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An Overview of the Three-Year Youth Heritage Training Program in Andahuaylillas, Peru

Thursday, September 20, 2012

By Ernesto Noriega, Youth Program Coordinator

Travel + Leisure announced on September 21 that Grupo Patrimonio Cultural has won a 2012 Global Vision Award. What follows is an overview of the three-year program supported by WMF.

Conservation work on the sixteenth-century Church of San Pedro Apóstol was started in 2009 under the auspices of the parish of Andahuaylillas and World Monuments Fund. At the same time, and as counterpart to these efforts, a three-year pilot program was launched with the objective of encouraging local youth to participate actively in the study, protection, and advancement of their cultural heritage.

After three years of activities, which have included six workshops, excursions, field projects, and outreach initiatives, an assembly of dedicated young men and women has coalesced into a group of heritage promoters committed not only to protecting the historic buildings and colonial fabric of their town, but also to preserving the integrity of the surrounding cultural landscape and to upholding local knowledge and traditional practices.

Twenty participants in their late teens and twenties were selected, mostly from the town of Andahuaylillas but also a few from the surrounding rural communities and the neighboring towns of Huaro and Urcos. Some were in college studying a diversity of subjects such as architecture, anthropology, engineering, economics, and tourism. Others were farmers or had just finished school.

A series of six workshops were planned to take place over a span of three years, each of them lasting between ten days and two weeks. It was decided that the main venue for all of them would be the enclosed premises of the parish of Andahuaylillas, which allowed for the retreat-like environment we needed in order to generate a focused experience in which deep reflection, debate, shared discovery, and cooperative, creative work could take place in an uninterrupted manner.

Prevention of cultural loss

The first workshop started with a broad discussion about how the traditional way of life was changing rapidly and how a store of cultural elements was being lost in the process. The aim of this deliberation was to link this development of cultural transformation to the young participants’ personal lives. They were encouraged to share their own feelings about traditional knowledge and historic memory that was disappearing without being transmitted to them and about what this irrevocable loss could mean for their own evolution as individuals. It became apparent that they all felt similarly wistful of the times they spent as children listening to their grandparents’ stories and they became aware that they all shared the same sense of regret regarding the gap rapidly growing between themselves and their elders. For the first time they realized that they were not alone with these concerns, and that all equally lamented the loss of ancient religious and social rituals, old dances, elaborate festive dishes, and traditional games. Then the logical question was raised: was this erosion of local culture, which they all agreed was impoverishing their lives, something they should just passively accept? Was it not possible to join forces and try to stop the trend?

This was followed by a debate regarding possible strategies required to regain control of the direction of their society and culture. The participants were asked to reflect on the nature of a globalized development model and mainstream culture which seem to displace all other forms of social organization and cultural expression. After a multi-layered assessment of the forces of change using case-studies, the participants concluded that the very same overwhelming and potentially devastating power of globalization and modernity also contained the necessary tools to strengthen and develop their own culture. Instant communication, new media, and the internet could all be extremely useful in safeguarding and promoting traditional knowledge, art, and other forms of cultural expression. They decided that it is their generation’s challenge to find ways to use the dynamic forces now offered by a technology-based modernity to their own advantage in their quest to protect their legacy and take control of their future.

At this point the participants had understood the seriousness of the matter and were unified in their agreement that to protect their heritage was not just a choice based on nostalgic loyalty to the past but rather a vital necessity in view of constructing the future.

Built heritage and identity

Workshop participants had noted that it was the rapid physical transformation of town and landscape that were the most palpable and had the most immediate impact on people’s lives. This fact, and the recognition that each demolished building meant much more than just a material loss, but that with its departure it took with it all the stories, knowledge, and values it embodied, led them to conclude that the protection of the town’s historic structures should be the first line of defense in the movement to protect their cultural heritage.

The participants were then further made aware of the intimate relationship between architecture and the identity of a people. Through a comparative process, during which they were exposed to examples of vernacular architecture throughout the world, they could understand how buildings and built environments project and perpetuate the distinct way of life, shared values, and aspirations of a society; how they reflect unique ways of solving problems and respond to specific geographic contexts and climatic conditions; and how they embody the common history and accumulated experience of a community.

Discovering local heritage

Workshop participants were encouraged to develop a deeper relationship with local heritage. Excursions were organized to visit archaeological sites in the district. Guided by experts they learned that throughout the centuries their region had played a fundamental role in the development of Andean culture. Through visits to several nearby ancestral sites they became aware that they are the inhabitants of an exceptionally rich cultural landscape where layer after layer of vestiges give evidence of its importance as a generator of culture during every historical period, from the pre-ceramic through the Inca Empire to colonial times. With this realization there emerged a new sense of pride and respect for the achievements of their forbears and a surge of confidence in their own potential as heirs to this legacy.

Next, the participants were challenged with a creative exercise the objective of which was to encourage them to approach the most important local monument, the church of San Pedro Apóstol, in an active and innovative way. Two groups were formed, each with the task of interpreting the monument using forms of expression which they knew well: the comic strip and the short film. The two groups were given 48 hours to complete their projects.

The process allowed several of the participants to discover hidden talents and it directly motivated two of them to enter the fine arts academy and another to start studying photography in a prestigious institute in Lima.

Possibilities for the future

The centerpiece of the second workshop was an exercise that required the participants to project themselves fifteen years into the future and imagine the situation of their town at this point in time.

For preparation, the team visited the Urubamba Valley, also known as the Sacred Valley, the area between Cusco and Machu Picchu that attracts the largest number of foreign visitors. Here the participants could experience firsthand the negative social and ecological impact that unrestrained tourism can have: uncontrolled building development, increasing pollution, farmers suffering from a scarcity of water created by the high demand of hotels and restaurants, land ownership progressively changing hands from traditional landowners to outside investors, the commercialization, and cheapening of local arts and crafts. The participants assimilated this as a timely warning as they were fully aware that as the Sacred Valley becomes saturated as a tourist destination, it is their own Vilcanota Valley, where Andahuaylillas is located, that will become the next candidate for tourism development; a scenario reinforced by the completion of the Interoceanic Highway, uniting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which will pass right through their region and is expected to generate an influx of new visitors.

Developing a more comprehensive understanding of cultural heritage conservation and management

During the next workshops several activities were planned with the purpose of helping the group gain experience and acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the many-sided field of cultural heritage conservation and management.

The group visited the Colca Valley to experience first-hand a large-scale conservation initiative for an entire cultural landscape, encompassing villages, churches, and ancient cultivated terraces. Another excursion was to Siusa, a highland farming community that has organized itself to receive small groups of visitors interested in experiencing village life. Some villagers provide home-stays, some specialize in producing high-quality handicrafts, and others give tours of farming and animal husbandry activities.

The group members were impressed by this low-impact type of tourism and they remarked on the pride which was palpable in the villagers as they present their local products and their well-kept homes all constructed using traditional materials and building technologies. Through these and other experiences the group’s notion of the nature and value of heritage expanded beyond the most celebrated monuments such as the baroque churches and the archaeological sites to now encompass the overall fabric of the historic town with its domestic structures and public spaces as well as the surrounding landscape all of which they came to see as embodying traditional knowledge and values and as important purveyors of identity.

Grupo Patrimonio

Using the insights and skills developed through the workshops, the Grupo Patrimonio, as this group of students came to be known locally, have now translated what they have learned in concrete products and civic actions. They have organized public events, such as the annual Heritage Day; launched information campaigns; and produced educational material, such as an interactive map of the town’s cultural heritage, in an effort to raise the level of awareness among the local population in the hope that a new-found pride in their rich heritage will motivate them to get involved in its protection.

In order to motivate other young people to join them in their efforts, they have presented themselves and their work at local schools and have addressed the general population at public events. They have started to organize weekend workshops on cultural preservation for youth from neighboring towns. They are now collaborating on a multidisciplinary project based at the Universidad Católica of Lima for the organization of workshops on heritage protection targeting district authorities.


Related Projects:
SAN PEDRO APÓSTOL DE ANDAHUAYLILLAS CHURCH