February 3, 2024

Sister Ana María Vilca Mamani hadn’t lived in her small hometown of La Curva, Peru for more than 20 years, but the arrival of the COVID pandemic found her there again, caring for her parents far from her usual ministries in Lima. Being in La Curva increased her awareness of local needs, especially the desperation facing poor rural families after schools shut down.

“Their children could not follow the virtual education offered by the government, and this for different reasons: not having a computer, not having the internet or not having a good connection, or simply because they don’t know how to use virtual platforms,” she said. “This reality has challenged me and from our charism as educators I have wanted to respond to this problem, providing a healthy and safe learning space.”

Sister Ana María saw that children were eager for in-person school, and knew it was important to have committed professionals teaching in a comprehensive way. In response, she created the School Reinforcement Program, which fills the educational gap until regular classes can resume.

Sister Ana Maria Vilca and students

Sister Ana Maria with her students.

Enrollment has grown to 102 boys and girls, ranging from 7 to 12 years old, during the past two years. Students come from both La Curva and the nearby town of Alto Ensenada. Juan and Guillermo, ages 7 and 9, are the first to arrive every day, always wearing smiles. Their mother had to migrate to Chile due to the public health crisis, leaving them with grandparents. The program gives them something special to look forward to, with teachers who support them in their progress.

Another child, Juan, who is 11, was unwilling at first when his mother brought him. “I proposed to Juan that he stay that day to ‘look,’ and that if he didn’t like it, he wasn’t obliged to come back,” said Sister Ana María. Juan did return and even invited friends to come, too. As an only child, it turned out that being with other children was his strongest motivation.

In the future, Sister Ana María hopes that the program can continue to reinforce learning at the primary and secondary levels, joining efforts by the local government to improve education for the next generation of Peruvian children.

Sister Ana Maria's students