In July 2014, I met three members of Qosqo Maki--Ricardo, Alex, and Waldir--during the CATS conference (catsconference.com) in Caux, Switzerland. They were presenters in a morning plenary session, it was then that I first learned about AQM. Their presentation was super impressive, and I was excited that a delegation from Peru was in attendance. That year, there were very few participants from outside of Europe, so their presence was important, as was their message about AQM's approach to working with working children and adolescents. After their presentation, I spoke with Ricardo and invited him, Alex, and Waldir to a workshop I was co-facilitating throughout the week on the Article 15 Project (crc15.org). During this workshop, I learned more about Qosqo Maki, its philosophy of education for liberation, and how the members of the dormitory co-manage AQM, the bakery, and the carpentry shop.
I visited AQM in August 2015 for just under two weeks. Although it was a very short time, I learned a great deal from everyone at AQM, and I hope what I shared was also useful.
At the time of my visit, I was researching organizations co-managed by young people and adults. I had read about a number of associations of working children and adolescents throughout Latin America, as well as other regions of the world. Many of them operated autonomously, though there were clearly supportive adults involved. Others had lesser degrees of freedom from adult control, but none were free from the challenges of the power imbalances between young people and adults. I visited AQM to see the philosophy of education for liberation in action, and to better understand how the organization came to be, how it functioned, and how the experiences of AQM might be relevant to other organizations. There are multiple organizations with similar missions of creating spaces where young people can make decisions for themselves that contribute to their own well-being and the well-being of others. And they all face challenges of how best to balance power dynamics among young people and adults.
Prior to arriving in Peru, I had been in contact with Indah. And when I arrived, she arranged for me to volunteer in the library each evening. When I visited La Chocita, I was impressed by the physical space. It is a versatile location, and although it is open to the community only during the evenings, it is a welcoming environment. During my time, I had a chance to see how AQM plays an important role in Cusco, not just for the young people who are part of the dormitory, but also a gathering place for the neighborhood's children and adults. Managing the space is no small task, and I was also impressed by the dedicated staff at AQM. It is clear that everyone there cares for the well-being of one another, and although I was a stranger, I felt welcomed. There were also a number of other foreigners visiting and volunteering around the same time as me. I thought that this was an important role for AQM as well, to be guesthouse of sorts, but one that is geared more toward the community needs than simply to the economic benefits of tourism. I came to understand how AQM has both succeeded and struggled with its efforts to be financially self-sustaining. While many people can agree that a societal goal is for every person to live in dignity, no matter their age or social status, there is a lack of agreement in society for how to achieve this goal. AQM's philosophy and methods may be construed as radical; not because they are impossible or expensive, but because they aim to explicitly and unapologetically dismantle the imbalances of power in society that infringe upon people's human rights.
I also attended the educators' meetings and celebratory gatherings. And I provided training for the some of the educators on the tools from the Article 15 Project that I shared with Ricardo, Alex, and Waldir a year earlier. The focus of this training session was on a question about the organizational relationship between the dormitory and the library, and how responsibilities for operating these spaces did or did not overlap.
In addition to sharing the research tools from the Article 15 Project, the main reason I visited AQM was to witness process of education for liberation. I was fortunate that the members of the dormitory allowed me to observe their weekly assemblies, and it was in this space where I believe much of AQM's philosophy is created, maintained, or altered. The assemblies can be chaotic, and amidst the chaos there is order. I was surprised to learn that there is no voting in the assemblies, but rather a general agreement on decisions. Up to this point, I had thought of voting as one of the most fundamental practices of democratic decision-making in groups. But I realized the young people and adults of the assembly created an alternative which is not reliant on popularity, and instead acknowledges that all decisions, even small ones, are opportunities to build a cohesive community, rather than divide people by their opinions. I witnessed and learned how this practice of building a supportive environment, rather than a polarized environment, are central to the co-management of AQM by the young people and adults; and they are what promote the basic respect for each person's human dignity.
I was also super impressed by the quality of the pastries and coffee at the bakeries!!
I learned so much during my time at AQM; more than I can describe here. I am grateful to all the members of AQM staff, and especially to Indah, Isabel, and Coco who generously answered all of my questions.