Many, many moons ago, I was living in a indigenous village of close to 200 people (100 dogs, 70 burros, 50 pigs, 30 goats and 1000 chickens) along the Pacific coast of southern central Peru. It was called San Vicente de Azpitia. These were thoughtful, hardworking, gentle, kind-hearted and somber people born of the coastal Andes, farming the soil of one of the driest regions on our good Earth.
The numerous children of Azpitia were part of an ancient child care system that proved to be not only nurturing and educational but also very safe. At first glance though, it seemed that Azpitian youth (ranging from ages 4 to 14) were simply running recklessly like a wild pack of dogs! They would appear here, there and everywhere, scruffy little urchins roaming the village in gangs. It seemed chaotic and dangerous. But after several months, I realized how beautifully ordered, disciplined and safe this ‘system’ was.
The children essentially spent all their days gallivanting around the village in groups of up to 25 altogether. It was a multiage organization where the little ones were looked after by the older ones who were in turn answerable to the village adults. The adults who were ultimately responsible for the children’s safety were their “tias y tios’, their aunts and uncles. As it turned out, every adult in the village fit into this category.
So as the children roamed the countryside playing games, being read to under a tree, exploring the river and the ancient irrigation canals, visiting the many farmers, doing domestic chores whenever needed, getting fed by this or that relative, they were always, always within view of a caring eye!
Safety was paramount! And yet the children of Azpitia were able to run free!
- What are the keys to safety as illustrated by this story?
- 1) There is no isolation, socially or geographically.
- 2) Every child was part of an integrated multi age structure.
- 3) There is 100% community participation!
- 4) Everything is shared, generosity abounds and somehow, there is always enough to go around (even in utterly sparse circumstances)!
- 5) Every child knew they were being looked after. There was a collective instinct for protection that extended its cover to every single life!