Huanchaco en Accion: What it takes to start a school in Peru

Dear friends and family, 

As most of you know, our community school officially opened in January (if you missed the last update, click here) during the summer session. We have made much progress so far, but there is still so much left to do before the actual school year begins on March 5th.

Our primary goal since we opened has been to figure out how to 1) make the school affordable for families with less resources, and 2) make it a sustainable offering in Huanchaco.  I think we may have figured it out, but we still need a little help from our friends.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of what we need, however, I first would like to explain why this project is so dear to me. (See end of post if you’re in a hurry and would prefer to skip to the chase.)

Tree and I have traveled through many countries so far on the PanAmerican Highway, and along the way we’ve witnessed many stages of coastal development.  Some areas, like Abre Ojos, a small fishing village in Baja California, are still completely undeveloped, and the locals live pretty much as they always have, unencumbered by the tourist trade. On the other end of the spectrum, there are places like Cancun, Los Cabos, or the Peninsula Papagayo in Costa Rica where foreign investment and development have either outright appropriated the land for gringo amusement, and/or driven the cost of living up so high that many of the locals can literally no longer afford to live there (more info here.)  Finally, there are places like Montanita, Ecuador, and Huanchaco, Peru, where the growth has been moderate and a good portion of the investment and revenue is based within the local community.

But, still, even here in the absence of resort hotels, golf courses, and ginormous cruise ships, development carries with it an often neglected responsibility to make sure that it is a boon to the entire community and not just for the privileged class.

To paint the picture, I am a foreigner living in a relatively expensive apartment owned by affluent Peruvians in Huanchaco.  Huanchaco is an old fishing village-cum-newly hip beach town boasting a healthy influx of tourists and a sizable expat community.  Near me, there are nice restaurants, surf schools, bars, grocery stores, and shopping malls that cater to me and the likes of me.  Unlike me, however, the average fisherman can no longer afford to live in Huanchaco, nor can he afford my lifestyle.  The average fisherman lives on the outskirts of Huanchaco (literally only 5 minutes away by car), where there are still many rundown houses without running water or electricity.

In other words, all the money being infused into the economy here in Huanchaco (by Tree and I, and others like us) doesn’t make it to the average local living outside the tourist zone. Sure, the fisherman may sell more fish because we’re here, but I doubt the extra profit in fish sales compensates for the spike in the cost of living or affords him access to any of the new ‘developments’ in the area.

Sadly, development is often a closed loop.  It’s brought to an area by the affluent to serve the affluent, and in its worst cases, it outright exploits and/or harms the non-affluent, or the ‘have-nots’.

Granted, as I said before, Huanchaco is not a terrible example of development gone awry. But still, as foreigners who truly love Huanchaco and understand the dynamics at hand, we have to ask ourselves, what can we–Tree, Kelly, Edurne, and myself–do to truly give back to the community?

Our answer is education.

“The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.” -Robert M. Hutchins

There are a couple of private schools here in Huanchaco, and even more in the big city of Trujillo, but none of them cater to those with less means.  They all serve the children of the privileged class (affluent Peruvians and foreigners). That is why we have made our private, Montessori style school affordable to the working class at only 150 soles a month (roughly $50), compared to the 400+ soles/month charged by the other options. Furthermore, we are providing becas (scholarships) to the working poor, who cannot afford any form of education, not even public.  In this way, by bringing ‘development’ to those who need it most, we hope to even the playing field between the haves and the have-nots. We also hope to open the loop so that the community prospers as a whole.


How are we doing this?

1) Creating an NGO, “Huanchaco en Accion”

Although teaching children is very important to us, we realize that education goes beyond the classroom. We want the scope of our efforts to raise awareness throughout the entire community, young and old.  By creating an NGO, we are able to tackle various projects, including women’s health and protecting the environment.  Furthermore, our NGO status will bring us the legitimacy we need to attract support from both the local and international community, as well as providing a tax benefit to our donors.

2) Involving the Alcalde (the Mayor)

When Tree and I first arrived here a few months back, there was a protest in front of the Municipalidad building.  The demonstrators were from the outer barrios, and they were protesting the alcalde, accusing him of not distributing wealth fairly among the neighborhoods. Their grievances included not having electricity or water.  Knowing this, we–as a budding an NGO–went to the alcalde with a “let us help you help them” plan, and it worked!! He is currently letting us use the Children’s library as a classroom and has pledged to help us move into an even better space as our needs grow.  (Perhaps down the road we can procure some actual funding, as well.)

Kelly and Edurne with Mongo and Marveyker's Uncle in front of the mayor's office

3) Involving the teachers

Our teachers, Marveyker and Berta, are both Montessori certified, have numerous years of experience, and deeply want to help their community.  Sharing our belief that it all starts with education, they are the perfect candidates to run the school.  Here’s the arrangement: Since our overhead is free, we will be allocating all of the tuition money, 150 soles/month per student (minus twenty percent), to the teachers’ salaries.  In exchange, they are responsible for matriculating students and managing the school, along with teaching.  In the short run, this helps us out tremendously because we simply do not have the resources to pay for two top-notch teachers (Kelly has been paying out of her own pocket thus far, and that just isn’t a longterm solution).  And in the long run, once the school reaches its capacity of approx. 20-25 students, the teachers will be making nearly double of what their normal salaries would have been. With this arrangement, the success of the school is a win-win for everyone!

4) The Twenty Percent Scholarship Fund

Twenty percent of the tuition money (30 soles from 150) is allocated back to the NGO to be put into a scholarship fund.  For every four students paying, we will be able to offer one child a full scholarship, or two children half-scholarships. This way scholarships are built into our costs and not solely dependent on donations. Our ultimate goal is to increase our ratio from twenty percent to fifty percent of students on scholarship, but at least with this model we have a set minimum.

5) Involving the parents

In exchange for receiving a top-notch education for their children at a reduced rate, we are asking that the parents be involved.  We realize that each parent may have different resources to give, so our approach is creative and flexible. Maybe one family would like to make tamales that we will sell at a participating tienda to help augment our scholarship fund, while another family would like to volunteer once a week as a classroom aid.

6) Involving the community

A community school should be supported by the community it serves.  Again, our approach is flexible and creative.  Perhaps some stores will want to sell the wares made by the parents, while other establishments like hotels and hostels may like to contribute directly to our beca fund, whereas restaurants might want to donate snacks and lunches.  Individuals may also want to contribute. For instance, we’ve already been approached by a local fireman, who wants to host a town hall meeting about accident prevention, and a gynecologist, who wants to host a class on women’s reproductive health.

So there you have it.  Our school project is affordable and sustainable, and the NGO is on its way to making a broader positive impact on the community!

That being said, we still need some help building the infrastructure of the school.  We desperately need supplies; specifically, we need tools that support the Montessori methodology.

So far, we’ve been making do with what we have been given or could make on our own.

But we’d like to give our teachers the proper tools to guide the children in learning the way that they have been trained to do in the Montessori methodology. 

The tools shown below (scroll down) have been specifically designed to support the child’s Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematical, and Language development. (More about Montessori materials and methodology here.)

The good news is that once we get a good base of materials, we will be able to 1) attract more students to matriculate, and 2) reuse the same tools for many years to come, as they are all made of wood and built to last decades. The crux is getting started.

How you can help:

If you like what you’ve read, and you would like to support La Casita de Los Ninos, you can do so by sending us a general donation through our secure Paypal account (click here or the icon below).

All donations in any amount are greatly appreciated and will be used towards either scholarships or supplies.

Or, if you’d prefer, you can make a specific donation to our scholarship fund:

One full scholarship is 120 soles/month, 1440 soles annually, or $533/year.  (If you choose to sponsor a child in full, we will let you know which child you are sponsoring and keep you updated on his or her progress.)

A half-beca is $266, and a quarter beca is $133.

Again, all donations of any size help out and are fully appreciated.

Daniel received the first FULL scholarship at La Casita del Los Ninos!!!

Or, if you’d prefer, you can make a specific donation to our Supplies Fund.  I’ve posted a list of the materials we need, and if something looks like something you’d like to gift the children (like the maps!!!), then go ahead and claim it as your personal contribution in the blog comments or via our ‘contact us’ page! Prices in red are in dollars.


On behalf of all of us from Huanchaco en Accion and La Casita de Los Ninos,


(FYI, these materials will be made in Peru. They are replicas of the ones made in Europe for Montessori. We’ve chosen to hire a local carpenter familiar with making Montessori materials to help support the local economy and to not have to pay exorbitant shipping costs.)

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  1. Tom frm Colorado says:

    WOW! That is great work Stevie and crew. So nice to see you getting involved with the people. You guys are the best.

  2. So cool. good work Stevie.

  3. Kathy Mueller Hansen says:

    Look at those beautiful little faces!! Helping children is magic!! Good job ladies 🙂

  4. Jose Oscar Acevedo says:


  5. We’re in for the maps (all three listed)… and a full scholarship. Sending the PayPal now. Thanks for following through on the kind of thing we’d hoped to do while we were on the road!

    Dave and Ann

    • Holy smokes!!! Thank you so much Dave and Ann. You guys are awesome!!! I’m so excited for the maps! One of my projects with the kids is a monthly international Skype call with another preschool from a different part of the world. This month our call is with a school in Mexico City. The maps will be key in giving the children a visual of where our new cyber friends live. And, I cannot thank you enough for a full scholarship!! I can’t believe it! I’m so excited to tell Kelly, Edurne, and the teachers that we’ll be able to start a new child by the start of the new school year (March 5th!!!). I’ll send you pictures asap. I can’t thank you enough!!! Much love to you both!!

  6. You guys sure walk your talk, and encourage us all to be our best selves through your example. I’ll sign up at Paypal, and also, send me a list of what I can bring when I come back down to Peru. (I have a HUGE old suitcase just right for hauling toys and supplies for kids). Love you!

  7. Jared Meichtry says:

    Keep up the great work.

  8. So exciting!

  9. Aunt Debby & Uncle Barry says:

    You two are making such a wonderful difference. We are very proud of you. We have sponsored a child via Paypal
    If you would like me to contact the pre-school Jake went to , Samish School, and see if they would like to set up a Skype call, I’d be happy to. The school is run by to amazing women, Pam and Jody, with years of experience. I think they would bring a lot to the experience. Love you both!

  10. Hey Stevie.
    The faces. Oh! The faces of the kids tell the whole story. I love you and what you guys are doing and sent what I could afford.
    I’m honored to be a part of something so worthy. Hope it helps…. You are amazing

  11. Wonderful Stevie, I am so proud of all the work you’ve been doing and this is looking pretty legit! I will discuss scholarship options with the other half 🙂

    • Thank you so much! We’ve definitely made a ton of progress, and I think we got the balance right to make the project sustainable. I’d still like to get a little more support from the Alcalde and the local community, but I think with a little more ingenuity and persistence, we’ll make it happen. Much love to you!

  12. Jene Fielder says:

    Stevie I am so proud of you..! what an amazing job you are doing in The world.. Peru is so lucky to have you and the team, To you and Tree, Lots of Love..Jenie….

  13. Great job Stevie,
    Wonderful work – actually putting action into the words.
    I’ll save the link, and pass it around Atlanta – yupper back in the states for a bit.
    Great concepts all.
    Good effort and thought going into the school to help the locals – kudos to you and Tree!
    John D. WIlson

  14. So could you tell me more about how you set up the NGO? And since you arrived at an opportune time, there ws no bureaucracy to deal with, but do you know how its usually goes in Peru?

    Thanks and keep up the incredible work.

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