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Creating equal access to education through a shared love of the environment.

Swimming lessons are a special treat for the whole community of Huanchaco, Trujillo on the coast of Northern Peru. Not just kids, but even adults join in. Drowning is a worldwide epidemic among children and especially those in developing countries. 

Drowning prevention is seen as a priority in the community as they are located right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Going to the beach is one of the most fun things to do in Huanchaco, so making sure all children, and even adults, can safely swim is important. The waters on the coast aren’t the calmest, so the danger is always there. 

In the summer months, SwimTayka comes to Huanchaco with volunteer swim instructors to teach the kids how to swim and be good stewards for the ocean in partnership with Otra Cosa Network. Unfortunately the 2021 program had to be cancelled, but OCN is looking forward to resuming the swimming lessons next summer. 

Due to the pandemic closing schools and the number of cases continuing to stay high, OCN hasn’t been able to host any classes with the kids in over a year. They still do mentor work and give the kids workbooks for environmental activities they can do at home.

Otra Cosa Network is a registered Peruvian non-profit NGO and a UK Registered Charity that runs several projects which are all part of the Huanchaco Education and Learning Programme (HELP). These include education and workshops in the fields of environmental awareness, English and literature skills, women’s empowerment and sports. OCN’s Vision reads “HELP is dedicated to advancing the education possibilities and resources for those living in lower-income communities in Huanchaco and the surrounding shanty towns. Alongside this, we support several partner organisations in the area, as well as in two remote locations in northern Peru.”

The danger of microplastics

According to Andrea Mayr, marketing and communications manager for OCN, and Alondra Loayza, former HELP Environment Coordinator, one of the biggest problems facing their community is the prevalence of microplastics. Scientists have found microplastics inside the fish caught off the coast of Peru. Alondra says that Peruvians love their ceviche (a raw fish dish) but even when presented with the facts of the amount of plastic and the consequences to fish and humans when ingesting microplastics, some still refuse to care about the trash management or the environment. 

Through community beach cleanups with the kids, OCN tries to educate them on the reasons to keep the beach clean (like microplastics), how to prevent trash from making its way to the ocean, and how to manage their own waste. The children are very excited to be able to help and do something hands on and fun. They play games and make things. They also are able to go home and teach the older generations what they’ve learned and why everyone should care about the environment. 

Two worlds collide

OCN has a unique position as an organisation between two cultures – Hispanic and Quechua (the indigenous people of the country). 

In recent decades, Huanchaco has grown due to the migration of the indigenous people from the highlands and the jungle looking for a better standard of living. Even in some cases they are made to leave their homes by natural disasters. Many of the people coming in live in surrounding communities that lack basic infrastructure such as no paved roads, a lack of sewage systems and limited access to running water. Their daily reality is very different from many of those living just a ten minute walk away in the centre of the town. Native kids come with their families for a better life, but soon find that their way of life and culture isn’t quite welcome there. Facing discrimination on top of struggles they already face at home. 

According to OCN, “Coming from even poorer parts of the country, parents in these areas have often had limited access to education, and poverty and social problems are increasingly prevalent. Children growing up in these neighbourhoods are at a disadvantage from the outset and do not have access to the same educational opportunities as their more privileged counterparts.”

Pachamama

Pachamama, translates to Mother Earth, is an Incan goddess that many people in the area still worship. To them it is a kind of knowledge inside, a responsibility to protect and keep the Earth safe because it is sacred. But there is a stigmatisation against people in Huanchaco who care about the environment. It is assumed that if someone does care, then they must be indiginous. The indiginous are looked down on for being poor and not having an education. For fear of discrimination, the native kids are hesitant to share their excitement, passion, respect, love for the environment. 

A brighter future

But, whether they are from the coast of Spanish descent, or they come from the indigenous people of the highlands, the children are having fun and falling in love with the sustainable solutions around them provided by OCN. When Alondra talks about working with the students she says, “Sometimes science or environmental topics can be boring. It’s like, okay, we can try to have fun and play with the kids. Because when you play with a kid, they enjoy and they internalize a topic. Then it’s more likely they will do something with it in the future.” From beach cleanups, paper making, and even hydroponics – students of all ages in Huanchaco are dreaming and working towards a better world. Andrea fondly remembers a student exclaiming in class, “it was the best day of her life!” 

By empowering the children, teaching them how to use the things around them, inspiring hope for a better future, and doing it in a fun way – OCN is making a difference not only in the lives of so many bright kids but also in the world.