The key to move societies forward is still wearing diapers!

Learning Gypsies. Week 6: Last Week in Lima, Peru and Travel to new hub in San Antonio, Texas.

We did it!!!!! Our first hub completed and we feel improved already; as parents, professionals and as individuals helping move society forward. It is amazing to know how little we knew (and probably still do) about education, its rigid system and the many solutions already taking place to improve the obsolete structure of schooling.

Space, space, and more space! And lots of heat!

Now we are off to San Antonio, Texas to spend 8 weeks with Iñaki (Papa-Gypsy) 2 older kids Ander (12) and Avelina (10) and to explore middle America’s take on education.

But before we speak about our experience good ‘ol Texas, let us share the last 2 — and probably the best — visits we had in Lima. Not only were these powerful learning experiences because of the way they are structured but also because the represent two opposite ends of the spectrum; which we had the privilege to witness in the same day:

Taller de Niños de San Juan de Lurigancho

Zoila Rivera, from Asiri methodology, introduced us to Sara Cifuentes, Management and Development Manager at Asociación Taller de Niños. Sata invited us to visit the Taller de Los Niños; a non-profit home education center developed 38 years ago by Christiane Ramseyer to accompany and give much needed love to young children (2–5) so they can have a chance at evolving beyond their vulnerable conditions:

Their families earn between $8 & $10 per day.
40% are single moms with no father presence.
Most parents work 2 to 3 jobs and can’t spend time with the kids.
Nutrition is very poor as they do not have the income to give children 3 meals per day.
They live in the 2nd most dangerous area in Lima.
Their houses are small and often in unstable areas of the San Juan de Lurigancho cities (located on mountains.)
Some have been abused emotionally, sexually or physically by family members.

We arrived by mototaxi which was quite an experience for us and the kids. We were greeting with so much love from the group that runs the home and with unforgettable hugs from the little ones who would run up to us to hug us! We spent the morning watching the kids learning everything they need to by playing. We saw them connect with the tutors and healthcare providers on site, who are part of a group of 25 devoted people who run the school as a united team. For them hygiene, health and nutrition are essential, so they have a clinic adjacent to the space, and they cook power healthy meals for the kids to have 3 meals per day.

Their mission is simple: To give back the dignity these young kids need in order to be and grow up happy, which in turn can help break the cycle of poverty and aggression their families have been in. This area of Lima was the epicenter of the shining path (Peru’s worst terrorist group) in the 80s, so this young generation is still living the aftershocks of such horrific era.

Kids have found in this space the nutrition they need, the love they deserve, the space they need to learn by playing, and the companionship they lacked. You can see more from this inspiring visit on our weekly video diary and on our photo album.

Our favorite quote:

“Queremos devolverles la dignidad de tener el derecho de tener un lugar donde pueden jugar y ser niños.”
Our hearts were so touched! We feel grateful and better humans after this visit.

La Casa Amarilla

Maeve Thornberry and Ricardo Maldonado introduced us to Fiorella de Ferrari and Marisol Bellatin who founded and run El Nido La Casa Amarilla, a pre-school/early development center.

Martin Seligman, one of the main promoters of positive Psychology, recently wrote: when we focus too much on how the kid feels, instead of on what the kid does; like learning, developing resilience, overcoming frustration, boredom and obstacles- parents and educators make kids more vulnerable to depression.

One thing you notice right away at La Casa Amarilla, is the many and fascinating ways in which kids do and learn.

Every room is an invitation to do something, full of inspiration (provocaciones) for the kid to do something, driven by curiosity and discovery. Sounds fun, right?

We also noticed a lot of work behind the scenes, it resembled putting together a production, where the work done by the educators after the kids leave allow the characters (the kids) do their job (learning) during their time at La Casa Amarilla.

Fiorella and Marisol shared with us their journey developing La Casa Amarilla, 11 years filled with experiments and learnings. Specially in the area of guiding parents through a new (in Perú) model of education heavily inspired by the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy.

Since we visited the school in the afternoon we couldn’t meet the kids, but the walls were covered with their “explorations” in clay, paper, paint, or leaves. — One of the principles of the Reggio Emilia philosophy is to use these symbolic languages (eg., painting, sculpting, drama) in everyday life to avoid creating stereotypes traditional education instill in young kids.

“Understanding and building relationships is at the heart of project. Relationships with others, with nature, with the world. That’s what we help build in our kids, their citizenship.”

You could bottled the dedication for the kids at La Casa Amarilla. Fiorella’s passion was that obvious, specially when it comes to the importance of those first years (0–5) in the development of the brain. That’s why La Casa Amarilla has created a program called Transforma to raise the quality of the environments in nidos of emergent areas in Lima.

After spending time with Fiorella and Marisol and learning about the wonderful work they do during the early years of development with kids in Lima, we wish we had been more equipped to make even more out of the first years of our children!

Fiorella believes that the role of school is to build a creative democracy. So kids can grow as creative individuals with a close relationship with society.

As we were leaving el Nido, Marisol shared with us the Heckman Equation. The work done by Nobel Prize winner James Heckman around the importance of early years education:

“The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families. Starting at age three or four is too little too late, as it fails to recognize that skills beget skills in a complementary and dynamic way. Efforts should focus on the first years for the greatest efficiency and effectiveness. The best investment is in quality early childhood development from birth to five for disadvantaged children and their families.”

Interesting to notice that most of the investment is done today in the late years of schooling (college and universities) and Post-School years (Masters, Phd’s and Executive Training).

An exact opposite curve of what James Heckman advices!

To close out this post, here are some reflections and learnings after living 6 weeks in Lima…

We spent 6 weeks meeting people who are either sustaining or defying the status quo of education. Iñaki ❤s DATA so he has been keeping track of all the connections and interactions we had while in Lima. We reached out to 50 contacts given by friends and new contacts, of which 45 replied and we met. Thanks to everyone who introduced us to people who made our experience so powerful!

Mindmapping of our connections, so far…

We also have automated some of our spending like the amount spent on data on our local mobile SIM cards and on Uber rides, want to guess which one is which? $598.28 and $259.63 That would be Uber and Entel Empresas Perú respectively!

Our interviews and meetings led us to these findings/validations:

  1. Education is, unfortunately, in large part a business to many. This infuriates me, but I am trying to keep my mind and heart open to be able to explore more as we travel to different places.
  2. There aren’t many types of schools, there are many types of parents.
  3. 5 year olds will determine the future economic power of a country!
  4. People, still the minority, agree with the fact that schooling needs to be reimagined and completely rethought to deliver on the needs children of the era have.
  5. Math, in its pure essence, is the key to transforming mindsets and paths.
  6. Governments need to subsidize education, but they should not run them. While this may sound extreme, we have seen transformation happening at the edge, and it is imperative that governments release the power from the center to edge.
  7. Kids [people] are born with the power to learn. We just need to be the conductor, not the designers, of individual learning experiences.
  8. Ask a kid what they need, and what they have learned the most, and they will tell you anything but a course from a curriculum.
  9. There is not enough investment in teachers to transform the way they are used to teaching: From being the protagonists or teaching to being the facilitators of learning.
  10. Every moment, is a learning opportunity. If as parents we stop and use every single chance we get to help our kids learn, we grow as people and as families. Now, obviously this is a very hard task to put into practice, so we will share more at the end of our year-long trip how we are applying it.

Thanks for keeping up with our learnings, you can check out photos of our last week in Lima here.

The Learning Gypsies