In Peru, certificates mean everything. They serve the same purpose as they do in the states, however, in Peru they carry a lot more weight. Since my first youth group two years ago, I have given out Peace Corps certificates at the end of each group. They have grown so much in popularity all throughout Peru with other volunteers that Peace Corps was forced to only make certificates for ¨big, important events¨ and no for youth groups. So I learned how to make them locally, which, in the long run became easier and more practical in the case that there were mess ups in the names. Over the past two years I have had students invite me into their humble homes to meet their family and have lunch or dinner. Each one of the students had their certificates proudly hung on the wall as if it were their College diploma.
Thanks to so many people supporting my projects over the last two months we were able to give out three scholarships (among other things) to three deserving students to pay for the admissions exam at the National University. In Peru, highschool doesn´t prepare you adequately for college life. In almost all cases, students are forced to study in prep academies until their scores on mock University entrance exams are at a competative score. Since the cost of taking the exam is very expensive in Peru, only those who are prepared and can afford to pay are encouraged to take the exam. The passing rate is less than 8% due to the high competetion. In many cases, getting a degree in the National University is the only way of escaping the rigourous poverty cycle that encompasses much of Peru and Latin America. The National Universities in Peru are supported by the government and are basically free to those who enter. Having one of the worst education systems in the western hemisphere, Peru is constantly trying to improve their educational system. Logically, this does not come easy. In my two years I have witnessed many strikes, protests, and cancelations of schools. It really is unfortunate that Peru suffers so much in educational stability. I feel lucky how well we have it in the states. I definately will catch myself the next time I complain.
Ps. The shorter darker skinned girl in the middle has the second highest score in the academy amongst the 600 students. She sells, frozen juice in little tied baggies for about a 3 cents each outside of schools in her free time just to pay the weekly tuition. Like most of the students, she lives in very poor housing. She has dirt floors, no lighting, or running water. The odds many of my students have to go through just to have a chance at getting a good education and have a chance at getting a job is truely humbling and inspiring. There are so many amazing people here!