Ayacucho, Peru: A Day in Rosa’s Life

By Jennifer Rowse Eck


Rosa is a 3-year-old girl of the Quechua people, the largest indigenous population in Peru. She lives in the small farming village of Wawakuna Wasi, high in the Andes Mountains in the arid region of Ayacucho, with her mother and sister. While her village is presently peaceful, the Ayacucho region still feels the effects of a recent war-torn past when an extremist group known as the Shining Path terrorized the Quechua villagers. Although Rosa has not seen this terror in her lifetime, her mother lived through it as a child and carries the awful memory with her. Some are concerned about the violence returning.

The crows of the roosters pierce the cool mountain air as Rosa wakes up on her bed made of sheepskins and blankets hand woven from sheep and llama wool. The mud home smells of fire and the walls are covered with black soot. Rosa watches her mother wake and begin the day, wearing the same clothes she slept in with the addition of a felt brimmed hat. There is work to do before eating and Rosa’s job is to hold the bucket while her older sister, age 6, milks a cow. Rosa coughs and gasps as she tries to hold the bucket still. An untreated respiratory infection makes it hard for her to breathe. The nearest medical help is in the main city of Huamanga and Rosa’s mother has neither the time nor the funds to take her there for treatment.

Her mother gathers potatoes, carrots, chicken bones, and herbs into her apron and calls her daughters to join her on the journey to school, carrying the bucket of freshly harvested milk. In this community, parents take turns providing breakfast and lunch for the teacher and children; today, it is Rosa’s mother’s turn. Rosa and her sister walk with their mother along a sloping, dusty road, where they see freely roaming livestock and brightly colored cactus pears set against a backdrop of rugged mountains. Her mud brick school was hand built by her community, including a playground constructed of natural materials. Rosa is one of the very fortunate children to have a government-provided teacher. Thanks to a grant by the Inter-American Development Bank, Ayacucho is one of three regions in Peru to pilot a preschool program referred to as PRONOEI.


Today is Rosa’s mother’s turn to provide breakfast and lunch at preschool. She uses an open spout and fire in the school yard.

The children gather around a table in the yard as Rosa’s mother ladles milk into their cups. The children drink their milk and eat boiled potatoes as they wait for their teacher to arrive. As a visitor in her school for that week, I was honored to eat with them. The children’s eyes widen as they watch this foreign person sit among them and eat with them. The teacher arrives and begins the day, successfully redirecting their attention. She addresses the children in both Quechua and Spanish for part of the opening lesson, but the rest of the day she teaches in Quechua.


Rosa takes her bowl to the water spout and goes into the one-room schoolhouse with the other children. She sits on a stool created from a wooden stump topped with brightly colored, hand-made woolen cushions. Lessons during her preschool day include book viewing, picture drawing, dancing and music, free play, and numeracy. Most of the manipulatives in the class are made by the parents and the teacher, using natural materials. The cold concrete floor is covered with sheepskins to sit on and all the children wear coats inside to keep warm.

Rosa leans on her teacher during group time; her illness is making her tired. When it is time to draw pictures, Rosa draws with her head down. She likes school and wants to do all the fun things, but it is hard to have fun when breathing is difficult. During free play, most of the children choose to view some new picture books recently given to their school. Rosa joins them but quickly loses interest in the books, although she enjoys lying on the sheepskin mats near the other children. She gets up to go play in the housekeeping center, but soon lies down again.

Preschool is only half a school day. When her mother arrives to pick her up for the walk home, Rosa shows her the picture she drew today. Her mother has brought carrot and potato soup for lunch, which she made using the chicken bones and herbs for flavor. Rosa grasps the hem of her mother’s skirt as they make their way home up the rocky road. It is now time to help her mother with farm work and gather something for dinner. Behind her house is a field that the community works together to harvest colorful potatoes. Rosa needs to help her mother dig potatoes out of the harsh and thorny ground, but she falls asleep beside her mother instead. A neighbor walks among the harvesters with an apron full of freshly boiled potatoes and hand one to her and her mother as they work. Rosa’s mother taps her awake and asks her to take food and water to the Guinea pigs that live in a cage near the outhouse. Guinea pig, called “cuy,” is a coveted food for the Quechua people, and Rosa usually enjoys visiting their cage.


Sometimes, Rosa walks home from school alone.


At the close of the day, the house is quiet except for the lowing of cattle and the crackle of the fire. Rosa’s mother boils milk and potatoes with herbs for dinner, which they eat with cheese. She makes some mate de coca tea to help ease the distress of Rosa’s ailment. As the sun retires for the day, the village becomes very dark. The electric wire that hovers over the main road does not work and so the only light and heat in Rosa’s house comes from the fire. Overhead are millions of stars and the moon lays low over the mountain ridge.

The night seems peaceful but these dark hours often make Rosa feel afraid. Although her mother does not talk about the terror of the Shining Path, Rosa has heard other adults talk about it and the possibility of the violence happening again. She sees the worry on her mother’s face as she closes the front door. The cold breeze flows in, blowing the blanket that hangs in front of the window. Rosa’s mother puts her and her sister in bed first, against the back wall while her mother sleeps in front of them on the side near the door. As her mother pulls sheepskins and woven blankets over her and her sister, Rosa awaits for her mother to tell a story. There are no books in the home for reading, but her mother recites Quechua legends and riddles. Rosa falls asleep to the sound of her mother’s voice. She is thankful for her mother and sister. She is thankful for a belly full of potatoes and a preschool to attend. Tomorrow will be a new day.


Inter-American Development Bank. (2011). Peru will improve early childhood education with IDB support. Retrieved from http://www.iadb.org/en/news/news-releases/2011-12-09/peru-will-improve-early-childhood-education,9749.html