History of Chicuchas Wasi

by Rae Lewis (Pieraccini), Founder

Rae, in the early days of Chicuchas Wasi


It all started when a twelve-year-old boy, Ronald, came to me holding his left upper arm, his face screwed up in pain and asking me, his American nurse friend, to help him. I had been living as a temporary one-year resident of Cusco, Peru, and had made friends with many of its abandoned children living on the streets. This time Ronald had been knifed in a fight protecting his money another boy wanted to steal from him. While cleaning his wound, getting him sewn up and on antibiotics from the local emergency doctor, I made a decision. I would do something to help these children who barely survive with learned skills of stealing, begging, and lying, and I would start now with Ronald. This promise to the children living on the Cusco streets was the beginning of Chicuchas Wasi (Children’s Project), Cusco, Peru. It was 1987.

California friends and co-workers held a giant garage sale in the Kaiser Medical Center parking lot, selling hot dogs and sodas to raise the seed money needed to begin. The California Chicuchas Wasi (CW) non-profit organization was created. Many in-kind donations came in to help move us forward. No child should be forced to live in these desperate conditions, and many came forward to lend a hand. As the months marched by we held concerts, sold Peruvian folk art, and had more garage sales, etc., as a way to cover operating expenses.

An Australian friend I met while living in Cusco, Phil Voysey, was back in Sidney teaching English at the University, but the memory of his statement “I wish I could do something for these kids” was ever present in my mind. Would he join me to get the project rolling? Yes, yes, he answered immediately. He stayed a year.

The next few years were busy. We organized, bought the Cusco project house and opened a children’s shelter, soup kitchen, and later a vocational school. We held a workshop, “How to help the Cusco Street Child?”, in Cusco to put a spotlight on this problem, and UNICEF funded the workshop. We met other locals doing similar work or wanting to help; we brainstormed together and clarified each group’s commitment area so as to not duplicate our services.

Our first residential children were mostly boys, but we also had three girls who needed protection from the unsafe nights on the streets. Soon there were 15 children in wall-to-wall bunk beds, sleeping head to toe. Our dining room table grew longer and louder overnight. Everyone took his or her turn in the kitchen chopping and stirring the pot of daily soup and preparing the main dish. The children taught us, the adults, how to use the double-burner kerosene stove which was sitting on the patio floor where we cooked. The kerosene flames –when lighting the burners – reached adult height, making safety-conscious foreigners nervous wrecks. We made bread out of the USAID donated flour, and hauled the 15-20 cookie sheets of small rounds of bread dough to the public wood ovens daily. You can imagine all the hands pounding bread dough, and making artistically shaped critters out of it.  We laughed out loud a lot, but we cried often, too. We worked hard, all of us, and we tried to make fun out of the daily hurdles.

Twenty two year old Ruth Uribe joined us in 1989 while finishing her studies to become an educator. It was clear that Ruth and I held the same vision and that her training and passion could take this work further than I. By 1990 she was with us full-time and brought with her new ideas and greater awareness of the children she loved and had worked with since she was a teenager. CW had relocated to a large, old residence in Urubamba, one hour from Cusco in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and would remain there for the next 8 years. Ruth created and tested her ideas in an experimental school for little girls while in Urubamba. Initially, it was difficult to convince the mothers that there was any value in female education; Ruth had to search for her students hiding in their homes, or under tables at the market, or caring for younger siblings, and then explain to their mothers that education would improve their future. The changes were soon obvious, as intelligence awakened in the faces of their daughters; a new eagerness to learn and improved self-confidence was obvious. At the market the mothers of our students told other mothers about their daughters and interest in our school grew. When our students represented their school by participating in parades and other local community events, old beliefs were challenged; thus respect grew and the lines formed for enrollment into our school.

The original CW residential program continued simultaneously until 1998. By then the core children had grown and started their adult lives. Out of the hundreds who passed through our doors in those early years, there were three who excelled. Rosa graduated from scholarship university study in California and is a working Registered Nurse today. Efrain and Hipolito graduated from university study in Cusco. Efrain, now a professional Tour Conductor and Hipolito, a Business Economic professional, still live in Cusco and are working hard to support their young families. Both young men are active members on the Chicuchas Wasi Board of Directors in Cusco, and are committed to making sure CW continues to change the lives of helpless children like they once were.

Over the years we tried many ways to improve the lives of the children living and fending for themselves on the street; many risks of exploitation and sexual abuse lurk in these dark streets. By 1992 it was clear: to make lasting change we must go to the root of the problem of the poor female, a dilemma of mothers being forced to abandon their children in favor of finding a man to financially support them. Women learn from their mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, that they need a man to survive financially. The boys in a poor family go to school, while the girls become domestics. Many mothers, with their lack of education, poverty, and low self-esteem, are forced to make difficult choices: they are often abandoned along with young children they are unable to provide for economically, or they may be unable to find a man willing to take on another man’s children. The boys end up living on the streets, but the girls are frequently taken in by a family seeking domestic help and often end up sexually abused. Chicuchas Wasi is committed to breaking this devastating female cycle through education, increased self-esteem, and financial independence, thus providing new options for females in the future.

Chicuchas Wasi school, free for poor girls, formally opened in 1999 determined to have families recognize the value of their intelligent female children. CW also created a school for parents where parent attendance is required for their daughters to be accepted into the school. CW school gained such acceptance in the community that the mothers, aunties, and sisters who came to apply for their girls and were often turned away due to limited class size. By 1999, Ruth had acquired the necessary experience and was ready to move in directions I, the founder, had never imagined. She understands her people well and it was mutually decided the time was right for her to take the reins. I returned to California, but continue in constant contact with my Cusco family today.

Under Ruth’s direction, Chicuchas Wasi school (now in the City of Cusco) has grown and gained the respect of the Cusco community. The CW board in Cusco is comprised of committed supporters including two early beneficiaries of Chicuchas Wasi, and is strong with a clear focus on the future. International supporters have met with Ruth and funding has come forward to construct our soon to be completed dream of a CW school. For many years, in the beginning, our school was made up of 15-20 four- and five-year-olds and today in 2012 we have 93 students from the pre-school little girls through fifth graders in the brand new school. Ruth has selected and specifically trained her staff of teachers to work to change the future for poor females and future mothers and all are committed to reaching more of these children in need. The entire school is locally run and under the management of our Director, Ruth Uribe.

Looking back to 1987 it is clear to see that our original CW baby has grown into a strong, capable adult. For some time now, all decisions have been made entirely by the efficient and capable Cusco Board of Directors.  Chicuchas Wasi Cusco is now independent, but still appreciates the support of its California Board of Directors, an extended family of loyal supporters assisting in areas in which they are skilled.

We have designed our website to provide the history of Chicuchas Wasi, as well as our latest news of events as they unfold, information provided by our Director, Ruth. Please refer to this site often to see our progress. 

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--- To Chicuchas Wasi, Peru: for donations to Fundación Chicuchas Wasi ---

--- To Chicuchas Wasi, California: for U.S. tax-deductible donations & international donations ---

--- To Friends of Chicuchas Wasi, U.K.: for donations in the United Kingdom ---

Visit our Photo Albums for a pictorial story of Chicuchas Wasi over the years.