During their three weeks in Cusco, students will work closely with a number of local partners and will be involved in a variety of conservation, education, and community development activities. The first few days will involve orientation to the city and surrounding communities, as well as educating students about the local culture, including the socio-cultural, historical, economic and environmental factors affecting the region. Following orientation, students will participate in a variety of activities promoting responsible tourism and fair trade, including training by local communities in traditional arts such as weaving and dyeing. Students will also be trained to teach English as a second language, focusing on skills and vocabulary that helps local residents expand their economic opportunities.
A comprehensive orientation program, including health and safety training, occurs immediately upon arrival. To enable students to acclimate to the high altitude, less strenuous physical activities will be planned for the first three days. Students will begin Spanish language lessons during orientation, for example, and will continue to improve their Spanish skills via weekly lessons. They will participate in a city tour, visit the Sacsaywaman Archeological Site and local communities, and participate in a local yoga lesson. This cultural immersion will help students quickly adapt to their new surroundings and feel more confident about seeking opportunities to interact with local people. A highlight of the program will be a guided tour to Machu Picchu, Peru’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.
GVI is partnering with The Nature Conservancy and the Center for Andean Regional Studies Bartolomé de Las Casas (CBC), GVI programs in Peru immerse students in the local culture and educate them about the socio-cultural, historical, economic and environmental factors affecting the region. As a non-profit, civil association, CBC has been working on protecting and advocating for indigenous rights since 1974. Under the guidance of CBC and GVI staff, students will participate in constructing green infrastructure projects, promoting responsible tourism and fair trade, increasing participation by local communities in traditional arts such as weaving and dyeing, and helping residents of all ages to improve their English skills and expand their economic opportunities.
Students may also work on projects with another community partner, the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC). This organization partners with local communities to teach traditional weaving and dying. The resulting products are considered to be the highest level of weaving in Cusco and are quite expensive. Students may assist in expanding CTTC’s outreach and marketing for these products or by upgrading CTTC’s community weaving centers.
Students will work together throughout their time in Peru and will travel to project sites together with at least one GVI staff member present at all time. Project work and locations are based on the needs and requests of long term local partners as described above and specific service projects will be available closer to the date of departure. In general, students will typically spend 6 hours at a project site during the week, with additional time spent preparing to deliver workshops, participating in guest lectures and reflection sessions, and practicing their Spanish (or Quechua) language skills.
Examples of service projects may include:
- Creating irrigation ditches to prevent erosion and landslides, building fences to protect natural springs and cut off grazing areas, building or recovery of traditional terraces for agriculture;
- Providing training and capacity building via workshops on water conservation, community tourism, and micro-enterprise resources;
- Teaching English and delivering environmental education workshops for local schools and community groups;
- Collecting data on the flora and fauna surrounding the watershed of Piuray-Ccorimarca. Lake Piuray supplies nearly 50% of the water for the inhabitants of Cusco;
- Participating in weaving sessions and initiatives designed to promote traditional arts in communities and schools.
- Refurbishing community sports and fitness facilities and/or conducting sports activities with school children.
Participants will generally work together as a group but for some projects they may be divided into two smaller groups. The majority of the program involves working outdoors on a number of different initiatives. Students should be prepared to walk on a daily basis, and to experience some adjustment during their acclimation to the high altitude. Hours of service work vary depending on the activity, but students can expect to work up to 6 hours per day between the hours of 6am and 6pm with additional time spent planning for future work days.
Language & Other Prerequisites
No previous experience or qualifications in the field of conservation, community development or education is required to join this program. An interest and understanding of issues threatening water supplies, promoting traditional arts and familiarity with responsible tourism and/or fair trade policies, is desirable. All students must have proficiency in the English language. A basic understanding of Spanish is helpful. All students will participate in an intensive Spanish workshop during orientation. Further Spanish training will be available and is highly encouraged. All students must be able to understand health and safety protocols as well as project specific training from our field staff. Students should be aware of the high altitude in Peru.
These projects do not require any technical skills but students who are flexible, adaptable, friendly, accustomed to working outdoors and students with an interest in the Spanish language are preferred. To ensure the safety of the children and communities with whom we work, all accepted participants will be required to submit a criminal background check no later than 2 weeks before their program start date. Should this document not be submitted before arrival in the field, the student/students will not be allowed to participate in community projects.
Ideal participants will be flexible, enthusiastic team players with the following competencies:
- Empathy and cultural sensitivity: effectively and respectfully communicates and interacts with people of different ages, races, religions, and cultures; demonstrates curiosity about the lives of others without judgment;
- Social skills are important in Peru and students should expect to exchange greetings by shaking hands, receiving a kiss on the cheek, and using basic Spanish words to say “hello”, “good morning”, “please” and “thank you”;
- Ability to work productively on a supervised team: responds to feedback and critique from co-workers and supervisors with maturity and openness to improvement; listens actively and communicates courteously; responds with patience and perseverance to new or unanticipated situations and obstacles; accepts responsibility for their actions; balances their personal expectations of the volunteer experience with the realities of working on short-term projects in cultural settings that are new to them;
- Self-reliance and self-confidence: understands and meets their own physical and emotional needs in new environments with an age-appropriate mixture of optimism and realism; must be flexible in response to the needs of the community.
Students will be based in Cusco and will work with a variety of communities in the more rural area, outside the city. This close-knit community welcomes GVI volunteers, and although many families live simple lives, there is no shortage of kindness or happiness. There are a variety of local restaurants, shops selling local handicrafts and produce, internet cafes and attractions.
Accommodation will be in a homestay-style hotel with three to four students per room. Each room is equipped with an en-suite bathroom with western style toilets. The hotel has electricity and hot water showers and is located in downtown Cusco, close to many amenities. Students can choose to have their laundry cleaned by a local service for a minimal price or wash it by hand.
All meals will be provided, since cooking facilities are limited. Breakfast will be served at the accommodation, while lunch will be provided on project and will include local foods. Dinners will sometimes be provided at the accommodation and sometimes take place at local cafes and restaurants, which helps to support the local community and provides variety for participants. A range of food choices is available, including both local and western cuisine. In general, most dietary restrictions and preferences can be accommodated. If you have any specific concerns, please contact the ACE office to discuss whether or not your dietary needs can be reasonably accommodated at this program site.
- Breakfast will be a buffet served by the hotel with a variety of fruits, different kinds of bread, coffee/butter/jam, a good variety of tea, scrambled eggs (or other types of eggs upon request), banana pancakes, sweet fried bananas, fried sweet potatoes, bacon and sausages. There is fresh cheese and jam, yogurt and milk. Two kinds of fresh, natural juices are available every morning.
- Lunch may be a packed lunch of sandwiches and fruit or a meal cooked and shared with community members.
- Dinner will usually consist of a buffet served by the hotel. It includes a variety of vegetables and potatoes, breads and meats. Pork, chicken and beef are all common sources of protein in the Peruvian diet. Seafood may be available occasionally. For some dinners, the group will visit local restaurants to provide variety and more insight into the city’s culture.
Students may buy additional food, snacks or sundries at a convenience store located 2.5 blocks away from the hotel. A full service grocery store is a 10-minute walk from the accommodations. Protein bars are much more expensive in Cusco than it is in the U.S. Students may want to bring a supply of these with them.
Access to free wifi is available in rooms and common areas at the accommodation and most cafes and restaurants also have wifi. Students should not expect wifi to be as robust as it is at home. Streaming of music and videos may not be possible. In some communities where project work takes place, wifi and telephone signals will be limited or non-existent.
All students will be provided with a cell phone and local sim card to use during their stay to make local calls and additional airtime can easily be bought at local grocery stores. All GVI onsite field staff carry cell/mobile phones at all times and are reachable via the 24 hour GVI Emergency Contact number.
While students are permitted to bring their own cell phone, camera, laptop to the program, GVI is not liable for any damage, lost, or stolen items during the stay. Due to GVI’s Health & Safety and Child Protection Policy, technological equipment will not be permitted on the project site (including cell phones, cameras, etc.).
GVI provides transportation to and from service placements and all scheduled program activities. GVI staff will meet students at Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport, Cusco (CUZ), Peru and transport them to their accommodations. At the completion of the program, GVI staff will also accompany students back to the airport. Students will walk to project sites or be transported in a charter minivan depending upon the location and distance. Transportation to enrichment activities will also be by private bus or van when not within walking distance of student accommodations.
Time will be set aside daily for students to train. This may be in the early morning or late afternoon, depending on the service projects schedule.
- Running: The accommodations are 5 blocks away from the main plaza. This area is closed to traffic and has a lot of hills, so students may find it good for training. Students will also have access to a track on which to train.
- Gym: Students will have access to a gym that is a 10-minute walk from the accommodations. The facility includes free weights, nautilus machines, treadmills and elliptical trainers. Students may also participate in group fitness classes at the gym.
- Attire: The weather can be very cold in Cusco and does not allow much for shorts or top tanks. When exercising outside, students should wear shorts that reach the knee. Students should plan to bring hiking boots and thermal layers for outdoor activities. When on the project sites, students should plan to wear jeans or long pants and GVI t-shirts or long sleeved shirts. When it is really sunny, sunburn is likely so sunscreen and long sleeves are recommended.
GVI staff will facilitate a regular schedule of reflection sessions. This can take the form of discussion topics, informal debates, or sharing thoughts on the day. The reflection sessions may also include written reflections, choosing a photo to represent their experiences of the day, or students posing a list of questions for further exploration. Reflection prompts may include various current events or challenges in Peru and Latin America, the UN Sustainable Development Goals related to GVI’s work, local cultural topics and/or other themes related to students’ experiences in Cusco.
Service projects usually run from Monday to Friday each week, and excursions and project planning activities occur on the weekends. Most evenings will be devoted to reflection sessions, guest speakers, and discussion of students’ experiences and observations. Enrichment activities organized by the program may include a visit to the Sacsaywaman Archeological Site, a Cusco city tour, visits to local communities to learn about traditional Andean textiles, medicine, pottery or cuisine, and a yoga lesson.
Spanish conversation lessons are included twice a week. A highlight of the program is a guided tour of Machu Picchu.
All students will receive a detailed field manual and reading list at least two weeks prior to the departure date. While staff in the field will also provide training on the skills required to complete their service project, students may benefit from learning more about local history, culture and customs before they travel.
Learn more about GVI Peru
- Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham
- Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, a Real-Life Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchu by Christopher Heaney[AGL1]
- Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie, (2008)[AGL2]
- The Inca Trail, Cusco & Machu Picchu by Richard Danbury and Alexander Stewart
- The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming
- Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru by Tahir Shah[AGL3]
- In Search of an Inca by Alberto Flores Galindo[AGL4]
- Deep Rivers by José María Arguedas, José María Arguedas’ third novel won the Peruvian National Culture Award in 1959[AGL5] .
- Death in the Andes by Nobel Prize Mario Vargas Llosa
- Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa. “This 1977 romance tells the story of 18-year-old Mario, an aspiring writer, who falls in love with a 32-year-old divorcee. It’s the seventh novel by Llosa, and is based on his own life experiences (his first wife, Julia Urquidi, was 10 years his senior). The book was adapted into the film Tune in Tomorrow (1990) starring Keanu Reeves and Barbara Falk.” Description from Bridget Gleeson’s recommendations of Books to Read Before Your Trip to Peru
- The Heights of Macchu Picchu by Pablo Neruda
- Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
- A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Social & Economic Facts
Days can be long and tiring especially given the high altitude in which Cusco is located.