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Letter from Zapallal: August 2014


At the moment we are on our two-week mid-year break and though it is dry there have been some very damp days. It is a very fine drizzle that you can’t see but it quickly soaks you and turns the sand and dust in to a very unpleasant slurry.

A group of thirteen of our 4th and 5th years have escaped this and have gone to the region of the Sacred Valley near Cusco. They have given up their holiday so that, linked with pupils from our other schools, they can help in four very poor villages in the mountains. They take part in a lot of hard manual work, for example, making the adobe bricks for buildings. They help pupils with their studies, both secular and religious, join in and teach new games, distribute food and clothing that have been donated. They will come back very tired with blistered hands but inspired and chastened by their experiences, not least of which is the great poverty of the people with whom they lived and worked.

We also are on the receiving end of volunteers in as much as we are the base for about twenty young French people from one of our schools in France, who have come over to help build houses for three very poor families. They seem full of enthusiasm though the weather is a bit different from the summer weather of the south of France. It is good to see that several of our older pupils have also come along to help them, some of them not the people you would have immediately thought of!

One morning all the secondary pupils, in union with all the others in Peru, took part in a Maths Olympiad. It’s a combination of an evaluation and a competition. Top scorers go on to district, regional and national finals. I’m not sure at which stage our pupils are at. The Olympiad then led in to our quarterly exams. Parents are obliged to come to the school to receive the results. It is one way to keep the parents involved in their children’s studies but at times I feel it is a great imposition for some parents to miss work and possibly wages.

One of the interesting practical exams was in the hairdressing (beauty) workshop. The pupils had to reproduce the style in vogue during the latter part of the Spanish rule here in Peru. It took hours of work.

Independence Day is 28th July with the 29th also a national holiday during which there is a massive march past of all aspects of life, military and civic. The school held its celebrations on 24th. The weather was awful early in the morning and although the sun didn’t come out, it remained sufficiently dry to go on with the activities. All were based on the history of Peru. There was a very informative live time chart by the 5th years. A show-stealer was a poem and song by the kindergarten pupils. Other historical figures were portrayed and the 4th and 5th years did traditional dances. It all was a well-organised and interesting morning.

The next day there was more activity. By law, twice a year schools have to have a full-blown open day showing the work of the year – the Day of Achievement. All the classrooms and teaching spaces were taken over by either primary groups or secondary departments. Parents wandered around over several hours. It was impressive to see all the work put together. I’ve never taught primary level but I was impressed by the variety and standard of work and also by the maturity of young pupils explaining things to adults. It was a fitting way to start our break.

We seem to be in the period for earth tremors. One evening there was a very powerful but very short one and more recently a big one in the north of the country. In the back of many people’s minds is the devastating earthquake of 2007 on 15th August .

School starts again on 11th and we will be at it solidly until the Christmas break, remembering that the school year ends after Christmas. I hope you are all having a pleasant summer holiday. Thank you, as always, for your interest and support.

God bless.
Brother Mark

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