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.
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:
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:
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!