I contacted Otra Cosa Network because one of my best friends had worked as a volunteer with them. She highly recommended the organization. Indeed, from the first contact, I had a good feeling about it. For me it was very important that the volunteer organisation is honest and personal. After a couple of conversations they offered me a new project, which suited me very well. That’s why I chose this new project. I was the first volunteer! I felt privileged to explore, being the first one to start contributing at Casa Hogar in Rodriguez de Mendoza. The contact I had with Najin, Operations Manager of the organization, throughout my stay at the project really supported me.
Casa Hogar San Fransisco is a warm home for children from 12 to 16 years old whose families live far away in the mountainous or jungle regions of Peru. This place offers these children the opportunity to go to school. Without Casa Hogar, the voyage to school would have been impossible. It usually takes around six hours of travel (each way!), combined by bus with trekking, for these children to get to the nearest school.
The children live together with ‘El Profe’, a local history teacher who runs the place very well. Like a father figure for the children, he was loving and caring, but he can be strict as well. He teaches the kids discipline and makes sure they complete their tasks well.
Although the church has been supporting Casa Hogar as much as they can, it is mostly self sustainable. There is no money from the government or any other fund to run this place. There are vegetable garden and some animals at Casa Hogar. The kids worked for a few hours a day after school to help out in the garden. The lettuce they grew was a well sold item at the market, a good illustration of how the program works.
I was amazed by the responsibility those children had at such a young age! They cooked by themselves on the weekends, and they washed their own clothes. They worked in the garden, and they went to the market to buy and sell food - all of this other than all of their school work! The days were long, but the kids had a lot of fun too! They played volleyball and soccer while listening to music from the radio during their free time. They are like a big family together.
When I arrived on the 3rd of July, the Padre Lolo welcomed me. He is the priest of this little town and the coordinator of Casa Hogar. Mendoza was a very nice, friendly little village. For me it was like walking into a movie. The people lived like half a century back in time compared to the Netherlands. Imagine lacking hot water, washing machines, TV, refrigerators….often water or electricity. This was very different to me.
My task was to teach the kids English. Because of the busy schedule the kids had, the evening was the best time for them to attend the English class. So every day from 8:00-9:30 pm all fourteen kids participated in the class. This, after the full days the children had. 6:00 am wake up, feeding of the animals, 7:00 am breakfast 7:30 go to school, 1:30 lunch, time for home work and then they worked in the garden until 17:00 pm, some free time, 19:00 pm dinner, and then English!
We had a lot of fun together! Because I was living with the children at Casa Hogar, I could manage to build a positive relationship with them in a short period of time. They were all very motivated, and enthusiastic to learn! Being a teacher in Holland, I have had many different groups of students of all ages but, this group in Casa Hogar was very special and unique. Kids in my country are much more spoiled with toys, computers and the protective love of their parents. Without similar amenities, these kids were very happy! I saw that in their eyes. When I was teaching them English, they taught me, without even realizing, that you can be very happy even if you don’t have much.
We sang English songs together, like ‘We are the world’ by Michael Jackson. I tried to play as many games with them as I could. Any attempt to make the learning more fun and easy was enticing.
When you live with the children in such a home, you are not only there to teach English. You become a mother, a friend, and a role model of the children as well. The girls often came to me to share moments, to ask questions about my life, to listen to music, and to talk about their lives and boyfriends. Of course they were young teenagers! It seemed that girls there don’t talk with their mother about sexuality or anything emotional. It really touched me, the trust they had in me to talk so openly about these things.
Highlights of my tasks at the project for me were teaching English and the contact I had with the children. It was not just about teaching them foreign language, but it was the interaction you have with them as a foreigner, as a role model - someone they can trust, which is very important for people at this age. For these children, it is also making their world a little bit bigger, and it also gives them an opportunity to grow. Giving them the ability to study and to make other choices for their own future is highly rewarding. I wish I had been able to extend my stay there, because the contribution you can make as a volunteer at this place is really big!
I hope the next volunteer will come soon to continue this beautiful work!
- Find out more about how you can volunteer with Casa Hogar in Rodriguez de Mendoza, teaching English, conservation work and more.
- Learn more about all of volunteer opportunities in Peru with Otra Cosa Network
By Chantal de Jong (Casa Hogar in Rodríguez de Mendoza, from July - Aug. 2010)