Rotary exchange student shares what it’s like to live on Amantani Island

​No electricity, roads, cars, technology, teen would have become a peasant farmer

Community May 10, 2018 by Julie Slack Burlington Post
Abraham Noe Yanarico Borda is a Rotary Youth Exchange student from Amantani Island on Lake Titicaca in Puno, Peru. He told the Rotary Club of Burlington Central about his time in Canada, and shared what it's like in his home on Lake Titicaca. He's been here since last August and returns to Peru in July. He's pictured with one of his host families Kimberly Ingram and Brent Bily. - Julie Slack/Metroland



 A year ago, Abraham Yanarico Borda didn’t know how to brush his teeth or where Canada was.

Thursday morning he shared a Google map of his family’s homeland on Amantani Island, on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca during the Rotary Club of Burlington Central’s weekly meeting.

Abraham is a 16-year-old Rotary exchange student who’s been living with host families in Burlington since last August. It’s an experience that’s totally changed his life.

He said that before he came to Canada he lived with his family, farmers who were poor and grew potatoes, barley, beans, corn, quinoa and more. He was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps and his grandfather before him: who had been a peon.
What you don’t know, you don’t know. Abraham Yanarico Borda

Abraham's time in Canada changed all that. Now he wants to become a civil engineer.

Since he arrived he’s learned how to skate, swim, overcome fears, speak English, blow out birthday candles on his 16th birthday cake, and how to start a car. He celebrated Christmas for the first time, putting a star on the top of a large decorated tree. He also decorated a gingerbread house.

He’s also enjoyed ice cream for the first time.

All these firsts, because his island has no electricity, no internet, no televisions, radio, cellphones, roads or cars.
 “What you don’t know, you don’t know,” he said, recalling how frightened he was when the airplane was about to take off.

He misses his parents, an older brother, and his friends.

At home, he says the family all sleeps in the same room together on the floor.

“Did you know there are over 4,000 varieties of potatoes in Peru,” he said, noting his parents grow many of those varieties.
A typical day for him sees him get up at 4 a.m. to help his family with the farm. They have a big breakfast at 7 a.m. — soup with everything mixed together and lots of salt.

He goes to school from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Once he gets home he’s back to work, collecting water or washing clothes in the lake. At 8 p.m. they have a light dinner.

“How did we wash our teeth you ask? Three times a week, in the evening, you pee in a cup add some salt and gargle 10 seconds,” he said. "It's true."

He lives in a community called Pueblo; there are 800 families in 10 communities — or 4,000 people total. It is 4,000 metres above sea level, so many people have a hard time adjusting to the altitude.

They get their water from a spring, and don’t swim in the lake because it’s too cold.

“We live with what the Earth provides us,” he said, adding he didn’t wear the traditional dress pants and shirt that he would normally wear, because it is made from sheep’s wool and it was too heavy for his suitcase to bring to Canada.

The language his village speaks is Quechua, but it is only an oral language.

“The older people can’t write or read it, just speak.”

He also learned to speak Spanish.

His story with Rotary began when the president of Rotary Lima came to his school in Amantani. He spoke to them about the youth exchange program.

“I had never imagined going anywhere,” he said. “I listened and I thought to myself, ‘I want to participate in an exchange.’”
So did the entire class when the president asked who would like to do so.

The director of his school chose Abraham to represent his town as an ambassador of goodwill.

“It was an honour for me and my family to be a part of Rotary,” he said.

“A few years ago, it seemed I was destined for the same future as my parents and my grandparents,” he said. “This future did not include an education and meant being a peasant farmer and living in poverty far from any possibility of changing my life.

“But from one moment to another my destiny changed. They called me to the office (at school) and told me Rotary had chosen me to go on the exchange to another country, called Canada. I’d never even heard of it.”

His exchange began in May 2017, when he spent three months in Lima preparing for his exchange to Canada. The first thing he learned about was electricity. They also taught him to use cutlery; in Amantani they eat with their hands. He learned to use appliances like a microwave, a washing machine, a computer and email.

“I learned how the bathroom works and how to shower with hot water,” he said, adding, “it felt soooo good.”

Right now, he is in Grade 11 at Central High School, where he has made many friends. He has a Presto card and has learned to travel on the GO Train. He takes courses like math, English, physics and culture.

He said the people he’s met and all his host families have treated him like a son.

“They spoke to me with love as if they had known me all my life,” he said. “My life and that of my family, changed when Rotary came to my island.”

Now, he adds he wakes up at 6:45 a.m. for school and sleeps until 10 a.m. on weekends.

When he returns to Amantani, he will finish high school and teach his schoolmates what he has learned.


Julie Slack

by Julie Slack

Julie Slack is a reporter with the Milton Canadian Champion.


Here is the link to the story in InsideHalton.com