A festival atmosphere prevailed during Heart Walk Foundation’s recent annual trek to Q’ero villages in Peru. The team consisted of Heart Walk board members Stacy Christensen, Penelope Eicher, and Tim Eicher, as well as field coordinator Bertha Victoria Ramirez Rozas. They were joined this year by filmmaker Seti Gershberg and trilingual Q’eros native Santos Machacca Apaza, who acted as filmmaking assistant and interpreter.

As on their past visits, the primary goals of the annual trip were building relationships and partnerships within the Q’ero communities, assessing progress on past projects, and making future funding decisions. In addition to these goals, two unique new projects held the team’s focus this year.

In order to support joint Heart Walk-Q’ero educational goals in the schools it has built in several villages, a filmmaking team began recording cultural narratives to use in curriculum development. Q’ero children hold the future of their people in their hands. Heart Walk Foundation is committed to supporting their cultural heritage as they interface with contemporary Peruvian society.

Filming for an upcoming project to explore much needed healthcare projects in the high villages was also heavy on the minds of the visitors.

“Most of us in the West cannot imagine the hardships the Q’ero suffer due to their remote high altitude locations,” said documentary filmmaker Gershberg. “One of the villages we visited sits at 15,300 feet and a week before we visited a 17-year-old girl died after experiencing stomach pains. There was literally nowhere for her to go to be attended or diagnosed.”

Seti was moved by his awareness of these harsh realities to accompany the board members on their visit this year. He will help tell the story of the urgent need for healthcare solutions.

Before heading into the highlands the intrepid travelers enjoyed playing tourists for a day visiting the archeological site at Moray while acclimating to the altitude. They spent two nights in the Sacred Valley at 9,500 feet before hiking up to 16,000 feet to carry out Heart Walk Foundation business.

While still at the lower levels the film crew was also able to spend two days recording interviews of Q’ero who now live in a lower level rural community after migrating away from the highlands.  

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to film the stories of the elders for the Q’ero children,” said board member Stacy Christensen.

As the Heart Walk team finally approached their first destination Q’ero village word had spread of their approach and they were enthusiastically greeted by village children who ran out to meet them. Before long the entire community rolled out the red carpet for their visitors with dancing, llama ceremonies, and community meals.

img_8747The women of Yanaruma village prepared potato soup on a traditional llama dung cooking fire following a despacho ceremony and llama festival. Gregoria (pictured, right) added vegetables from her greenhouse which was funded by Heart Walk Foundation donors.

After assembling with villagers, stories were shared. Chatting about life in the remote mountain community, the progress of joint projects such as family greenhouses, alpaca shelters, and school construction projects dominated the conversations.

The film team was also able to record the colorful llama festivals in two of the villages. Festivities included coca sharing, flute playing, singing, dancing, and the enjoyment of ritual beverages.  Llama have been honored by Q’ero people for centuries for their essential role in the survival of the traditional way of life.

After a highly successful visit the Heart Walk team hiked out of Q’eros at 14,000 feet enveloped in a characteristic Andean mist. In addition to the suitcases full of beautiful weavings that will be sold to fund sustainable projects, they carried the dreams of their Q’ero partners with them.