This program is organized by School for International Training (SIT) Study Abroad in collaboration with DukeEngage.

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Program Dates

May 19 - July 22

Service Focus
Contributing to the efforts of organizations and schools in and around Cuzco, Peru, that provide outreach and support to indigenous communities, particularly children and families. Service themes include:

  • Children/youth services
  • Education/literacy
  • Disability services

Program Leaders

  • Alex Alvarez del Castillo, PhD, DukeEngage Program Director: A native of Cuzco, Dr. Alvarez has researched and written about indigenous communities of the Amazon and the Peruvian Andes, especially the impact of public policy on aspects of indigenous life.

  • , Custom Program Manager, SIT Study Abroad: Ms. Lindoerfer works with institutions across the United States to develop international study and immersion programs around the world.

  • , Lecturing Fellow of Romance Studies and Lecturing Fellow; Spanish of Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies; DukeEngage in Peru Faculty Fellow


Local community organizations and NGOs will host Duke students as they make meaningful impacts in education and community development activities. During the DukeEngage program in Peru, participants will learn about the history and cultural identity of Peru's native Andean communities while supporting these groups through community support and education programs.  

With 35-45% of the country's population identifying as either an Andean peasant or as a member of a native Amazonian community, Peru is an ideal location to learn about and observe firsthand the pressures indigenous peoples currently face. Cuzco is at the heart of the former Incan empire, and has served as a crossroads for traditional and modern societies for centuries; currently Cuzco balances its ancient cultural history with its role as a busy tourist hub. Cuzco is a perfect location in which to learn about the impact of development, tourism and globalization on local Quechua indigenous peoples.  


Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

By the end of this program, students will:

  • Engage in service-learning to broaden perspectives on modern-day issues facing indigenous peoples in Peru;
  • Learn how to work with local community leaders to identify problems and develop appropriate strategies to alleviate them;
  • Believe that they can have a positive impact on local social problems; and
  • Grow as humble humans, able to recognize that they are a part of the same world that hosts the people they will work for and with.

Service Opportunities

Service work on this program often involves working with children in an educational capacity, teaching, or care for young children. The schools and community organizations may also welcome innovative ideas for promotion, volunteer recruitment or other tasks, depending on the strengths of the Duke participant.  

Students will be matched with organizations through information provided in the DukeEngage application and in the phone interview. Potential partners and projects include:

  • Pillao Matao School is a public school whose student population comes from indigenous migrant families. The school makes an effort to include bilingual (Quechua/Spanish) education and cultural identity a part of its curriculum. Participants will work full-time in the school environment, and may teach English or other subjects, or may take on other projects as needed by the school.
  • Juana de Aza Home is a shelter for teenage mothers and their babies, providing support, food, health care, and work training. Participants may work directly with the mothers and babies but may also be involved in web development, fundraising or other projects as needed.
  • Casa Mantay is a shelter for homeless and abused teenage mothers and their children. Participants will help directly with childcare or in various tasks around the home, and may be able to develop other projects as needed by the home.
  • Casa Amantaní is a home for babies and children who have been abandoned, or who are placed in the home by the court system due to an unsafe or neglectful home environment. Students will work directly in childcare and may also choose to take the initiative in developing projects to support the home.
  • Hogar Madre Teresa de Calcuta is a home for abandoned babies, children, adults and elderly people with permanent physical and mental disabilities. Every kind of help is needed: cooking, cleaning, making beds, organizing activities, etc. Strong and beautiful hearts are needed.  

Program Requirements

Language: Two semesters of Spanish language coursework or equivalent Spanish-­speaking ability. All students will participate in 10 hours of Spanish instruction and 10 hours of Quechua instruction during the first week of the program.  

Coursework: Other than Spanish language prerequisites, there are no course requirements for this program.  

Other Skills: Our community partners value students who will help wherever they are needed, who enjoy spending time with children, who have an honest interest in indigenous cultures and rights, and who want to get involved in the daily life of a different culture, and a positive and patient attitude. They may also seek computer skills specifically for web design and social media outreach. Any experience with office software like Excel is also highly sought after.  

Personal Qualities: The following qualities are keys to success on the DukeEngage in Peru program:

  • Honesty and ethical behavior: As participants in a program hosted by SIT Study Abroad, these qualities are of paramount importance, as students are a reflection of our institution during their program.
  • Ability to manage stress in a foreign environment: All participants will be working full-time in an environment and climate much different to what they are used to at home, and some will be working with children and families in very difficult situations, which may be emotionally challenging.
  • Self-­awareness, charisma and confidence: Participants will need to lead by example, and will often need to take initiative and work independently in their service environments.
  • Flexibility, tolerance and adaptability: Participants will become part of their Peruvian host family, which means an openness to navigating cultural differences and different lifestyles and house rules is one key to success.  

Program Details

Description of Community: Cuzco is a city of around 435,000 inhabitants. Vibrant in culture and rich in history, Cuzco was the capital of the Inca Empire and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to its proximity to Machu Picchu and other important Inca sites, it is also a major destination for tourists, hosting around 2 million visitors every year. DukeEngage participants will have the opportunity to witness first-hand the opportunities and challenges by the confluence of traditional and modern societies in Cuzco.  

Cuzco is also a high-altitude city, located at around 11,000 feet above sea level. Students will be given tips for acclimatizing to the altitude during the orientation week, and should be aware that the Andean climate can be quite cold, especially at night. The program takes place during the “winter” season in Peru.  

Students will have the opportunity to experience many types of neighborhoods in Cuzco. Most homestays will be located within 15 to 20 minutes of the SIT program center by bus. All students will live near at least one other student so that they may travel together. Service placements will be in different areas of Cuzco, and students will commute by public transportation.  

Housing and Meals: Students will live in homestays, though there will be a few nights in hotels/hostels based on group travel. All students will live near at least one other student.  

Food is an important aspect of daily cultural life. Students will take their breakfast and dinners with their homestay families; some students will have lunch at their homestays and others may have lunch at their host organization. Each week a stipend will be provided for lunch at or near the volunteer organization. During orientation and excursions, some meals will be taken as a group and therefore covered by SIT.  

If you do not eat certain types of food for cultural, religious or personal reasons, please contact the DukeEngage office, , to discuss whether or not your dietary needs can be reasonably accommodated at this program site.

Transportation: Students will be given a stipend for public transportation during their field-work; taxis are also safe and easy to use. SIT will provide transportation in a private bus when the group is traveling together.  

Communication: Students will be provided cell phones to ensure ease of communication for work-­related purposes within Peru. The phone will come with some calling credit, and students will have to charge their phone with credit as the program progresses. Cell phone carriers and wireless providers are readily accessible and easy to find should a problem arise. Students and parents will have access to the 24/7 emergency on-­call system based in the US and run through SIT’s professional Student Affairs department. Internet access is easy to come by in Peru. Students may choose to bring a laptop or tablet, but this is not necessary. SIT Study Abroad has a computer center; some homestay families may have Internet at home, and Internet cafes are on every corner. There are also many places in Cuzco that provide free wifi for students who do choose to bring a laptop.  

Opportunities for Reflection: Students are required to check in with the program director frequently. There will be scheduled sessions each week for students to discuss their work, what they are learning, and any other questions that may arise. These sessions will take place weekly, often at the SIT program center, but occasionally during excursions or other sites.  

Sample topics for reflection include:

  • how best to engage with host families despite busy service schedules;
  • ways to make the most out of the time in Cuzco;
  • differences between volunteering in the United States and in Peru; and
  • “dos and don’ts for future DukeEngage participants.”  

SIT’s DukeEngage program director and other staff will also be visiting students occasionally at their work sites, providing additional opportunities for reflection and feedback. Finally, students will have the opportunity to write for the official DukeEngage Peru blog.  

Other Opportunities: Students will be able to find time to pursue their own interests or have a moment alone throughout the program. Most free time will be on the weekends, when past DukeEngage participants have organized excursions and activities together. On some weekends, hosts may plan family activities with the students. Students will have their own room or private space in the homestay should they wish to spend time alone.  

More Information

  • The World Bank (2015). Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century (8-16). Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO.
  • Hall, T. D., & Fenelon, J. V. (2009). Indigenous peoples and globalization: Resistance and revitalization. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers. ISBN: 9781594516573
  • Documentary: The Real Avatar: Produced and directed by Roberto Verdecchia. David Suzuki journeys to the Peruvian Amazon to see first-­hand the forces threatening the way of life of its indigenous peoples, and to explore the magnificent beauty and richness of this now vanishing land.
  • Documentary: When two worlds collide: A Yachaywasi Films production, in association with Ford Foundation. (International sales: the Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by Taira Akbar, Heidi Brandenburg Sierralta, Mathew Orzel.  

Curricular Connections The most direct curriculum linkages of this program would be with Spanish language; Latin American history, politics, or culture; and coursework relating to indigenous peoples’ rights, history and activism.    

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Produced by Aashna Saini and Ben Africk, DukeEngage 2015: "The video is meant to inform future volunteers and student families of the classes and activities that go on at the school. Originally Pillao Matao was struggling with a lack of publicity."