Using Education to Improve the Lives of Underprivileged Communities in the Andean Highlands of Peru

Themes: Children & Education

Related GLA Programs: Peru: Children of the Andes™

Grant Recipient: Helping Hands Cusco

Helping Hands Cusco was founded in 2005 by Mario Diaz and his wife Rosa Guitierrez. Mario, who is a grammar and literature teacher of both English and Spanish, grew up in an extremely poor family in Cusco, Peru. Despite the sad circumstances that shaped most of his childhood, Mario noticed a shift in his life when his father completed his advanced degree. Because his father had to work full time to support his large family, it took Mario’s dad 12 years to graduate from college.

However, he succeeded and became first professional in the Diaz family, thereby providing the means for Mario and his siblings to pursue an education. Mario saw first hand how education can provide opportunities and end the cycle of poverty, thus motivating him to start Helping Hands with the main goal of providing a healthy school climate, where underprivileged children can have qualitative education but also where they can learn about values, group work and individual development.


1. About 25% of the population of Peru lives below the poverty line, meaning they live on less than $2 a day. The rural poverty rate in Peru is even higher at nearly 46%. The Andean Highlands remain the poorest of Peru’s 3 geographic regions. In the region around San Sebastian, underprivileged children had to take a long bus ride (meaning an extra daily cost) to go to a distant public school or study in an expensive private school. Therefore, most children in the area were not able to get an education before Helping Hands stepped in.

2. The San Gabriel Charity School was officially opened in 2008 to provide quality education to underprivileged children in the developing districts of Cusco. It has grown to serve 120 children in 6 classes and also offers an after school program. Construction is set to begin on a second campus later this year, which will provide education to 280 students and employment opportunities for members of the community.

3. In addition to running the San Gabriel School, Helping Hands Cusco also provides training in Alpaca Wool production for young single mothers, teaching them to make quality textiles and decorations that can be sold at fair prices so these young women can support their families.

Additional Information

Helping Hands also runs the Hope House. In small towns surrounding Cusco there are only primary schools, so in order to get a secondary school or high school education, students must travel closer to the city. If a family is going to send a child to school, typically they only send a boy. However statistics show that in Peru, girls typically have better grades. So helping hands build a dorm called the Hope House where young girls can live while pursuing a high school education. The residents of Hope House receive food, lodging, educational materials, bus tickets, and clothing at no cost.