Tag Archives: Volunteering

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!