Proposing to design and paint a mural at the CEP school originally began with a simple straightforward idea – I would paint a pretty picture through the hidden walkway to the office and young children’s classrooms. This seemed to quickly escalate to painting one corner of the play area, and then suddenly the entire 50 ft length of the wall stretching right down to the 5 year old’s classroom. Dawning comprehension followed and suddenly my palms weren’t so dry.
CEP school is a wonderful project but is often referred to as ‘the dumping ground’ amongst some volunteers. Arriving at the school I quickly realised that this was a fast moving project and it was very easy to get lost, forget why you are there and then succumb to the dreaded wave of ‘I’m not making a difference here’ uselessness.
After a few weeks of gluing and sticking and working with my forehead banging on the table I found myself considering a variety of options: early onward travel, changing projects, becoming a Huanchaco burger expert and even enrolling at the school with the 5 years olds, because no doubt I would be learning and giving more than I was at that moment. But after trying to think about what I could do for the school one afternoon, I leant against a giant wall and suddenly the sun came out, a choir sang a chorus and I had an idea.
Designing and painting the Mural was pretty straightforward and though I had a few complications and a few hiccups, such as the Padre changing his mind about the design after I started to draw it, having to wait 3 weeks for the cement to dry and a visiting volunteer telling me the design didn’t have enough diversity (A boy from Ghana dancing with a boy from Finland- what more do you want for crying out loud!) I suddenly found myself living at the school, spending more and more time with the teachers, not to mention talking and dreaming about the wall so much it was bordering on unhealthy.
But the long hard work paid off, and together with a group of truly fab-tastic wonderful brilliant volunteers who simply exude greatness, the mural was finished. The actual drawing of the wall didn’t take much time, and I then proposed a ‘painting day’ to get all the volunteers to come and help out with the bulk of the painting in exchange for snacks and beer. I simply could not believe the brilliant and enthusiastic turn out on that beautiful day, and together with perhaps a little too much paint going on ourselves rather than on the wall, we made great progress.
It felt UNBELIEVABLY good to finish that last saved bit of green, and I could not believe it was finished. After spending so much time at the school, having problems with the paint, with progress, with damp and dirty walls and turning my back for ONE minute and then seeing little red handprints miraculously appear at the bottom of a wall next to a tiny child staring at me innocently with their hands behind their back; after everything - it was done.
In my time working at CEP, I could not believe how much my perceptions had changed. From seeing the daily struggles that the teachers handle to the extent of work that has gone into the school with the blood sweat and tears of the parents, I began to realise a few things.
A lot of the time with volunteering it’s hard to see the big picture. We work for only a short time and in that time we expect to be able to help out, make things seem worthwhile and generally offer our aid when we can. Sometimes, the work is incredibly boring, or difficult, or monotonous, or simply not what we expected. I started at CEP working with the 5 year olds, and although the classes were fun and the teacher was the epitome of awesomeness, I started to find the endless task of sticking papers in homework books rather tedious and I simply wanted to do more.
Although the Mural allowed me to do this, working with the teachers all that time showed me just how much effort and work they do every single day. They have no photocopiers, no printable worksheets and handouts - everything is done by hand. They need someone to help do that. Or two hours of their precious four, are spent hastily preparing homework whilst the children run amok. If they have to do this because of lack of help, they don’t complain. They don’t get angry; they simply get on and do it themselves.
So when a volunteer can help out simply for an hour of their day - the teachers get some extra time they need, the children get just a bit more attention and the homework gets done. There are many ways that a volunteer can help out at a project like CEP. Start your own project, build a classroom, paint a wall, or help stick things in books. You will have problems along the way, but your help is needed and appreciated so very very much.
To Jon, Marti, Dan, Sion, Caitlin, Christina, Abdarahim, Ludo, Hutton, Andreanne, Jack, Mitchell, and especially Ellie and Garen.
I still can’t thank those volunteers enough; without them, it simply would not have happened.