Incawasi is a non-profit organization founded in March 2005 by a team of local and foreign volunteers in the Andean city of Cajamarca, Peru. Its aim is to break the cycle of poverty that affects many families in Peru by fighting the perpetuation of social inequalities. The goal is to improve the educational, social and nutritional condition of children aged from 5 to 19 years from disadvantaged areas in the city. Incawasi also runs fundraisers, takes the children to the sports field on Fridays, organizes cultural or amusing fieldtrips when schools are closed, as well as doctor visits.
As a volunteer at Incawasi, my responsibilities consisted of providing beneficiaries, between 5 and 19 years of age, with educational support in small class settings; assisting in the preparation of meals and supervising students during meals; organizing activities and workshops for the students, such as field trips and craft workshops; and organizing fundraising events. On top of these tasks that I shared with other volunteers, I also got to help the psychologists during meetings with the mothers and family visits, accompanied the teacher to the different schools in order to meet the students’ professors, organized discussion groups for the adolescents in order to increase their inclusion in the association, and was in charge of writing the May newsletter.
As a volunteer Borderless World Volunteers (BWV), one of my aims while working with Asocación Incawasi was to create and implement a sustainable development project that would aid the organization. A group of volunteers and I elaborated on two projects: the first was a promotional video clip for the organization’s website that we filmed with the children, the second was a micro fair-trade project with the mothers. The latter project consists in BWV buying artisanal crafts that the mothers usually sell on the market at a fair-trade price and then re-selling it here in Canada at the McGill Market Cooperative with all profits going back to Asociación Incawasi. For the moment the project has proven to be efficient in raising awareness for Incawasi across borders while helping financially support both the organization and the families: we managed to raise about $200 at the first market and hope to raise the same amount or more at the next market scheduled for the end of November.
Part 2: Thesis Work in the FieldWhile in the field, I conducted some research for my topical paper in order to collect empirical evidence and case studies. I interviewed high school dropouts, students that were slowly drifting away from school (and that dropped out in the end), as well as high school graduates. I also got the chance to speak with teachers, school directors, the two psychologists, and the organization’s teacher.
Through this empirical evidence, I examined the deeper reasons for dropout that correlate with low income and opportunity-cost to push students out of school at such an advanced stage in their education. In fact, evidence from both research and case studies in Cajamarca, Peru, as well as from the literature and data on the subject led me to think that household economic resources and opportunity-cost cannot be held as the sole reasons for high school dropout. Although the need for money is a prominent cause for dropout, it is not the only one and is not always the pivotal issue for which students make their final decision.
I discovered that, when it comes to dropout, the opportunity-cost of high school should be put into perspective. In fact, it is true that schooling does represent both direct costs and an opportunity-cost for low-income families that are negatively impacted by the high benefit-cost of school for them. However, the argument according to which the income level and the opportunity-cost of schooling are the primary reasons for dropout undermines other significant variables of dropout. There are deeper causes for dropout such as the family situation, the schooling system itself, as well as the appeal that dropout may have for some.
For example, the opportunity that a high school diploma presents for low-income students should be put into perspective as well. The opportunities that school offers to students from low-income families and their returns to school are limited and unequal to the opportunities that students with higher social standing obtain. Consequently, the relative losses that high school dropout represents decreases, further increasing the weight of the variables that push students to dropout.
Therefore, not only do students decide to drop out of high school for other reasons than the cost of their education, but also, precisely, due to the limited opportunity that a high school diploma truly represents for them. Hence, opportunity-cost of high school cannot explain dropout on its own, and the limited opportunities that a high school diploma represents for low-income students decrease the relative long-term losses associated to dropout itself.