Most dangerous ways to School – PERU

(engaging music) Presenter: We all know it, walked it everyday, but none of them were like these. The World’s Most Dangerous Ways to School, climbing, freezing, paddling for hours, all for the chance of a better life. Risky, spectacular, and sometimes just simply beautiful. The Most Dangerous Ways to School. Peru, Lake Titicaca, 3,800 meters above sea level, the world’s greatest mountain lake. On this lake two schools where children learn and fight for their dreams. But the way to school leads across infinite water and even the smallest children have to cope on their own. Almost daily, almost up to four hours of paddling and trudging through reeds, always battling with nature on one of the world’s most dangerous ways to school. (dramatic music) Five o’clock, the first rays of the sun break through the clouds above Lake Titicaca, Peru. A new day is dawning. (light piano music) A few miles away from the mainland, somewhat hidden between huge fields of totora reeds, about 50 families of the Uru clan, the native inhabitants of Lake Titicaca live together in the village community of floating reed islands. On each lives one family. At the first break of dawn the nine year old Mariella and her little sister Belinda get up. Still a bit drowsy they put on their traditional school uniform all by themselves. Their parents are out fishing. The elder siblings work on the mainland. Especially important, hair care, every morning the sisters copiously comb their hair and then braid it. That’s what the Indian tradition demands. (girls laugh) Because hair signifies strength, beauty, and life in the Uru culture it needs special attention. On the other side of the village something stirs too. Four year old Harold is an early bird, after all kindergarten is waiting, but the morning wash with cold lake water is not one of his favorite past times. The children’s colorful hats, are not only part of the traditional clothing, but also offer protection against the aggressive sun in this high mountain region. (engaging music) Far away from the village, a three hour long boat ride from the mainland, 11 year old Vidal and his family also get up at the break of dawn. They live in on a tiny, isolated island in the midst of the world’s greatest mountain lake. (rooster crows) But before Vidal can brace himself for his dangerous way to school, he must take of his family’s sustenance. Like every morning, he checks the fishing nets. Vidal has built his boat himself, which like almost everything else on this lake, is made of reeds. The water is only two meters deep here. The 11 year old pushes the boat forward with a long, wooden stick, for centuries this is how the Urus have been calmly navigating the lake. Especially in wintertime with it’s frosty temperatures, fishing is a tough job; on a lake which lies 3,800 meters above sea level. By tradition Vidal stands in for his father, who at this time of day is busy with other tasks. Due to the increasing water pollution over the last few years the yield hasn’t improved. Vidal is all the more delighted if he finds something in the net. (dramatic music) (speaks foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] I like fishing a lot because then we could eat the fish, if something is left in the basket, my mother can trade it for something else on the mainland. Presenter: After work it’s time for the well deserved refreshment; the cooking and eating is done outdoors. Vidal’s mom prepares breakfast for the family of eight. She bakes traditional Uru bread. Their whole life takes place on a 30 square meter island with two little reed huts. None of the children have a room of their own. Vidal braces himself with reed blossom tea. He will need a lot of strength today, because Lake Titicaca with a total area of almost 8,300 square kilometers, which he has to cross on his way to school, is the largest navigable lake in the world. (dramatic music) At half past six, Vidal sets off on his adventurous journey to the Uru State Primary School. Two hours lie ahead of him, across the great lake, all by himself. (birds chirp) Two hours to get there and another two hours coming back in the afternoon. Since Vidal turned eight, he paddles to school on this long journey. It makes his mother Paulina nervous to see him vanish on the infinite lake. (speaks foreign language) -: [Paulina’s Translator] I’m very concerned when he sets off, what happens if he keels over? I don’t even want to think about it. Presenter: Most Uru children go together with a number of others in larger boats, so they can take turns. Vidal lives so far off that he has to go by himself but he has a goal. (speaks foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] I really want to study, that’s why I travel so far. (dramatic music) Presenter: Slowly, Vidal pushes the boat forward. He has to ration his strength, but punting with a long, wooden rod is the most efficient and at the same time least tiring method to make way. But still it forces him to go to his limit. (intense dramatic music) It’s a long way, especially for an 11 year old. (engaging music) A few kilometers away, in the Uru village, the nine year old Mariella and her little sister Belinda, are still busy tying colorful, woolen pom poms to their braids. Only then are the girls ready to go. Mariella, likes going to school because she too has a dream. (speaks foreign language) -: [Mariella’s Translator] I want to study, medicine. Presenter: That’s why the nine year old takes on such a tough way to school. At 7 AM, she and her sister Belinda row off; an hour across the great lake lies ahead of the girls before they reach the private primary school. (dramatic music) (speaks foreign language) -: [Mariella’s Mother’s Translator] I’m afraid they might fall into the water. It has happened to Belinda, who luckily Mariella was able to save her. I thank heaven for that. Presenter: She is left with no choice but to let them go on their own, she and her husband have to work. (folk music plays) Mariella’s way stretches right through the village which is traversed by many bigger and smaller waterways. Sixty minutes of rowing, tiring for the nine year old, but also the daily routine. Her sister Belinda is lucky, being younger she gets to enjoy the boat ride. Mariella being the older had to take it on at an early age. (speaks foreign language) -: [Mariella’s Translator] I didn’t know how to row. My mother taught me when I was about five years old. In the beginning it was difficult, but when I turned six, it started to become easier. (rows paddle) Presenter: The 11 year old Vidal also learned rowing at an early age, most of the time he is far out on the lake completely by himself on his traditional reed boat. (speaks foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] I like my boat because it is so easy to handle. To build it, we first dried the reeds, then we wattled the boat by weaving the two broad middle parts with the smaller parts that are used for the edge, and tied them together with nylon cords. To help the boat to float, we put empty plastic bottles in the middle part; to build the boat it takes me about two to three days. Presenter: The 11 year old is used to being on his own when he’s underway; only the men working in the reeds cross his way from time to time. Today he took a route leading him past his father Carlos, so they could say good morning to each other. (oars paddle) (speaking in foreign language) Since the break of dawn, the 40 year old harvests the tortora reed with a sort of scythe. He cuts the stems just above the root and drags them into piles. He wants to use a new harvest for the expansion of the island, only one of the many ways to use the reed on Lake Titicaca. (water splashes) (speaks foreign language) -: [Carlos’ Translator] For us on the lake, totora means life, we build our boats, our houses, our islands with it. We even eat it; we use totora for everything in our lives. (melancholic music) Presenter: With his harvest Carlos returns to his family island. The fresh reed provides the basis for the continuance of the family-owned island. Once a week, Carlos must do some repair work on their floating home, because the islands are fragile structures. (dramatic music) The Uru are the only inhabitants living on Lake Titicaca. After battles with other tribes they built their floating islands of reed and with these they fled onto the lake. In case of danger, they can move on along with their island whenever they wanted to. The islands float even to this day. The reed of which they consist rots from underneath and the rising foul gases keep the construction afloat. Today the Urus are more or less settled, they’ve made themselves at home on their bobbing islands. Still, almost everything is made of reeds. (engaging music) People live off the things the lake offers them. Fishing has always been the Uru’s main source of income; since they are a people of the water, they own no land to grow fruit or vegetables, and therefore have to trade a large part of their catch for other food at the lakeside. Vidal’s father Carlos also lives off fishing and built the island from reeds as is the custom. Since it rots from underneath, Carlos has pile up a fresh layer of totora again and again to prevent his family from getting from getting wet. But, it’s a race against time. After three years, repair work doesn’t suffice any more and Carlos builds a whole new island. Vidal’s father observes the sky. The dark clouds above the mountains worry him. The weather quickly veers over the huge lake and that signifies danger for his son. (speaks foreign language) -: [Carlos’ Translator] If clouds like these appear I always get a bit nervous. But the real problem is not the rain, it’s the wind. Presenter: Because the wind causes waves and for Vidal and his little boat that doesn’t mean ideal conditions. The change of weather normally happens around midday; these are the forebodings. (dramatic music) A few miles away in the Uru village, nine year old Mariella and her sister Belinda are rowing towards school. It’s windy here too, but the many islands provide cover and so the water is calmer. (speaking foreign language) -: [Mariealla’s Translator] If it’s very windy it becomes exhausting; sometimes the wind is so strong it blows me away and I drift off. (folk music plays) Presenter: Due to its size and location, Lake Titicaca is unpredictable. It lies on a high plateau between the Andes Mountains, at a height of 3,821 meters. Allegedly, the cradle of the legendary Inca civilization is to be found in the lake. According to legend, the gods created the first Incas here. They rose from the bottom of the lake. For many, a magical place. Today only the many ruins of temples testify to the existence of the ancient high civilization of South America. (engaging music) Mariella makes a stop on her way to school. After all the lake offers the students a special delicacy. (water splashes) The so called chullu, is the Uru children’s favorite food and can be found in the white insides of the totora reed. Mariealla and Belinda peel the reed and enjoy the fruit pulp. The children love chullu because it tastes slightly sweet. It contains many important minerals and also bleaches teeth. The reason why the Inca’s offspring often have this sparkling white smile. (speaks foreign language -: [Mariealla’s Translator] I like the chullu from a reed, it’s so yummy, ’cause it’s sweet. It also gives me strength so I can row. Presenter: Vidal too takes a detour into one of the reed fields on his way to school. He how rows however into the closely intertwined totora reed, he’s looking for nesting water birds, which he wants to bait. (reeds rustle) Only those like Vidal who are very familiar with the reed find their way, many have gone astray. It takes a lot of effort even if one knows the place. (reeds rustle) (water splashes) Sometimes the 11 year old gets stuck even with his narrow boat. He tries to free himself by rocking the boat with his feet. (water splashes) Finally, Vidal spots a nest full of fresh eggs. (speaks foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] When I go looking for nests I just go into the reed by instinct and keep searching. Presenter: But Vidal is not really interested in the eggs; his plan, he wants to catch the parents. They are the only source of meat for the Urus and therefore especially precious. Only if Vidal catches something will his family have a meal other than fish for a change. The ducks are supposed to get caught in these nylon snares; carefully Vidal puts the eggs back into their nest. The parents will only return if the clutch is full. On his way back from school, Vidal will check his trap. Freshly invigorated, Mariella and Belinda continue their way to school. Since the Urus always help one another, a little stopover is also on the agenda today. (engaging music) The girls pick up four year old Harold and row him across to his kindergarten. In the village community the older children often collect younger ones and thus share the ride. (oars splash) Quite some responsibility for a nine year old. Especially since they are now on the busy main channel of the village with plenty of traffic. (speaks foreign language) -: [Harold’s Father’s Translator] I’m worried when Harold goes with the girls. What happens if he falls in or an accident occurs. There’s so much traffic in the morning. That’s why and bring him as often as possible myself. Presenter: Harold doesn’t know how to swim. Most children learn to swim in school. Mariella rows as careful as possible. A couple of times she almost collided with other boats. More and more Urus in the village own fast motorboats. The children with their wooden punts, barely stand a chance. (speaks foreign language) -: [Mariella’s Translator] I’m afraid of a collision because we would instantly sink. (dramatic music) Presenter: Mariella has made it through the busy traffic and safely delivers Harold at his kindergarten island. (engaging music) The girls wait ’til the four year old has safely reached the building. Per year, three little drown in the village falling off the island while playing. (engaging music) Then the girls move on at all costs they want to reach school which lies at the far end of the village long before the actual lessons start. Meanwhile, Vidal has been has been on his way for one and a half hours now. His way to school leads him across the fields of reed which in some places is traversed by fully-fledged waterway networks. (oar paddles) (speaking foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] I never get lost in the reed; I simply use the sun for my orientation. (water splashes) Presenter: And so the 11 year old continues to cut his way through the many canals in the reed. Undeterred, by more than 90 minutes of his tiring way. (water rustles) (engaging music) After a good hour Mariella has nearly made it. She and her sister safely arrived at the private primary school. Fellow students from all over arrive in dribs and drabs; this is the best moment of the whole day for Mariella. Because here at school she meets her girlfriends, can’t let go of her responsibility of an an older sister, and simply be a child again. (engaging music) A whole hour before school starts, the girls meet because they’ve got something to do before the serious side of life begins, every morning before school; they practice swimming together. The fact that the water is only 12 degrees Celsius, only bothers Mariella and her friends in the beginning. (engaging music) But the Mary splashing around has a serious background. Learning how to swim is essential for the children’s survival on the lake. (dramatic music) But they don’t have proper sports lessons where they would get confident instructions. After half an hour the nine year old has had enough of the cold water for the time being. (water splashes) Finally, Vidal has also almost made it. The State Primary School is in sight. He’s been on his way for a good two hours now and is tired, but is also happy to be there and meet his friends. (melodramatic music) The children arrive from all sides. Some are delivered by their parents; others have shared a reed boat standing up because they only had a short way to school. (engaging music) A quick spit-bath in the lake, and then it’s finally time to enter the schoolyard. The first steps in more than two hours for Vidal and although his way to school is so tiring, he’s glad he’s able to be here. (engaging music) (speaks foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] Here I can have fun and be with my friends. Whether reed island or not just like everywhere else the schoolyard is the place where children can charge around. It offers much more space than the islands at home. At last, the children can run around. But even if most of them have had their fair share of the sportiness, the delight in foolishly charging around is unaffected by it. (playful music) The teachers pence among them, already peer around for their teachers and rush to their welcome. Vidal’s teacher, Senora Condori, also has a long way to school, she comes from the mainland, and it took her one and a half hours to get there, with a motorboat however. At 9 o’clock sharp the 40 students start lessons with a morning assembly. (chants in foreign language) Vidal and his fellow students sing the Peruvian national anthem, slightly out of tune, but always fervently. (children sing) Off to the two classrooms. Two age groups are taught together in one classroom each since there are only two teachers. Not the only handicap that state school has to deal with. (speaks foreign language) -: [Female Translator] Many of my students come from far away islands, for them it is physically very tiring to row the boats and often the children had little or no breakfast. So when they arrive; they’re already very exhausted, which makes it harder for them to learn and to concentrate, that’s why the level at this school is lower than on at Puno, on the mainland for example. (children clamoring) Presenter: Nevertheless the teachers try to bring their syllabus across. The timetable begins with math as first lesson. Even if boring for some, it’s Vidal’s favorite subject, he wants to become an engineer. It’s geometry today, Senora Candori, has to teach third and fourth grade together, and always make sure they all understand. Even in math, the ever-present reed plays a role. (speaks foreign language) The pieces of totora are wonderfully suited to illustrate the polygons the teacher showed at the blackboard earlier on. A few miles away in the Uru village, the private primary school has also started at nine a clock sharp. Mariella’s schools is run by the religious community of Adventists, however religious education plays a minor role. (engaging music) The teacher follows the ordinary national curriculum, reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography are the main subjects. Right now Mariella and her fellow students are struggling with Spanish syntax. (engaging music) Also in Vidal’s school, it’s time for Spanish lessons. As opposed the population on the mainland, the Uru speak a distinct language of their own. The so called Aymara, they have to learn Spanish from scratch. (speaks foreign language) -: [Teacher’s Translator] For the children it is very important to learn Spanish, because in the towns on the mainland like Puno, and everywhere else Spanish is spoken almost exclusively. They people speaking Aymara are often discriminated against so I encourage the students to learn Spanish. (whistles) Presenter: 12 o’clock, break. Time for lunch; there is nothing to be bought on the school island, so all the mother’s give their children something to eat to take along. Since some have more than others the children share their food so everyone gets what he likes. Vidal loves fish and rice. The girls prefer grilled beans even if they are a bit stony. (engaging music) Whoever is thirsty afterwards simply serves himself from the lake, drinking with their own special technique. (water splashes) The teacher, Senora Condori, always checks the sky around noon, because here on the plateau there is often a sudden change of weather around 12 o’clock. (speaks foreign language) -: [Teacher’s Translator] The biggest problems here are the thunderstorms and the wind, especially in the afternoon, it’s dangerous. Because just when our children head off for home, often we have a change of weather. If we see that the weather will worsen, we finish school early so the children can get home reasonably safe. Presenter: For the moment the weather doesn’t look too bad but what it will be like when the children head back home nobody knows. After half an hour the break is over and this Spanish test awaits them. Nothing escapes Senora Condori’s stringent gaze. Even if the children try to cheat a little. Spanish is not exactly Vidal’s best class and he’s dragging behind a bit in the subject matter. (speaks foreign language) -: [Teacher’s Translator] Vidal is a very active student, he takes part in everything, and being one of the older students, he even sometimes helps me teach the other students, but I worry about him, because at the moment, especially on Fridays, he often misses school, his parents want him to stay at home and help because his older brothers have all left home already and have their own families. And so they often expect Vidal to land a hand at home and help sustain the family, that’s very difficult for him. Presenter: The tests are corrected immediately as almost every where in the world the girls are done first and are anxiously awaiting their results. (dramatic music) Vidal and his desk neighbors are still struggling with the questions. (engaging music) For Vidal the test is quite important. The last one he flunked badly. (speaking in foreign language) Presenter: This time he at least got 14 of 20 points. He can be proud of himself. At 2 PM, school is over, after five hours of school it’s time to go back on the long and dangerous way home. (suspenseful music) (speaking foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] The way much back is much harder because I’m already tired and often the wind is blowing in the afternoon. Presenter: All on his own again, Vidal rows towards his parents isolated island. (engaging music) The weather seems to keep up. Mariella’s school is over too, depending on which direction they’re heading to, the children share rides. (speaking in foreign language) Presenter: Mariella’s and Belinda’s island lies at the far end of the village; the two of them row home together. Vidal can’t take the shortest route home. He wants to check the trap he set in the morning at the duck nests. (oars paddle) Again he navigates his little boat right into the tortora reed. He has to concentrate in order to recover his snares in the midst of the infinite tangle of reed. (oar paddles) But after a quarter of an hour right through the reed he finds the nest, with a dead duck inside. (speaks foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] It’s important I catch something because that’s the only meat we have. (melancholic music) Presenter: Vidal takes the remaining egg back homme. He will hatch it home. The sisters have picked up little Harold from kindergarten and bring him home on their way back. He may play the rest of the afternoon. (engaging music) Theoretically, Vidal only has a half an hour left, but the wind has grown stronger and he is unable to find protection in the canals. Like it or not he has to cross the wide open space in order to get home. (water rustles) The 11 year old struggles to keep balance. (speaks foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] I have to be careful, if I move too much I could fall over. (suspenseful music) Presenter: Vidal is exhausted but still has quite a long way to go. Because the village is close by; the water is calm where the girls are. Since nine year old Mariella has been rowing the whole time on the way there, it’s now Belinda’s turn. She is supposed to learn how to steer the boat by herself. Next year Mariella will have finished primary school, the little one is already quite capable of the movement sequences, but she is careless and doesn’t pay attention to the other boats. To Belinda the whole thing seems like a game. She will have to practice a while before being allowed to row by herself. She’s got half a year before she has to go on the water on her own, and Mariella is off to secondary school. (engaging music) (dramatic music) It’s extremely tiring to row against the wind and the waves, but Vidal must keep concentrating or else he will keel over. (suspenseful music) Water swashes into his reed boat. Again and again, he has to stop and bail it out. His arms burn but it is already past 4 o’clock and because the equator is so close, the sun goes down within half an hour. The student must not slow down. Finally, his home island comes to the fore. A moment that always liberates extra strength in Vidal. (speaks foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] As soon as I see our house I know it’s almost over, just a bit more. (engaging music) Presenter: Shortly before sunset Vidal reaches home after two and a half hours soaking wet. He was away for ten hours. He doesn’t arrive empty handed. His catch means that his family can finally eat some meat after 10 days. But his mother Paulina takes only little interest in the duck, she is so pleased her son has made it across the huge lake unscathed. (speaking foreign language) -: [Paulina’s Translator] I’m always worried until he is back and then I try and warm him up with a jacket and a warm soup. Presenter: Mariella and Belinda have also arrived safely at home in the village, like good girls they quickly do their homework. Mariella does math and Belinda is drawing. Little Harold is put to bed by his mother, but also he has to do some reading exercise before he goes to sleep. Exhausted by a long day. Vidal and his family warm up by the fire in the last sunset light, and are feeding the hatchlings; he knows why he endures his tough way to school. (speaks foreign language) -: [Vidal’s Translator] I do this every day because otherwise I would not be able to study. I am lucky, my older brother couldn’t go to secondary school but my mother told me that I’ll be allowed to study and that just makes me happy. Presenter: And so again tomorrow Vidal will row for four hours across the largest mountain lake in the world, for his dream of a better future, he will endure even the longest way to school. (engaging music)

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