Nov 23

The Participation Cake

Thilo, my good friend and ex-colleague, is doing some long term volunteering with Amantani in Ccorca Peru (see Thilo’s blog). I have come out to join him for two weeks and to run some participation workshops for the tutors here. Through Thilo’s volunteering, Amantani workers have been thinking about how to increase young people participation in the work they do, and to think about how to involve young people more creatively in the more formal after school educational activities. Amantani and the tutors’ approach is one of learning by doing and helping the young people develop skills in self-sufficiency and independence, so the idea of workshops on participation fits well with this and the tutors were very receptive to the workshops.

Participation WorkshopRocío, a tutor who took part in the workshop, leads one of the communications classes with the older young people (aged between15 and 18 years old). She asked the young people in these sessions what activities they would like to do. The young people wrote down their ideas and then one of the group facilitated them to agree the activities and put them in order of preference.

Making puddings and cakes was at top of the group’s list. By chance Thilo and I had thought it would be nice for me to do something with the young people while I was in Ccorca and had thought cooking could be something I could do. We agreed with Rocío that we would work together on baking in the session the following week.

Ideally the young people would choose the cake recipe, and be part of buying ingredients. The young people in the group had limited experience of eating different cakes and even less of baking – however they did stipulate it should have chocolate in it; also this is Ccorca – 90 minutes’ drive from any shop that might sell the necessary ingredients. So Thilo and I undertook to buy the ingredients – and it took us over 3 hours, including taking taxis across the city to get all we needed for a chickpea chocolate cake. Even then we had to ask Rocío’s mother to cook dried chickpeas for us, as we had only found 2 tins, despite visiting numerous shops and they were more than 3 times the price they would have been in the UK.

RocíoWe had sessions with two groups of young people on the same afternoon. The communication sessions are held in the local kindergarten – so you may notice in the photographs the chairs and table are rather small. At start of the session, young people went through the recipe, checking they understood it. Spanish is their second language, their first being Quechua, and so many words, such as ‘añadir’ were new to them and they had not heard of a ‘food processor’ that the recipe said was needed. They then agreed how they would work together and who would do what.

DSC02188Whilst young people had their own tasks and responsibilities – the others were all keen to learn and gathered round to watch, for example, watching the young people who were using the electric beater or greasing the tins.












…and of course, you have to lick the bowl…..









They all did their tasks well including some young people spontaneously doing the washing up. After the sessions the young people swept and washed the floor.










Rocío took advantage of every opportunity to encourage the young people to learn new words and new concepts; she encouraged them to question things they did not know or understand.
When the cakes were in the oven we asked the young people what they thought of the session. Their reflections included:

  •  We decided what to do.
  • We did everything; the adults just helped us.
  • We all had a role and worked together – this was new to us.
  • We liked not being told what to do, but asking questions when we needed.
  • In other workshops we do not always do things; we mainly watch.
  • We had to adapt the recipe to use things we had like mashing the chickpeas (as we had no food processor).

They were also asked what they had learnt in the cooking session:

  • We learnt how to organise ourselves and it worked.
  • We learnt new words.
  • We learnt how to light and use an oven.
  • We did some maths, as we had no scales and had to work out the amounts in cups.
  • We learnt how to use an electric beater.

As the young people observed they learnt much in the session – they learnt by doing things, with the adults standing back, offering explanations, answering questions or asking questions of the young people to deepen their understanding and learning.

This cooking session – a topic chosen by the young people themselves, was an exercise in simple participation, but effectively used for young people to participate in their own education and learning.

They had the added thrill of most of the 52 children at the Amantani boarding houses saying they really enjoyed the cake they had made.

20141118_202731Jennie Fleming, November 2014


  1. Big Kirk Hallam

    A great blog – thank you. Baking a cake is a great participation metaphor. I remember voluntary sector social work students at nottingham uni basing the whole of their final assessed presentation on partnership and participation, mixing ingredients, adding a touch of baking powder, baking and of course eating.

  2. Sarah Hargreaves

    Good to hear about and see pictures of your practical participation work in Ccorca. I recommend that cake! Feeding over 50 young people sounds like a big challenge. Humbling to read of the challenges to the young people in doing such a relatively simple task. Great to read of their learning from the activity and process.

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