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Round Square Conference of the Americas

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By Abi Bowering On April 6, seven students and two teachers travelled to Lima, Peru for the Round Square Regional Conference of the Americas 2019, hosted by Markham College and San Silvestre School. The next 10 days were filled to the brim with learning, culture, and fun! After arriving in Lima around 3:00am, a mere five hours of sleep later the team was headed back to the airport to catch a flight to Cusco. Through a program called Envoys, we met up with several other Canadian and American schools to enjoy a pre-conference tour of some of the wonders of Peru. We got to experience lush landscapes and learn about the history of Peru. It’s hard to believe that in only two days, we were able to visit five different sites. The first day we learned about the traditional art of weaving in Chinchero, walked amidst Incan terraces at Moray, and visited the salt mines that were created by the civilization that preceded the Incas. The next day, we visited the amazing Machu Picchu by way of the Peru Rail. On the first official conference day, we met over a hundred people from schools around the Americas. The GNS flag was carried by Ella into the Opening Ceremonies, where we were inspired by keynote speakers. As soon as we had settled in at our homestays, it was time to head off again on our adventure and service component of the trip. We started out in Lunahuana, where we participated in activities like mountain biking, rock climbing and rafting, which gave us the opportunity to test the limits of our comfort zones – in some cases stepping out of them. The next two days were spent in Chincha, a town a few hours away from Lima that had been hit by an earthquake in 2009. Much of the town is still struggling to recover, so we had the pleasure of helping to rebuild the community, collectively building 12 houses. It was really moving to be with the children and the families that needed homes and to help them build. Seeing how happy people can be even when they do not have a lot of material things shifted our perspectives. Handing over the keys of the house we had all worked hard for was a beautiful moment. The last three days were a whirlwind. At the local orphanage, we spent a day building a healing garden and learning its history. A healing garden engages all five of your senses and brings you closer to nature. This day was a personal highlight for me, including the dance party we had at lunch when the South Americans taught us how to salsa. However, I want to mention the irony of the amount of single use plastic that was consumed, even on this environmental day. We also spent a day getting to know Peruvian culture better by learning how to do traditional dances, drumming, about the Nazca civilizations, and of course all the types of potato. There was a Model UN activity for us to exercise our democratic skills as well. On the very last day we heard two more keynote speakers at Closing Ceremonies before struggling to say goodbye to our new friendships. Being in Peru was a culture shock in so many ways, like the language and food, but arguably the largest was the way the environment around us was treated. We saw parched landscapes due to climate change and copious amounts of trash in the streets. This reminded me yet again that every action has an impact on the world. Do your best to reduce your plastic consumption, to not leave your car running, and to watch your water usage. Everyone can play a role in keeping Victoria as beautiful as it is.