Tag Archives: Aldea Yanapay

Volunteering: Aldea Yanapay Comissary Project

My last article about volunteering with the Aldea Yanapy school project brought up some controversy with the organization itself, and had to be edited quite a bit.  I’m going to try and keep this one less controversial, but I still pledge honesty. And sorry, no pictures this time.  This project did not allow photographs.

For one week of my time while volunteering with the Cusco organization Aldea Yanapay, I was working with the commissary project.  Though the school’s primary mission, and the vast majority of its volunteers are working with the school, the commissary was started later in Yuri (the director’s) career.  The project is only open to people who have a good grasp on the Spanish language, which is why I had to wait a few weeks for my Spanish to improve before I could work there.  At any given time it there are about 6 volunteers working in two groups (a morning and then evening group) 6 days a week.

The project itself takes place in a s, which seemed to me to be a police station for domestic crimes.  The building itself was in a bit of a dicier part of town, about a 20 minute walk from the school.  I worked the morning shift, and would meet up with my team around 9am.  We’d walk over together, quietly chatting.  Walking there often felt like calm before the storm, because with this project you could never quite be sure what you would expect.

Though the commissary was a place for families to come who were victems of domestic violence or crimes, there was also a holding room there.  This was the room where we worked.  It was on the second floor, a locked door with hanging pictures and colorings drawn by children hanging on the outside.  As we would approach the door, little eyes and fingers would poke through the hole below the doorknob to examine us.  Eventually the “tech”, a guard assigned to help us that day, would open the door and our day would begin.

Inside the room were children ranging in age from about 7 to 17 or 18.  I had heard from other volunteers that sometimes there were only 4 or 5 children there, and other days there were up to 40.  The entire week I worked there was a pretty regular group of 15 or 20 kids.  There were three types of kids who were being held there.  Some were kids who had been convicted or accused of crimes, mostly burglary, drug charges or prostitution.  Others were kids that had been abandoned.  One of the other volunteers told me there was one little girl there before I got there who had been dropped off by her mother, who was going on vacation.  The rest of the kids were street kids who had been picked up by the police, or else had run away from home and either refused to give out or did not know the address of their parents.  All of these kids were kept together in one room, circled by ramshackle bunk beds with one window with bars on it.   There was a separate room with less bunk beds where the girls slept at night, but during the day all of the kids were kept in one room.

There was some debate among the volunteers as to whether or not this place could be referred to as a prison.  It was not an official prison, and both the director of the program, Yuri, and the guards at the location called it as “la comisería”.  But the children were not permitted to leave, had to do some menial work such as sweeping and laundry.  So I will leave it up to you to decide.  However, the circumstances inside the room were dire.  There were a few chairs, many of which were broken or crumbling, two tables, and a small closet where Yuri had stocked some art supplies.  The volunteers had a key to this room, and we were also able to lock our personal items in there since there were some cases of theft with previous volunteers.

When we arrived, just like at the school, many of the younger kids would run up to us and hug and kiss us.  Though the kids were labeled “trouble makers”, I found them to be just as polite and kinda (perhaps even kinder) than some of the kids at the Aldea Yanapay school.  Though I must admit, they could be sneaky, like all kids.  The reason more Spanish is required to work at the commissary is because the kids can be somewhat manipulative, though I never really experienced that.

Before the week began, during Yuri’s weekly meetings, the team I was working with got together to plan out some activities to do during that week.  Without the volunteers, the kids at the commissary wouldn’t have much to do.  There was a checkers-board and some broken markers and scraps of paper, but this is not enough to keep 15 sometimes wily kids busy.  So we planned out to have them do origami, make masks for carnival, etc.  The kids obviously had done stuff like this before, and some of them complained, but by the time we got into it most of the children there wanted to join in the activities.

I liked working in the mornings because three days a week we got to go to “patio”.  This was the kids only opportunity to go outside.  After arriving in the morning we would line up, taking 2 basketballs, a jump rope and a soccer ball.   The kids would all hold on to a rope, and then would be led outside by the “tech” to the patio, a large, walled in concrete soccer/basketball court.  It wasn’t much, but even concrete and sky seems like a lot when you spend most of your life inside.

Outside we would play games, and some of the kids would just run around in circles, happy to have more space in which to operate.  These days were joyous and heartbreaking at once, because after only 3 hours, we would have to move back inside.

Anyway, that was how it worked for a week.  I’m not going to offer much opinion on the program, except to say that if you find yourself in Cusco and have good Spanish skills, I recommend it.  It was true volunteering, helping out children who are in real need of contact, love and support.  You will feel rewarded.

Volunteering: Aldea Yanapay School

8 days left in Cusco and Peru before Laura and I wend our way down to Buenos Aires for 2 weeks of culture, steak and partying. So I suppose it´s time I write about perhaps the most central reason for my coming down here in the first place, which was to try my hand at international volunteering.

After months of searching online for organizations, and only finding groups that wanted me to pay $2,000 or more to come volunteer, I came upon this handy list of cheap or free volunteer organizations in South America. The organization I chose, Aldea Yanapay, seemed like the perfect set up. You can read over the website if you want to hear Yuri´s (the director) idea of what Aldea Yanapay is, but not surprisingly I found that the organization was run a little differently than what is written on its homepage. I have learned, having met many volunteers and explored several organizations since I´ve been in Peru, that it is safest to expect a certain amount of discontinuity with the way volunteer organizations profess themselves to be and the way they are actually run. Like most things that call themselves an organization, there is a lack of organization. Sometimes at Aldea things felt a little hectic, or like if you weren´t able to take charge by yourself with minimal instruction from the supervisors, you weren´t going to get anything done. However, as I said, I don´t think this is a problem specific to Aldea Yanapay, but rather a symptom common among many volunteer organizations in Peru.

I also found myself to be at some personal odds with the director the program, but regardless of my personal opinions, when you get down to it, Yuri is doing a lot of wonderful things for a lot of needy children. On top of this, Yuri was on vacation for the majority of my time here, so I don´t know him that well.

There are two organizations that I worked with, both which are funded by the Aldea Yanapay restaurant and hostel. The first was the Aldea Yanapay school, which is an after-school program for children between the ages of 5 and 13. It runs from 3pm until 7pm. The first two hours the kids are split between art, homework help, reading, games or computers. I spent my first few weeks teaching computers. Mostly the kids would just have time to have fun on the internet, playing games and such. Most of the kids don´t have computers at home, and some had to learn how to use a mouse. So needless to say, many of them were very excited to have the opportunity to play.

Ana y Vladi, siblings and adorable.

Ana y Vladi, siblings and adorable.

Sheila playing barbie games despite my protests.

Sheila playing barbie games despite my protests.

Adair, one of the more challenging chicos.

Adair, one of the more challenging chicos.

After the first two hours were over, we would all gather together in the school courtyard and listen to Yuri or Jessica, the director of the school part of the program, talk about basic rules. Then around 5:30 English classes would begin. Each class would have its own theme, such as body parts or fairy tales, and the volunteers would try and teach a few key words, depending on the age group of his or her class. Each friday there would be a show where each class would put on a little skit, dance or something more hectic abstract for their classmates and teachers.

The school itself is small, but brightly colored and neat. Supplies are lacking somewhat, most of the markers are dried out and there is only scrap paper to draw on. But most of the kids are happy despite. One of the most amazing parts of working at the school is how affectionate the students are. As soon as you walk into the school, kids leap into your arms with a loud “HOLA PROFE!” and kiss you on the cheek, which is customary greeting in Peru. If they see you in the streets during off hours, they do the same thing. I had the sense that some of the children don´t get much physical affection at home, so it feels good to hug and kiss and hold them. Here are some photos of the school space:

Looking through the door into the school.

Looking through the door into the school.

The school for the younger kids.

The school for the younger kids.

A classroom.

A classroom.

Tres hijas waiting in the courtyard for school to begin.

Tres hijas waiting in the courtyard for school to begin.

The school area for older kids, in the same building as the other one.  More classroom here.

The school area for older kids, in the same building as the other one. More classroom here.

Yuri and Jessica, directors.

Yuri and Jessica, directors.

Yuri with a seasoned volunteer, Raquel from Spain.

Yuri with a seasoned volunteer, Raquel from Spain.

My first three weeks at Aldea were still during Peru´s summer break, so there were fewer kids than normal, about 20. The older and younger kids had classes together for the first two hours, and then were split into 5 different groups for English classes. I worked with the two youngest groups, and though I enjoyed them immensely, I found much of my time was spent trying to corral, calm and quiet them.

After taking some time off and working at the other program run by Aldea Yanapay at a police commisary with children who were being held (which I will write about later), I returned to the school for my final week of volunteering, last week. School was back in session, and the number of students at the school had almost doubled. Since my Spanish had improved and I had been around for a while, I was promoted in a sense. I was moved to the older school, where I ran the games class by myself and formed my own lesson plans for English classes. This is when I really started to fall in love with Aldea Yanapay. I loved having conversation with the 9-13 year olds, listening to their smart and funny ideas. They were also so affectionate, and it felt good to see how much they admired me. When it came to my last day, all of my students were begging me not to leave. It may sound cocky, but it brought tears to my eyes. Some of my older students:

Renoldo, my maine man.  He hardly ever left my side.

Renoldo, my main man. He hardly ever left my side.

This little guy does not know how to play chess.

This little guy does not know how to play chess.

Everybody have fun!  About half of the kids I was managing that day.

Everybody have fun! About half of the kids I was managing that day.

Joe was very timid, and spent most of his time watching me and the other kids play.  He tugged at my heartstrings enough to get me daydreaming about adoption.

Joe was very timid, and spent most of his time watching me and the other kids play. He tugged at my heartstrings enough to get me daydreaming about adoption.

Twister es muy popular.

Twister es muy popular.

My lovely clase on our last day together.

My lovely clase on our last day together.

That pretty much sums up the school. Next I´ll write about the more challenging, both mentally, physically and emotionally, week I spent volunteering at the commisarry. Chao for now!

Picture Post: The Hostel, Part II

Let´s continue the tour of the strange place in which I live.  Now we go on to the courtyard, the central hang out for residents during the day.

My twofavorite hammocks slumbering in the background.

My two favorite hammocks slumbering in the background.

The Courtyard from above.

The Courtyard from above.

Four rarely empty chairs.

Four rarely empty chairs.

The kitchen sink is outside!  Sometimes the rain does the dishes.

The kitchen sink is outside! Sometimes the rain does the dishes.

A popular game in Peru called Sapo.  Throw the gold coins into the frog´s mouth.

A popular game in Peru called Sapo. Throw the gold coins into the frog´s mouth.

If I call you, it´s from this box.  The top half of the door is shut, so you have to almost crawl into it.

If I call you, it´s from this box. The top half of the door is shut, so you have to almost crawl into it.

The bathroom off the courtyard that I hardly use.

The bathroom off the courtyard that I hardly use.

The patron clown that watches over all of us in the courtyard.

The patron clown that watches over all of us in the courtyard.

Now we go into the communal kitchen.  Lots of cooking happens here after volunteering, and most of it involves combined efforts, combined foods, and combining meals.

Part of the reason communal cooking is so popular is because this is the only cooking device.  The flames can go up to a foot high, and 3 people have singed their hair.

Part of the reason communal cooking is so popular is because this is the only cooking device. The flames can go up to a foot high, and 3 people have singed their hair.

The dining area.

The dining area.

The stickers don´t lie.

The stickers don´t lie.

For the end of the second part of this picture dump, a little surprise when I first came into the computer room.

Ah!

Ah!

 

That´s all for now.  The last installment coming up very soon.

Picture Post: The Hostel, Part I

The day after my first lonely night in Cusco, I walked up to the hostel and met some of the other volunteers.  Immediately I decided that I needed to move there, due to the extreme, and this is a bit hippie-ish to say, but I´m a little bit hippie-ish, good vibrations I felt there.

Moving out of Señora Aldé´s home was easy as pie.  She made no fuss about it, and I got the feeling this kind of thing happens a lot.  In fact, the girl that moved into my room after I moved out already lives in the Hostel.

The Hostal is a very strange and wonderful place, which are my only two requirements for living situations.  Rather than try to explain it with words, I thought I´d do a little photo essay on why I love it here.  Enjoy.

Bienvenido

Bienvenido

Looking back at the entrance from the courtyard.

Looking back at the entrance from the courtyard.

My New Bed

My New Bed

These next few pictures are chosen to give you a feel to what it´s like to live in my room, one of the only singles in the hostel.  Each room at this place has a weird theme, such as Tienda De Magica (Magic Store) or Escuela (School).  My room is Pintor (Painter), the theme of which is reflected in the strange and unsettling art on the walls.

Jub the Cat

Jub the Cat

That´s actually 4 questions.

That´s actually 4 questions.

This is right about my bed.

This is right above my bed.

Es verdad.

Es verdad.

When I sit up in bed we make eye contact.

When I sit up in bed we make eye contact.

Me washing my clothes in my room.

Me washing my clothes in my room.

My room is the one all the way down with the brown sign.

My room is the one all the way down with the brown sign.

Now let´s go to the bathroom.

There are 2.5 bathrooms in the hostal.  A total of 4 toilets and 4 showers.  This is the one closest to my room.

There are 2.5 bathrooms in the hostal. A total of 4 toilets and 4 showers. This is the one closest to my room.

Come shower with me...

Come shower with me...

All three knobs and the red lever at the top are used in a mind boggling combination that takes an average of 5 minutes to complete, if there is hot water.

All three knobs and the red lever at the top are used in a mind boggling combination that takes an average of 5 minutes to complete, if there is hot water.

Please poop here.  No toilet paper can be flushed.

Please poop here. No toilet paper can be flushed.

 

Coming later:  the courtyard, the kitchen, the dog.

Nervioso Nuevo

To be honest, the flight to Cusco from Lima, though gorgeous, was not as pleasurable for me as it might have been.  Worn down from lack of sleep, massive amounts of travel in miniscule amounts of time, and the inherent second guessing that comes with spending a lot of time alone and quiet, I was nervous as we landed at the airport.  I began to wonder why I was doing what I was doing with my life, and suspecting that I had made a horrible mistake.

Much of my concern was centered around this problematic thought:  “I will not be able to make friends here.” My own mind took me down lonely alleyways, where the only living creatures I would be able to associate with would be the dogs that run in packs all over this city.  I would like to say that this feeling vanished once I hit the ground and ventured out into the narrow streets of the place where I had been trying to return for so many yeras.  However, it persisted.  

When I got off the plane I was picked up by the secretary of the volunteer organization, a kind woman who always is wearing a coat named Rocio.  Rocio took me directly to the house where I would be staying. 

Aldea Yanapay, the organization, runs a hostel where most of the volunteers stay.  However, on their webiste they present the option of  living in the home with the mother of Yuri, the man who runs the organzation.  The site touts this as a more authentic option, because the volunteers would live with a Peruvian family and also have the opportunity to eat three typical Peruvian meals a day.  Of course this option interested me, as one of my goals coming down here was to better understand and submerge myself in Cusqueñan culture. 

 

The blue door on the left is the entrance to the house.

The blue door on the left is the entrance to the house.

The door opens into a courtyard where these three silly dogs live.

The door opens into a courtyard where these three silly dogs live.

más perritos

más perritos

The courtyard leads into this garden, all of the flowers planted by Señora Aldé

The courtyard leads into this garden, all of the flowers planted by Señora Aldé

The same view at night, with the moutain lit up.

The same view at night, with the moutain lit up.

When I arrived at the house, bedraggled, starving and sleep deprived, I was greeted warmly by Aldé, the mother of Yuri and the matron of the house.  She was a short, kindly woman who didn´t speak a lick of English.  I also was introduced to Lydia, the housekeeper, who cooked all the meals and cleaned the house, while pregnant.  And I met her daughter, Maria, who is one of the students at the school where I volunteer.  I ate a meal with Rocio and Aldé, (Lydia and Maria ate in the kitchen), the whole time my over-tired brain working double time to recall Spanish words I hadn´t thought of since 8th grade.   

Though I could have begun volunteering that day, Señora Aldé, having found out that I slept in the Lima airport, demanded that I take a long nap.  I didn´t argue.  I slept that day until 1pm, and then returned downstairs for another meal. 

My bed is the messy one.

My bed is the messy one.

The view out my bedroom window.  All mountains are bigger than they appear.

The view out my bedroom window. All mountains are bigger than they appear.

Choclo, the big kerneled corn that is typical to Peru, as served by Señora Aldé

Choclo, the big kerneled corn that is typical to Peru, as served by Señora Aldé

After my meal, Senora Aldé showed me to the showers upstairs, where I was introduced to the puzzlework that is Peruvian shower systems.  I also discovered this:

The last ingredient is Placenta Extract!

The last ingredient is Placenta Extract!

I was still depressed tired in the evening, so I only ventured out into the city to call my parents and let them know I was safe, and then returned home to sleep some more.

Over supper, I was surprised to find out that there were no other volunteers in the house.  My first night in Cusco, laying in my bed, I was overcome with despair.  Señora Aldé was a lovely woman, and the food that Lydia cooked me was delicious.  But how would I surive socially alongside a middle aged woman who didn´t speak English and an otherwise empty house?  As I´ve said, this was problematic thinking that often overtakes me when I´m in a new situation.  It is ludicrous to panic before the wheels start turning, and yet that´s what I did.

This was all over a week ago, and now I am happier than I ever have been in my life.  I´ll talk about the changes I made to get this way soon, but for now, I´m going to go watch the thunderstorm pass over the mountains from my balcony.  Chao!