished projects begun during the school year. Exhausted after a brutal seven hour flight, our group arrived in the bustling city of Lima. The stay in the nation’s capital only lasted one night; however, we set off on another long trek to the Andean city of Cusco at an altitude of 11,000 feet. Talk about a change of elevation! Acclimatizing to life in the sprawling Andes, we boarded a bus and headed towards the village of Ollantaytambo to set up shop for the next couple of days, ready to get some much needed rest and excited to explore the landscape.
On the first day in the Sacred Valley of Peru, the ‘22s and the ‘20s woke up early for the long-awaited day trip to Machu Picchu, a wonder of the world and a staple of Incan culture. We braved the early morning chill and took a two hour train ride to the nearby village of Aguas Calientes (meaning “hot waters”). Upon scouring the city for an hour or so, our two cohorts boarded a bus and enjoyed the views as we rumbled up a long and winding road. The hustle and bustle of the dropoff area provided a glimpse of the almost surreal number of tourists flocking to the site. We were surrounded by those from all over the globe who were also seeking the chance to witness one of the world’s greatest architectural feats. After a pretty tough hike up to the Sun Gate, known to be a sacred place for the residents of Machu Picchu, we met up with our tour guide and began our walk around the ruins. The people of Machu Picchu, we learned, were far ahead of their time, as their tactics used to move large rocks and emphasis on religion reflected an advanced look into an isolated society. However, all good things must come to an end. As the sun went down over the mountains, we carried our experiences back with us on the train to Ollantaytambo.
The divide between urbanization and preservation of indigenous cultures has created a stir in much of the world. In Peru, where ancient Incan life has been threatened by the expansion of cities such as Lima and Cusco, cultures and languages are vanishing. On the first Global Affairs Fellows trip to Peru three years ago, the 2020 and 2018 cohorts were introduced to two non-profit organizations, Awakami and Centro Bartolome de las Casas, both driving forces in the fight against the erosion of indigenous communities. Awamaki serves the indigenous communities of Peru by supporting the economic individuality of female weavers, masters of their craft for years even amidst modernization. Their implementation of “cultural tourism,” which seeks to place outsiders in indigenous villages to learn about their weaving practices, encourages awareness for the preservation of such cultures and gives many weavers more economic freedom. CBC, a non-profit in Cusco, also seeks to support those families who are struggling with the influx of rural residents to the “promising” cities like Cusco. We were lucky to speak to the people behind these organizations during our first trip, and while we only learned of their work, it set a precedent for the years to come. With the help of Mr. Gibson, the three cohorts had the chance to immerse themselves in some kind of work for either Awamaki or a third organization, Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development. Groups had been established for the ‘21s and ‘20s earlier in the year, as half would head to a village in the Sacred Valley, under Awamaki’s lead, to help with a construction project. The other half would walk the short distance to the office of Awamaki in the village to aid with some assorted tasks. For two days my group visited the rural town of Huilloc, helping to build a bathroom by transporting concrete and digging out trenches for pipes. We were able to see the dynamic between indigenous families, as many of the men present were entrusted to construction work while the women engaged in their traditional weaving practices. What struck me was that no man sat around. Despite ages ranging from teens to seventies, each man on the job did his work with extreme diligence and focus. In the office, the other half of the group brightened up the Awamaki office space by laying a new rock path and organizing items around the store (filled with items made by weavers in the villages). While the older groups continued with these projects, the ‘22s took a trip to the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development, where they learned of the sustainable practices of farming in high elevations and even got their hands dirty on the “model farm” at AASD headquarters. They were also afforded the opportunity to visit Patacancha, the same village that the ‘20s visited with Awamaki two years ago, and were able to watch the talented women weave their scarves, blankets, hats, and much more.
With the trip almost done, we spent our waning moments in the culture-rich city of Cusco to explore amongst different groups. The ruins of Sacsayhuaman, which used to be a strategic fortress for the city, proved to be a great spot for testing out the ancient, natural slides made of rock. We walked around the massive area and took in some of the best views of the sprawling city of Cusco. In the afternoon, three groups navigated the busy city and stopped by several museums, including the Regional History Museum and one filled with Incan art and pottery. Enjoying a final meal together with an interesting music accompaniment, we soaked in the remaining time and prepped for another interesting day filled with shopping and more travel. Our whole group traversed through the crowded streets to the San Pedro Market on the morning, embarking on a challenging scavenger hunt through the food stands and purchasing churros along the way. We eventually completed the task, our last of the journey, and made our way to the Cusco airport to start the trek back home. What a trip it was, and what memories were made along the way. Peru was once again a great host to the Global Affairs Fellows, and hopefully the pipeline will continue for years to come.
- William Smythe '20
This year I would like to help a migrant farmer family on the Eastern Shore have a better Christmas. They live in camps with dirt floors, single room living quarters, public bathrooms, and public kitchens. While most of these families move to Florida during the winter to pick fruit, some families have to stay and are unable to make a good income during the winter months. These families tend to be families with a single mom and there are a few with a single mom because the father has been killed. Often in these cases, the mom is unable to take her kids to Florida because she cannot afford to leave or work because she must take care of her children. However, not all families stay for this reason or are families with single parents. The family we will be getting gifts for has five young children. The youngest child, a two year old girl named Ireri, was born with some birth defects and a growth on her neck. Bring your gifts, unwrapped, to our meeting on Thursday, December 13. Thank you so much for your help. Below I have attached some pictures of the family and the name, age, size, and wishes for each child. Please add you name in the sign up column. Thank you!
– Global Affairs Fellows 2021
Peru blog July 14:
Finding constellations in the shadows of the Milky Way takes imagination; it takes less imagination to crush the progress of such a civilization underfoot. Juxtaposing the nature-centered, sacred places of the Incas, like Machu Picchu, to the almost gaudy splendor of the Basilica Cathedral, the metaphor of Cusco deepens. The sheen over the Incas’ history is apparent when walking down the streets where the perfectly cut Inca walls meet the Spanish stucco or when noticing that the indigenous beliefs are confined to subliminal messages in Catholic places of worship. The common thread between the architecture, the artwork, and even the recognized constellations in the realm of astronomy is that the imagination and genius of the Incas’ could not be replaced by the Spanish.
Ellie Thornton ’19
Today was our final full day at Cusco, and we maximized the potential of the day. After an early wake up, we met with our energized tour guide and drove up to an altitude of 13,000 feet to visit a local village called Patabamba, which boasted incredible views of the Andes in an isolated location. We were greeted in flowery fashion by the town council and spoke with them, asking questions about their technology, government, and education to better understand their way of life. Afterwards, we bounced along a dirt road to visit a sacred lake which was undergoing conservation efforts, and there we performed a ritual to honor Mother Earth using rocks and snacks, holding hands in a circle around our offering. In the afternoon, we learned about the medicinal plants in the area, which were used to replace the need for hospitals far away from the village. They plastered our aching joints with leaves to help with the pain and hit our hands with spiky plants — each plant with its own special purpose. We enjoyed the spirit of reciprocity, or ayni, at the village, and in our evening meeting, we discussed ways we could help them in the future. Finally, we dined at a lovely restaurant and had an early night.
— Brammy Rajakumar (’19)