- Ashley Herron
Empowering Indigenous Female Leaders: Sacred Valley Project
On May 24, 2018, I woke up early and attended my graduation at Harvard University. I was graduating with my masters in business management and organizational behavior. It was definitely one of the most memorable moments in my life and one that I was extremely excited about. But I was more excited about the way I was going to celebrate it.
That very same day, after graduation, I went straight to Logan Airport to embark on an adventure to South America. I was going to be traveling and working with a group of individuals I had never met, and I was beyond nervous. But my fears subsided knowing that I was going there to be able
to help provide indigenous girls from the rural highlands of Peru with resources like education and skills that would help them become leaders in their communities. I felt like it was the perfect way to celebrate my advancement in education, but also a way for me to continue my knowledge by seeing the world from a new perspective.
Women's issues has been a major area of social interest for me. Finding ways to become more involved in helping develop small grassroots non-profits has been something I have become well versed in since starting my own non profit almost ten years ago (www.misspink.org). So learning more about the Sacred Valley Project and having an opportunity to volunteer with them through SoulJournYoga became something I really wanted to do.
Sacred Valley Project's (SVP) mission is to provide 'boarding and supplementary education for young women from low income families in remote areas of the Andes so that they can continue and complete their secondary education. In the Sacred Valley of Peru, the world's most direct descendants of the Inca Empire live in extreme poverty, struggling to meet even the most basic of needs.' I saw first hand how children would walk several hours to get to the nearest elementary school. Beyond elementary school, high schools are located in larger towns that only the boys typically have access to. Many of the girls stop their studies and do not understand the importance of investing in themselves as young women and how that can create a smaller and healthier family with stronger voices in 'family negotiations and the ability to advocate for herself and her children.'
My time spent in SVP's dormitories in Calca and Ollantaytambo were short, but life changing. I was provided a backpack from EastSport (https://www.eastsport.com/) for this trip. It was huge and I could fill it with so much stuff, which was great for backpacking across the Andes Mountains. But an even better use for this backpack was for one of these girls to be able to use it. Some of these girls have to walk over 6 hours just to be able to get to school, or hours just to go to the market. So something as simple as a backpack for these girls to use would make such a difference.
"Only 4 in 10 Peruvian girls from rural Andean communities will graduate from secondary school"
I always understood that compared to most places, access to education had always been fairly simple for me. The most I have to complain about is the fact that I had to pay for my undergraduate school. I'd compare this to my friends who would have their college paid for by their parents, and I thought I had the disadvantage. But, no,...hardly a disadvantage if we put the obstacles that face women all over the world into our vantage point. No, compared to other countries in the world - I am a female who had the opportunity to go to school, and although it was difficult and I have had to work hard to get where I am today, I can't say I would have been able to if I had to walk 6 hours to and from school, up dusty mountain regions and have the worry of my family while I went away. Or wonder where my next meal was going to come from, never-mind figuring out how to do my homework. The young women at SVP are brave, strong and intelligent and deserve the opportunity to make their mark in this world and I hope that we, as a global community, can try to make this a little easier for them.
What I thought was going to be a trip about educating young women ended up being a life lesson for me. I thought I understood but its so very different once you put a name to a life that is going to accomplish great things, despite the challenges she faces. I stand with her and hope you will as well.
I am going to be collecting backpacks and if a backpack is something you would like to donate, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you'd like to make a donation, click here.
To make a donation: http://sacredvalleyproject.org/donate/
Or if you are interested in meeting these young girls for yourself, please consider joining SoulJourn Yoga on their next trip: http://www.souljournyoga.com/peru2019