I wasn’t able to keep my blog going in real-time whilst I was volunteering, so here’s a round‑up of my last six weeks in Peru.
When I reached the half-way point of my 12-week stay, I was at a crossroads. The microfinance project I went to South America to volunteer on hadn’t worked out, so I had to decide how to make the most of the rest of my time in Cusco. Fortunately, I wasn’t short of options.
In my previous posts, I mentioned that I’d met an Australian guy called Steve who had decided to embark on a very ambitious and exciting project in Cusco. When he first told me about it, I didn’t hesitate to say “let me know how I can help!” and from that moment I was part of the project that has come to be called Home for Hope.
The idea was born within a week of me introducing Steve to the existing home, Juana de Aza, where I had been volunteering. It wasn’t just the experience of spending time in the Hogar, but also learning about the extent of the problem in Peru (and Cusco in particular).
To start with, we tried to work out the details and whether we could pull this off. Juana de Aza was our starting point, but we want to do it better. The more we thought about it, the bigger the task became, but one thing in particular gave us belief and that was the overwhelmingly positive reaction we got from everyone we mentioned it to – several people even offered to support the project straight away.
Hope for Hope is an NGO that will operate in Cusco, Peru. Its mission is to provide a safe home for teenage mothers who have been victims of abuse, where they can raise their children, rehabilitate, receive an education and develop skills.
Home for Hope will support these young mothers and their children as they transcend past traumas and embrace bright futures. The girls will range from 13 to 18 years old, each having fallen pregnant with a child while still a child themselves.
Up to 10 girls and their children will be taken in by Home for Hope at any one time and, with the help of the local community and donations from abroad, they will have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and forge new futures for themselves.
In my last few weeks in Cusco, we were able to complete a lot of the paperwork to become a registered NGO in Peru and I am actually on the Board of Directors as Vice-President. I addition to Steve as President, the other Board members are Maria and Laura (my Spanish teachers in Cusco) and Ursula (a local lawyer who specialises in cases involving domestic abuse). We also have three committed team members who each volunteered in Cusco but weren’t in Peru to sign the paperwork: Loretta from Australia, Michaela from England and Shalomy from New Zealand.
This project is probably the biggest challenge I’ve taken on in my life and I/we will need as much support as possible. Fundraising is absolutely key to the success of Home for Hope, so you can expect to hear plenty more from us – especially once our website is up and running later this month.
Working with Steve took up a fair amount of my time, but I still volunteered on a number of other projects:
Juana de Aza
I continued to help out at the existing Hogar whenever I could and I continued to enjoy my time there. When I returned with my sister in the week before Christmas, we visited Juana de Aza and the reactions of the children were really nice. Once inside we noticed that there were actually lots of people, as well as boxes full of stuff everywhere. It turns out that they had actually been featured in the local press that week and received a huge number of donations as a result.
Although Home for Hope was the most important thing I worked on, I did actually spend a couple of weeks working on another project in November. In a Cusco café at 9pm on a Thursday night, I was unexpectedly swept up into the world of Audrey Evans and it was virtually non-stop for the next two weeks. As an example, that first evening Audrey took me and Paula from the café to meet with a biology professor/entrepreneur at his house and we talked about the project into the early hours.
Audrey has big plans in Cusco and, as she’s been part of the community for the last decade, she’s very well-connected. I quickly learned that there was an important upcoming event: the inauguration of the Mercado Tipico de San Blas as an organic market (featuring the mayor and local press).
My role was never particularly well-defined, but I chipped in where I could and did my best to help make that event a success. Paula and I tagged along to numerous meeting all over the city, with government officials, local business people and even the head chef from one of Cusco’s most exclusive hotels. Audrey’s no stranger to dealing with the media and she also made TV and radio appearances to promote the event.
We were working right up until the last minute to get everything ready – I was at the printers for our banners until 11:30pm the night before and the inside of the market was still being painted the next morning. Nonetheless, the event went well after the mayor eventually turned up and hopefully it is the start of great things to come for Audrey, the organic markets and much more.
The other project I was volunteered on was with Genesis, the microfinance organisation, but although it was a much better fit than Arariwa, I wasn’t able to get stuck into anything meaningful as the other projects required more of my time. It was still a worthwhile experience as I made some good friends and I think I impressed on the one occasion I joined the guys to play football.
In addition to playing football, I discovered an athletics track that only cost 2 soles (50p) a time, so I tried to get down there in the mornings when I could. I also left my mark on Cusco by setting some Strava records on the streets.
At the end of October, Mila welcomed a group of a dozen Australian biology students. They were due to spend a month in the Amazon, but their induction was in Cusco and Mila asked if I could come along to support her. In addition to the free meals, it was actually pretty interesting as I joined them at the local university to learn about the history of Cusco as well as the jungle and what they could expect from their project.
The last touristy thing on my list was to visit the salineras in Maras and I was accompanied by my friend Lizie. We got a great day for it and not only did we enjoy seeing the unique salt terraces, we walked through the beautiful and peaceful Sacred Valley.
We got the bus back to Cusco from Urubamba via the scenic route and the driver took the opportunity to ask me whether or not I was interested in buying a 70-odd acre plot of land outside the city – the main selling point being that it had a waterfall!
The long bus journey meant I was late to the stadium for Cienciano’s final game of the season. Unfortunately their previous results meant that they started the day in 4th place, but there was still a small chance of winning the league so crowd was really up for the game. Despite beating the league leaders on the day (making it 3 wins out of 3 when I attended), they finished the season 3rd and there was an air of what-could -have-been after the game.
Finally – and I know you’ve all been wondering – my Spanish didn’t improve as much as I’d hoped. I wasn’t able to have as many lessons as I would have liked, but mainly it was that I didn’t put in the time outside of the classroom. That just means there’s more work for me to do back home – no giving up now!