Discovering the secret to happiness in Cusco

If school is the best time of your life James and I have been exceptionally hedonistic this year. We arrived in Cusco, Peru after two days of travelling by bus (suffering from salmonella we stereotypically picked up in Bolivia) and spent a few days settling in to our majestic surroundings before starting voluntary work at another school. LINK (See earlier blogs for previous voluntary work)

Cusco is the oldest, constantly inhabited city in South America full of cobbled streets, Inka relics and breathtaking colonial churches. I mean ‘breathtaking’ literally. At 3,399m above sea level climbing up the hilly streets to catch a glimpse of the city views leaves you pretty puffed out.


Plaza De Armas


Plaza De Armas from above


A typical street in Cuscoimg_20160923_123551

Statue of Pachacuti – the ninth ruler of the Inca State. It is believed Machu Picchu was built as an estate for him.

Despite Cusco’s rich tourist trade (2 million visitors every year) there remains an enormous amount of poverty as well as high rates of domestic violence, alcoholism and drug addiction. Aldea Yanapay is a community school in the city for disadvantaged children set up by the extremely charismatic ‘Papa Yuri’. The children attend state run schools during the day and at 3pm can come to Yanapay. There are several classrooms running activities such as art, dance, yoga, reading, homework club and games which the children can attend for the first couple of hours.


Yanapay School


One of the most popular activities

James and I spent our first couple of weeks running the games class. I discovered I like puzzles a lot and James became instantly popular by repeatedly winning at table football. Everyone wants ‘Profe James’ on their team whereas I was sacked three times in a row. Luckily for me and the children I spent my third week teaching yoga and dance.


James sizing up his opponents


Juliette’s last game before being sacked! 

After activities we all gather for the ‘Circle of Love’. The session is run by Yuri or one of the coordinators and is a chance for the children to discuss topics such as spirituality or Peruvian culture, sing traditional songs and generally express themselves in a warm and loving environment. As wishy washy as it may sound it’s a wonderful opportunity for the children, one I don’t think is emphasised enough in our society and helps build confidence, cultural appreciation and respect for others. And even more importantly nowadays – the children are all engaged, conversing, listening without any sort of screen!


The circle of love

The day is rounded off with family time. The children and volunteers are all members of different ‘families’ and we spend the designated time each day preparing for the show on Friday. Each week there is a different theme and each family will prepare a contribution to the end of week show based on this. So far at the shows I have sang a whole song in Spanish about Mother Earth (La Pachamama) and rapped about how wet and cloudy it is in England (again in Spanish). Meanwhile, James, seemed to be part of a broken home. His first family were adorable 5 year olds but he was unceremoniously moved to a family of older children who spent every session hiding behind curtains or fighting.


Juliette’s happy family

Performing our families songs. For those who would like to see Juliette’s rap please just ask!!

Some days have been more challenging than others. The kids have unbelievable amounts of energy and, as the focus at Yanapay is on freedom and expression rather than rigidity and discipline, the afternoons can get pretty hectic. Ok, more like a mad house with children tearing about, shouting and generally getting overexcited. But every day at school there is a moment which blows me away and reminds me why I am there and why Aldea Yanapay is such an important project. The other day in the Circle of Love we heard a story and,  although it contains a secret, I wanted to share it with you. Just make sure you keep it to yourself…

Once upon a time the mystical Inka gods got together and decided to play a trick on the humans. They were going to take away happiness from the humans and hide it so they will never be able to find it again.

One of the gods said “Great idea, I know where we should hide happiness: at the top of that very high mountain.”

Another god said “No that will not work. Humans are strong and they will find a way up the mountain and find happiness.”

So the gods had another think and one said “I know, let’s hide happiness at the bottom of the ocean. They will never get to it there.”

The other gods said “No, that won’t work either. Humans are clever, they will invent a machine which will take them to the bottom of the ocean and they’ll find happiness.”

“Ok” said a god “what about hiding happiness on a planet far, far away in outer space. They will never find it there!”

The other gods paused to consider this. “No, we know the humans are clever. They might invent a machine to take them to outer space and then they’ll find happiness.”

The gods were running out of ideas when the most wise god cleared his throat. “I’ve been thinking” he said. “Let’s take happiness and hide it INSIDE the humans. They will never think to look there.”

And so they did. And for centuries humans have been looking everywhere for happiness.


Ready for the end of week show!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Russ says:

    Cool! James looks funky in his jacket. In-fact that’s the smartest I think I have ever seen him. Ha. Sorry to hear you are being sacked more than the current England Manager. Hope you got a nice pay-off. I’m just back from LA & Miami. Jet lag is pretty bad this afternoon. Still sunny here in Henley and we are getting ready for Halloween. Yes, I know you will say that I don’t need to dress up with a face like mine 🙂 Take care over there and safe travelling xxx


  2. lam says:

    nice too see you both have a good time and I’m glad you had the opportunity to do many things.


  3. Chrissy says:

    Just read the October activities – better late than never. Could Juliette’s lack of success at table football have anything to do with James holding the ball!! I think Juliette needs to think of another activity for James to do – hoola hooping in the dance class maybe. Let’s see who gets sacked then!


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