Today we take you behind the vision of Hannah Rae, founder and director of Willka Yachay. Hannah bridges two worlds between her offerings to the world and the work that she so beautifully does with the indigenous Q’eros communities in Peru. We feel Hannah’s work weaves together art, empowers culture, and preserves heritage. Having led many expeditions across the high Andes and Sacred Valley of Peru, Hannah is currently offering Despacho Ceremonies in Los Angeles as well as online.
We started following Hannah’s journey a few years ago and found a deep connection within her journey and relationship with the Q’eros community. We wanted to bring this story to our Journal as we are so busy moving forward all the time, that sometimes we forget our true nature, the one that connects us to Mother Earth. Hope you enjoy getting to know more about this Peruvian community and the people who hold special knowledge and live in full connection to the natural world.
Explore more of Hannah Rae’s work at www.hannahrae.com
We love the work that you do, can you tell us about the story behind Willka Yachay? Where did your connection to Peru and the indigenous culture come from?
Eleven years ago when I was twenty years old I traveled to Peru and had the honor of living with the Q’eros people for three weeks. Q’eros is a special place! The Q’eros people are known as the last Inkan community and as the wisdom keepers of the Andes. They live at 14,000 feet in remote villages outside of Cusco, Peru. I had seen a documentary about the Q’eros people’s ancestral music and I immediately felt in my heart… I have to go there. I fell in love with the mountains, with the children, with the exposure to the elements, and with the rawness of life that isn’t hidden in Q’eros. Traveling to Q’eros for the first time felt like coming home.
The evening before I departed Q’eros, I asked villagers how I could support them after they had been so welcoming and generous with me. They talked about their need for a primary school. I had never done any kind of fundraising but I decided to take a leap and find a way to support them. Less than a year later we opened that primary school and a year after that I created the non-profit organization Willka Yachay, Quechua for sacred wisdom, to continue our work in Q’eros villages. In the past eleven years we’ve opened more schools, including the first ever high school, and focused on solar energy, mother and baby care, cultural preservation, food security, and infrastructure projects. About eight years ago we started to offer expeditions like our Earthkeeper Training where people come to learn directly from Q’eros medicine men and women. Our main commitment remains to the Q’eros children and their wellbeing.
Here at Pampa we explore art, preserve heritage, and empower culture and feel that you share a similar purpose, how do you feel each of these resonate with the work that you do?
So much! Community empowerment and cultural preservation are at the heart of why we do our work. When I first arrived to Q’eros, many families were migrating from the mountains to Cusco city so that their children could go to school. The schools we opened with the community enable families to stay in their villages, and to practice and preserve their traditions there. We focus on education, health care and other basic human rights as fundamental to cultural survival.
I believe the Q’eros people have much to teach us about cultivating a more gentle, reciprocal relationship with our natural world. In helping to safeguard their culture we are ensuring that their wisdom and teachings can go on and be shared around the world. We see this time as a time of interweaving… the Q’eros have begun to develop their villages holistically with some modern technologies while many of us in overdeveloped communities are looking toward ancient traditions to ground us. I believe that we can learn so much from each other. This is Ayni – the spirit of reciprocity.
How would you describe the relationship between today’s modern culture and the Q’eros and in what ways can we learn from them?
The Q’eros people express love and gratitude every day, even in small ways like offering a few drops of their tea on the ground to Pachamama, Mother Earth, before taking a sip themselves. Although the Q’eros endure a physically tough existence and live in harsh conditions, they are rich in connection and community.
I see the Q’eros as a model of a symbiotic relationship with nature. The Q’eros have a deep connection to the earth… sleeping close to the ground, sitting on the earth, cooking over the fire, meditating through weaving, grieving in community, singing together, walking barefoot every day, clearing heavy energy and giving it back to Pachamama for her nourishment…
We can learn from the Q’eros. We can get our feet on the ground, connect with our loved ones, sit together without screens. From there we can see beauty unfold.
We can each find our own way to care for the Earth. We can learn from indigenous communities… we can listen to their stories and understand their ways.
In 3 words how would you describe the experience of a Despacho ceremony…
Dreaming into Being.
The despacho is all about stepping into your highest self and reclaiming your inner power. It’s a moment where you step outside of time to honour Mother Earth and your soul’s essence.
Tell us about the ceremonies and personal offerings that you are now holding online…
I am very grateful to my teachers in Q’eros who have passed down and taught me their healing traditions and ceremonies. I offer energy healing, spiritual counseling and ceremony for individuals and partners. I love helping men and women step into alignment with their soul’s purpose. I really miss working with people in person but I’ve been amazed by how profound ceremony over the internet can be! Every now and then I’ll offer a community despacho ceremony, free for everyone to join, where I guide everyone in making their own despacho offering. Next one coming this spring!
How has your work been a catalyst to provide support and care to the Q’eros people during this time of COVID?
Since March, lockdowns have waxed and waned in Peru. During these times the Q’eros villagers haven’t been able to leave their mountain homes. They are without access to any food markets or shops. Thanks to donations from our supporters, we’ve been able to deliver supplies to Q’eros families safely. We can’t wait to host more Earthkeeper trainings and retreats in Peru which provide needed employment for the men and women. Until then, we will be supporting them as they shelter in their community.
What is on the horizon for Willka Yachay…
We have a wonderful partnership with the photographer Jimmy Nelson and his foundation. Together we are working on a few projects including building a museum and cultural center in Q’eros! This spring we plan to begin construction on the ceremonial terrace. We hope to gather in person soon with visitors from around the world. The Q’eros live in their hearts and we meet in that heart space. We share the love of family and everything we accomplish together flows from that.
Join Hannah on her next Earthkeeper training coming late 2021 and 2022 as well as visit her website for her upcoming ceremonies.