Tag Archives: Niños

Cusco Round Up

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.

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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

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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.


Helping Audrey

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.

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Everything else

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.

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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.

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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!

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Bolivia, Week Five

After four completed weeks, I’d hit the half way point and was settling into a routine – nine sessions a week over three projects – but all that was about to change.

New arrivals

First off, we welcomed two more volunteers to make a total of five. Malte joined us from Hamburg and Lizzie (from Sale!) returned to work with UpClose after spending several months here in 2012.

Telegraph article

Monday is normally my day off, but after a weekend of procrastinating I still had an English lesson to plan. But even that had to take a back seat after I received this email from Kaya (the volunteering organisation who arranged my trip).

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I quite enjoyed answering the Telegraph’s questions – finally writing down what I’d told dozens of people over the last few months. A few days later, I learned that they ran the piece in the online edition (here), but I’ve also posted my full response on my blog (here).

Teaching English

Aside from my unexpected cameo in the national press, the English classes dominated my week. Although Justa assured me that nowhere near 50 students would show up, I wasn’t so sure (hope for the best, plan for the worst as Jack Reacher would say). But, as ever, Justa was right and we only had seven. The lesson was mainly for me to gauge the students’ level to plan future lessons and I found that all of them were beginners or even complete newcomers.


Teaching on Tuesday/Thursday means I won’t be at the Children’s Centre on those days, restricting my attendance to just Wednesday morning. This week, however, it was agreed I could miss that session as well, so that I could plan not just my next English lesson, but my next series of lessons. I was fairly happy with my progress until I found out I’d be flying solo for the next two – it was time to start scripting instructions!

Thankfully my preparation for Thursday’s class paid off. I had 11 students this time and it went well, even when I introduced a game of 21’s (the non-drinking version).

Albergue

We made flags to celebrate El Día de la Bandera and did origami in the classroom sessions, but this week’s highlight came on Wednesday. We played a game that I first played a few years ago at a Higgi family get-together. I don’t know if it has a name, but the children took it in turns (randomly, based on the roll of a dice) to dress up in a huge jumper, scarf, hat and gloves and then use a knife and fork to cut pieces from a bar of chocolate against the clock. It probably sounds a bit daft, but the children really enjoyed it!


After that we exploded more volcanoes – I think we broke our previous record and got the eruption about 12 feet in the air!

Good food!

On Wednesday evening, Laura, Constança and I had the pleasure of accepting a dinner invitation at the house of one of the Porvenir families. Their daughter has provided me with some of my favourite moments of my trip (eg the sack race from week two) and the parents are incredibly nice people. To our delight, we also discovered that they’re pretty handy in the kitchen and I enjoyed the best meal I’ve had in a long time (I had fourths). We had a very enjoyable night – thanks again Raul and Fabiola!

Thursday was party night in Jupapina, but it was also tinged with sadness as it was Laura’s despedida. Everyone contributed some food apart from me (beer, wine, coke and lemonade instead) and we had a nice little feast. The guest of honour finished it off in style with a delicious chocolate cake.

And that nearly brings the blog up to date. After a relatively uneventful Friday session at Porvenir, I packed a bag and went into La Paz to catch the overnight bus that I’ve typed all this on. My next blog will hopefully have lots of pictures from the Salt Flats!

Bolivia, Week Four

My fourth week started with a Monday morning Spanish lesson and it seems as though I tricked Sergio in our first lesson, because he came back armed with books and music that were far too advanced for me!

Volcanoes in the Albergue

The big day finally arrived; after two weeks of making, fixing, painting and decorating volcanoes, it was time for them to erupt. I was nervous that it wouldn’t work or impress the children as we hadn’t done that much testing, but I needn’t have worried. The first collective “woooow” as the vinegar and bicarb soda mixture spewed upwards was a joy to my ears.

They were still just as attentive after an hour, but unfortunately we were running out of ingredients. I made sure the last one was the most explosive and the children scattered as it sprayed all around. More volcanoes next week!

At this point I’d like to add a photo or video, but the Albergue has very strict and very sensible rules to protect the children’s privacy, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they were very excited. Here’s one of a volcano though: 

In the two classroom sessions, we made musical instruments, such as maracas (decorated toilet rolls with rice inside), tambourines/panderetas (plates with bells) and guitars (half a bottle with elastic bands). Very creative. 

Children’s Centre

I was in the “babies’ room” for the first time (I think their toddling skills should allow them to bear the name). Every day is a learning experience for me, especially with a different age group. There are lots of toys and balls to keep them entertained, but some of them only want what another child has, which means that I spent most of my time getting in between scrapping toddlers. Lifting them in the air seems to be a guaranteed winner at the nursery, but again, if you do it for one…

The next day I was with the pre-infant class, who 2-3 years old. They can do most things themselves, but often choose not to. The tía in the class is new and left me with eight children for about ten minutes – when she came back they were climbing all over me, each trying to get me to read the book they had chosen.

For our morning activity (with two classes on Tues/Wed), we made tambourines and sang songs (los pollitos dicen) – right up my street.

For Thursday I was in the kitchen and helped prepare lasagne (washing up is helping, right?) It was easily the best meal at the nursery so far and I was disappointed not to get seconds. On the same day, Constança started at the zoo and she “painted piñatas for a spider monkey’s birthday” – such a great sentence.

Teaching English

We had our weekly planning meeting on Friday morning and the headline for me was that I would be teaching English twice a week. On one hand, I was happy to be able to put my CELTA training into action, but it was still daunting. Partly because I didn’t know what to expect, but also because of the preparation involved, which is very different than for less academic and more playful sessions. Justa put me at ease by telling me about previous classes and saying that she would be present for the first lesson. That went out of the window when she found out later the same day that more than 50 students had signed up!

Porvenir

We spent the afternoon at Porvenir and had a typically quiet Friday session. One of the children, Zaira, likes to play with the soft balls, particularly the ones that she sees the other children playing with. When I reached out for her to pass me a ball, she simply sat down in my outstretched hand, much to Constança’s amusement!


Saturday’s session at Porvenir was probably the most tiring yet. The most energetic children were there early and kept me busy, before everyone joined in with some organised games and some yoga.

The next day I was at Porvenir on my own as Laura and Constança had gone to Lake Titicaca. I really enjoy spending time at Porvenir, but after this session I was really tired. A really lovely thing happened when a parent invited the three volunteers for dinner at their home (knowing that Laura would soon be leaving).

The afternoons were supposed to be for planning my first English lesson, but I mostly spent them in bed or watching the Olympics. We all went out to the local pizza place on Saturday night and I got to know the new work-aways, Helene and Alison from Scotland.

Bolivia, Week Three

This week was all about coming and goings… and the zoo!

Comings
This week started with the arrival of some more volunteers, which means I’m no longer the new guy.

Australian couple, Ani and Bill, joined us on Monday – they’re backpacking for a few months and decided to offer their services for a week after seeing an Up Close advert in their hostel in La Paz. I think it’s an amazing way to break up a long trip and experience something other than the typical tourist spots.

The next day, Constança arrived from Coimbra in Portugal (via Madrid and Miami), but it wasn’t all plane sailing. Given the delays and the fact that her luggage didn’t arrive for more than 48 hours, Constança dealt with everything amazingly well – including the altitude, time difference and being thrown straight into working at the schools!

Volunteering

Having more volunteers will open up extra projects, but for this week it just lightened the load and gave me a couple of sessions off.

I was only in the Children’s Centre once this week; helping in the kitchen for the fifth time out of six. The nursery was happy to welcome the new recruits and they were happy to pitch in by helping the Tías in they classrooms and Maxima in the kitchen.

The Albergue, on the other hand, is not a place for any more comings/goings than necessary, so Ani and Bill didn’t join us here in the afternoons (as they are only volunteering for one week).

On Tuesday and Thursday, the niñas and niños painted their volcanoes (which were mostly unrecognisable from the ones they made the previous week, because we took them home and fixed/re-made them over the weekend!) Next week, we’ll hopefully be getting them to erupt!

On Wednesday, we attempted to play dodgeball with all the children, but there were just too many rules to make it work. They were all excited that there were muchas pelotas to play with, but it was chaos. Much more successful was the netball-type game we played next, because there was only one rule – you can’t move with the ball. It’s a more inclusive game here than football because you have to keep passing and involving other people (with a wide age range and a mixed group, the older boys tend to just keep the football).

At Porvenir, we volunteered as a five for the first time and had two pretty relaxed sessions (the Saturday session was cancelled due to a public holiday that nobody seemed to know about in advance). The skipping ropes were popular this week, even with one of the grandmas!

Away from the volunteering

My Wednesday morning off coincided with Megan and Dane’s, so we made an early start to go to the Valle de la Luna. There was a sort of other-worldly feel about the landscape, but the 45 minute circuit was plenty of time to see everything.

Afterwards we went to the zoo in Mallasa and I was pleasantly surprised. A lot of the animals have been rescued and are there to be rehabilitated, meaning they don’t always look their best, but the conditions seemed quite good. Their headline animal is the puma and from what I saw it isn’t short on food.

There are a lot of animals and we whiled away a couple of hours there – the monkeys were my favourite (obviously) and we got pretty close to the condors.

With Saturday’s session at Porvenir cancelled, the four other volunteers decided they wanted to go to the zoo, so I went along for the second time in four days (it only costs 5Bs or 50p). Laura had also been before and showed us to a few parts of the zoo I had missed on Wednesday.

This included the alpacas and vicuñas – the latter seemed to take a liking to us and one charged across the enclosure straight away. Two minutes later when all seemed calm, it jumped again and Laura managed to take this action shot!

I had a Spanish lesson on my other morning off – it was with a new teacher (new in both senses of the word), so he had to start by gauging my level again and he seemed pleased with what I could do. I enjoyed the way he used different media to teach, with a couple of short videos to watch (including a Toy Story Short and The Butterfly Circus).

On Thursday, all the volunteers and work-aways got together for a meal, and Laura did really well cooking for eight for the first time. It was nice to get everyone together as we’re all usually busy and spread out across three houses. We had burritos, Megan provided chocolate cake (having perfected her altitude baking) and then we played some games, like Uno!

Goings

Sunday was the last day for the four Australians – Megan and Dane from the campsite and Ani and Bill as volunteers – so we marked the occasion by going bowling. It might have been my suggestion but everyone seemed to have a really good time; it was new and different for most people!

Afterwards, we ate in the MegaCentre food court and then went to The Dubliner for some happy hour Guinness! It was a good end to another good the week, although it was sad to say goodbye to some new friends.

Two weeks of volunteering in Bolivia

I’ve been living in Jupapina for almost two weeks now, but it feels like longer. I’ve met so many people (mainly children – it’s so hard to learn everyone’s name) and been kept really busy.

Volunteer-wise, I think it’s going pretty well. The first day was a bit overwhelming, as I learned about the three projects I’d be working on and found out that two of the three existing volunteers were leaving pretty much as soon as I arrived! That just left me and Laura (also from Manchester and here 3 weeks before me) and I think we’ve coped quite well – although to be fair to Laura, I’ve taken a backseat a lot of the time while she’s taken the lead with her superior Spanish. I also have to mention Justa, the volunteer coordinator, who has been incredible – not least because she’s juggling that role with her many other commitments and battling against illness for the last week.

So let’s go over the three projects I’ve been involved in:

1) Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre

We spend three days a week here, 08:30-13:00, during which we’re responsible for two hours of activities on two of the days. As above, I’ve not been that involved in much of the planning or explaining activities (yet), but it’s been a lot of fun interacting with the kids (as Tío, which means uncle, or Miguel) – particularly the obstacle course we did on my first day.

The rest of the time is spent either in the kitchen or with the pre-infant class. The kitchen is ok and you get double portions for lunch (not always a good thing), but you have to do things exactly as Maxima says or else you have to watch her redo them. I’ve only had one morning with the pre-infant class and spent a surprising amount of time trying to get them to eat. Playtime was great though and I look forward to more of it.

2) Albergue Children’s Home

This is a facility for vulnerable children who have suffered violence and abuse and they stay from anywhere from a day to three months. We’re also here three days a week, from 14:30-16:30. Tuesdays and Thursdays are spent in the classroom (with girls and boys separately) and we’ve been doing arts and crafts with them so far – making and designing masks in the first week and papier-mâché volcanoes this week. Wednesdays are outside and football is easily the most popular activity (and there are some really good players). We’ve also done a treasure hunt and some sports day type races (sack, egg-and-spoon, 3-legged) with mixed results!

The children are aged from 5 to 17, so it’s difficult to get activities to suit everyone, but they’ve generally responded well. The older girls seem particularly mature and have helped us handle the class at times (two volunteers with limited Spanish and 25 girls is a challenge!) The reactions of some of the younger children has been overwhelming and it’s amazing how quick you bond with them.

My highlight so far is helping Percy with his papier-mâché and getting his over-the-top gratitude and his secret handshake.

3) Porvenir Equine Therapy Centre

The start of my volunteering coincided with the start of a new 10-week cycle at Porvenir. 15-20 children (aged 2-16 with a variety of disabilities and behavioural issues) come to the centre three times a week, accompanied by various family members. Living with a disability in Bolivia can be challenging for the whole family, so this foundation is like a sanctuary for them.

The children each get 15-20 minutes on a horse and some receive physiotherapy and I’m told by the experts that some have shown remarkable progress in just two weeks. The rest of the day is an opportunity for everyone to enjoy themselves in what is an incredible setting – visually stunning and very peaceful, but also a very loving and supportive environment.

For the parents it’s a chance for them to socialise together, while there is lots to keep the children occupied (not least the dozen other children plus me and Laura). It’s a joy to watch the kids having fun, particularly for the parents.

Our role is nothing to do with the horses (obviously), but we help to ensure things run smoothly, help people get to know each other (using name tags and playing games) and keep them entertained (more games and even some yoga). A lot of my time has been chasing footballs to stop them going near the horses.

For the first two sessions, we were joined by some people from the department of human rights who spent a lot of time with the parents. Listening to them was quite emotional and highlighted how much this place means to them.

This has been the project where we’ve had the most time to spend with individual children and families, and again it’s amazing how quickly connections form. My highlight so far was during the sack race, when the girl with the most serious physical disability was helped by her dad to complete her turn and it literally brought a tear to my eye.


For those that are wondering what happened to the football coaching I thought I was going to be doing, it’s because the projects are prioritised and depend on the number of volunteers. But I’m happy and feel privileged to be able to work on the above projects.

Away from the volunteering, it hasn’t been too difficult to adjust to living in Jupapina. The main street has the daily essentials (although the butcher is hardly ever open when you need it) and Mallasa (where our midweek work is based) is not far away. I’ve also just discovered San Miguel’s MegaCentre and it’s only half an hour to get to La Paz.

The first weekend, I joined three others (Laura and an Australian couple, Megan and Dane) on a hike down from Muela del Diablo, which was largely successful until we had to cross the valley’s dirty river in our bare feet.

View from Muela del Diablo

This weekend we went into La Paz to see the University’s annual dance festival. It was essentially an endless parade of dancers and musicians down one of the city’s main roads. They had some crazy costumes, full of colour, and everybody was having a great time.

I’ve had two Spanish lessons so far, but I’m not sure my Spanish has improved a lot. Porvenir will provide me with the best chance to practice (so many nice people).

Looking ahead, there will be more of the same, but there are new volunteers starting this week, so I won’t be the new guy any more. I’ve got next Sunday and Monday off, so I may get away on a trip somewhere.