Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Jack's Experience at Tulio Herrera Leon School

In some parts of Peruvian society there is sometimes a certain level of stigma attached to having a child or relative with special needs and therefore many families tend not to send their children to school or ask for help with their upbringing. Tulio Herrera Leon is a school for blind and autistic people which was set up to help these people who may otherwise be left to look out for themselves. It is very well equipped with all the tools necessary to help the students with all manner of needs and different levels of disabilities. It also has a great team of caring and skilled teachers. In order to try and combat the prejudice in certain areas of society the school runs an out-reach program that goes out into workplaces and schools to try and get in contact with parents and also to help employers incorporate workers with vision impairment, autism and other special needs into their businesses. Many of the teachers also spend their spare time going to churches and hospitals to try and reach more parents and families that could benefit from the school.

Students of all ages are welcomed at Tulio Herrera Leon, with classes varying from full time students learning to read and write brail, to one on one “extra help” sessions for students who are currently studying in other schools and universities around Trujillo. It is a great school run by fantastic people and offering an extremely important service to its pupils and society as a whole as it is the only state funded school of its kind in the whole of Northern Peru. Despite this there is still room for many more students here. The school is free for all students, however if the parents of a student earn over a certain amount each month a small contribution may be asked for.

I have been volunteering at the school for a month now, working alongside the music teacher to help the students channel their creativity. When I first arrived at the school I was amazed at how well equipped the music room was but also recognized that the music teacher was struggling due to the amount of time each student requires. This meant that the children, some of whom have attention disorders, quite often lost concentration. Over this past month we have successfully managed to bring more direction into the music classes and help the students to be more constructive. The main way in which I have done this is through getting the whole class to play percussion together. This has proved a great way to teach the kids about rhythm as well as the importance of listening and playing alongside other people. This brings with it a greater sense of kinship and group awareness, and as a musician myself I can vouch for the sense of achievement that comes through playing together in a group of people.

I have one more month left at Tulio Herrera Leon and I am as excited about it as I was about the first month. Now that we have developed a good group work ethos in the classes through playing percussion together, I would like to use the skills of certain pupils in order to bring other instruments into the classes. There are several budding pianists in the school and I have been teaching a couple of people, including the music teacher, how to play the guitar. Whilst there are some students who struggle with basic drumming, when playing as a group they find it much easier to stay in time and so I am aiming to get the whole class playing a song with guitars, keyboards, percussion and possibly some singing as well. This is going to be a challenge for both me and the students but one which I’m sure we will overcome and enjoy.

The students and teachers make Tulio Herrera an amazing project to be involved in and I would recommend anyone who is interested in working here to give it go, as the school serves a part of society who really need their help.

Un Lugar Skateramp Project

Situated in Cerrito de la Virgen, a small town roughly a 30 minute walk from central Huanchaco, a new project – The Skate Ramp - has been put in place, with the help of Otra Cosa Network Volunteers with the aim of inspiring the local children of the community. The Skate Ramp was set up in 2010 by two volunteers - Johannes from Germany and Oliver from England – as part of the Un Lugar Surf School project. Un Lugar’s owner Juan Carlos agreed to have the Ramp built on a piece of land he owns in Cerrito, and with his co-operation the project was started. Johannes and Oliver personally raised the money needed to buy the materials needed to construct the ramp by running a blog and asking for donations in Europe. Once the money was raised these two (with a bit of help from other volunteers) set about constructing the Skate Ramp which was completed six weeks later. The Skate Ramp is used in the afternoon by children who live in Cerrito de la Virgen.

Cerrito de la Virgen is very different from what you will see if you stay just within Huanchaco. It was initially established by the Peruvian government as a town for those who had lost their homes and livelihoods due to the El Nino weather pattern which strikes The Americas once every three to seven years.

About 12 years ago this event had severe consequences for the population and infrastructure of Northern Peru. There were heavy rains inland in the mountainous regions of La Libertad which produced obstructions in the upper part of the Rivers. On this occasion the rivers flooded. The case of “la quebrada del León Dormido”, (The Ravine of the Sleeping Lion), the ravine that leads to the town of Huanchaco was one of the most critical.

The population there had worked in small farms and quarries, but the water washed away their homes and livelihoods. The Office of Civil Defence provided tents and food for the population but then had to relocate them. One of the places chosen was Las Pampas of La Virgen Cerrito. After a few weeks however support was cut off and the population were left to their fate.

Many of these people, considering that the place a desert location lacking in vital services - it was without water, sewage facilities and electricity - abandoned the idea of setting up homes there and left. Others sold their possessions and yet others took advantage of the circumstances and walled off two or three plots. This has resulted in the area being a mixture of families. There are environmental victims from the time, alongside new residents who have been acquiring land and who come from many different places. You can find there today people from the Peruvian mountains, the valley regions and the jungle. There are foreigners who own plots of land without living there alongside Peruvian people from different social statuses.

Having faced such hardship it is hoped that the efforts of various local groups, along with the community themselves, can improve the lives of those in Cerrito de la Virgen. Mike, a current volunteer at Cerrito feels that “the introduction of the skate ramp has served as a catalyst for community cohesion”. He continues, “The introduction of an activity for the community to develop around very quickly provided a reason for the children of the community to come together and play. This in turn led to parents of the children coming along and now local mothers can often be found teaching the younger children how to make bracelets and other items, while some of the older children are already developing into great skaters”. The community does work together in regards to improving their town, and are currently trying to find a solution to the lack of access to water, however The Skate Ramp would not have been possible without the external input of Otra Cosa Network Volunteers. Nevertheless, in a very short space of time it has become an important part of the community, which has taken an active interest in the benefits of maintaining the project. In an area where there is very little to do the ramp has provided the opportunity to form new friendships and meet new people. Working at the Ramp provides a great opportunity to become more aware of what life is like in a real Peruvian town, away from the tourists.

The aim within this community is clear. A local man explains, “The poor live here permanently. They survive in difficult conditions. They think about how, one day, they can convert this human settlement of the last century into a town worth living in today.”

Sarah and Craig's Volunteering Experience at CEP School

We came to work at Otra Cosa Network as a couple who wanted an opportunity to share our skills and knowledge with those who need it most. We felt that working at the CEP school would allow us the chance to share Craig’s skills in carpentry and sport plus Sarah’s skills as a Speech Therapist working with Children.

Since volunteering for one month we have felt we have achieved a lot for the school but we have also learnt a lot personally. Through money donated by our families Craig has constructed a roof for the school and he has also built a roof for the toilet and help pave a footpath. He has used his skills in sport and developed a PE program for the students. This has provided the children with an opportunity to develop skills in other types of sports such as rugby and basketball.

Sarah has assisted in a class of 42 five year olds, they have kept her busy doing tasks such as marking homework, helping with activities and providing support to those children who need extra attention and help. It has been rewarding building a relationship with the children and her very patient teacher.

Volunteering has also had its share of challenges. Communicating with our limited Spanish has made our job difficult at times, particularly for Sarah whose skills as a Speech Therapist rely on her to communicate. She wishes she could do more for those children who are struggling at school.

We feel we have learnt a lot personally whilst volunteering. We have learnt that your volunteer experience is a result of your own initiative and willingness to make a difference. Sometimes you have to push hard for what you want to achieve. For example Craig identified the need for a PE program and helped to make this happen by discussing it with the teachers and explaining the benefits. At the same time we have also learnt to be realistic in your expectations and what you can achieve, particularly since we only had one month! Progress is often slower particularly on Peruvian time.

Our experience in volunteering has also brought us the pleasure of making new friends, experiencing life in another country and learning new skills such as surfing and learning Spanish.

We feel this past month has given us a taste of volunteer work, and we are hungry for more! It has been a wonderful experience both rewarding and challenging and we hope to do some more volunteer work in the future!