Helping Students Learn in Peru

July 19, 2018

Many students in the Andes region of Peru walk for miles to school each day. Due to the elevation and mountainous terrain, the weather is often cold and rainy. In this rural area, many families live in poverty, making it difficult for them to purchase coats or other warm clothing for their children.


The "Ponchila" is born

Enter Banmédica, a private health benefits and care provider in Latin America that joined UnitedHealth Group in January 2018. The two companies share a commitment to improving the health and wellness of the people and communities they serve. Banmédica's insurance division in Peru, Pacífico, created a successful social responsibility program, Yo Fui Botella ("I Was a Bottle"), that turns recycled bottles into plastic fiber to create various products, including blankets.

Pacífico joined forces with other companies, including the Coca-Cola Company and a leading retailer in Peru, to discuss how Yo Fui Botella could help local schoolchildren, and that's how the ponchila was born. The alliance created a backpack that incorporates a poncho, enabling students to stay warm and comfortable while carrying their books to school.  The name "ponchila" combines two Spanish words: poncho plus mochila, meaning backpack. Each ponchila is made of 80 recycled plastic bottles and is designed for kids ages 6 to 10.


The first phase of La Ponchila project, which began in December 2016, was wildly successful; more than 20 other companies joined the effort and donated their bottles. Together, they recycled more than 480,000 plastic bottles, creating 6,000 ponchilas to give to children in the areas of Puno, Cusco and Arequipa, Peru.

"I live in Concepción Cangallo … we only have a nursery there, so I have to walk every day to my school in Paccha," explains Isa, age 9, who received a ponchila. "When the weather is nice I don't mind the walk. But when it's really cold, sometimes it takes me an hour to get to class. The ice makes the walk harder."

The second phase of the project kicked off in December 2017, with Peru's Ministry of the Environment joining the cause. In March 2018, at the start of Peru's school year, 7,000 more ponchilas were donated to students in Ayacucho, Huancavelica and Apurimac, Peru.

"This means a lot for the children. When the weather is bad, sometimes we only have four or five kids at a time in class," said Ana, a teacher in San Mateo de Jatumpampa, Peru. "Most of them have to walk far to get here and a ponchila will help them stay warm. We are very grateful for this."