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AECOM’s Lauren Woodward helps further Peruvian girls’ education

AECOM’s Lauren Woodward helps further Peruvian girls’ education

 February 10, 2020

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AECOM employees have the opportunity to get involved in exciting projects that make a huge difference to communities. Lauren Woodward is a Bid Manager in the UK who travelled to Peru.

AECOM’s Blueprint Travel Grant programme supports employees making service-based trips around the world in partnership with charitable organizations. Through the grant, Lauren is working with Building Humanity, a non-profit organisation founded by a former AECOM employee that provides assistance to communities.

Lauren recently made her third trip with Building Humanity, joining 22 volunteers, including 14 from AECOM, on a charity build in Peru to help indigenous teenage girls attend school.

Lauren shares her Peru journey

“We worked in partnership with the Sacred Valley Project, an organization that builds dormitories for teenage girls from remote communities in the Andes so they have somewhere to live while they attend school. Some of these communities are a 15-hour hike from the nearest town,” says Lauren. “As a result, young boys often move to the cities to continue their education, but the same opportunity is not available for girls due to cultural expectations. Educating the female population has a significant impact on reducing poverty, so this service project was a particularly exciting opportunity to be a part of and learn from.”

The first weekend of Lauren’s trip included a six-hour drive to where the paved road ended and then a three-hour trek to the Mendosayoc community, one of the furthest away from Calca. “These families don’t have access to vehicles, so by foot this journey would take more than 15 hours — an impossible feat,” Lauren comments. “Due to the terrain, even the girls who are from communities in closer proximity to the schools are unable to make the trek and return in one day.”

Building a greenhouse for students

AECOM Peru Greenhouse

Lauren learned more about the community, which is spread over numerous peaks and is almost 50 families strong. The residents grow most of their own food on the mountain and sell coffee beans. They have a primary school with two classrooms and the teachers live on-site and return home once a month, while the girls only return home once a year when the secondary school in Calca closes for the summer.

The Sacred Valley Project has two dormitories in Calca and Ollantaytambo that house 20 students each. Lauren spent six days on-site at the dormitory in Calca building a greenhouse so the girls can grow their own food.

“The ability to grow your own food is pivotal to combating malnutrition and ultimately helps the young women lead healthier lives. In addition, students are encouraged to save money and potentially apply the new skills in the event that they wish to open their own market. They’re able to sell excess food to member of their communities, earning a modest income and ultimately relying less heavily on donations,” Lauren comments. “While on-site, we completed other tasks in the dorm, including positioning some baking equipment, deep cleaning and setting up security cameras to ensure the residents have a safe place to live.”

The original plan for the trip was to build a third dorm, but unfortunately the group encountered problems securing land. They also faced other challenges during this trip, including overcoming altitude sickness and having to work around wildlife such as tarantulas. The Blueprint Travel Grant covered the building materials and tools needed for the greenhouse, and any excess will go towards the new dorm when land is secured.

Making treasured memories

AECOM Peru school volunteering

“The most memorable part of the trip for me was the visit to the Mendosayoc community because it illuminated the diversity of how people live around the world. We also had dinner every night with the students whose lives we were impacting and attempted to learn Quechua, the region’s indigenous language,” says Lauren.

“I will never forget how accommodating the families were, how excited the girls were to show us around and how grateful the entire community was for the resources that the Sacred Valley Project offers. I have never met teenagers who are so happy to go to school!”

The girls’ passion for learning, drive to succeed and desire to improve the lives of people in their community left Lauren’s team in awe. As a result of the on-site dormitories, the Sacred Valley Project has allowed students to receive an additional two hours of tutoring every night. Several of the students have graduated top of their class.

“These types of trips are great for learning more about the built environment and the different issues faced by construction teams around the world — whether those constraints are weather, seismic, political or social, there’s always some variety,” says Lauren.

“On each of my builds I’ve learned different construction techniques as well as how to solve problems and communicate in a way that’s very different from working in an office environment. It’s also great to meet talented and passionate designers and engineers from around the world and connect with both the people we are helping and the wider community in which they live.”

Feeling inspired and thankful

Lauren’s time away with Building Humanity has made her more appreciative of the things most people take for granted and has shaped the way she deals with problems in her everyday life.

“I can’t wait for the next opportunity. For anyone at AECOM interested in taking part in a similar trip, I would say go for it,” she says. “The feeling you get from this type of hands-on work, seeing the impact you are making and how much joy you can bring to communities like this, along with the team spirit and enthusiasm while working together toward such an amazing end goal, is truly an incredible experience.”

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