Thursday, 9 December 2010

Realizing Chantal's Dream

My dream was to live and work in a Peruvian community. I wanted to get to know the culture, the people, and to see and feel how they live. To contribute to the community and help out where they needed my help, I was sure that volunteering was an effective way of doing this, as I always like to jump into new experiences, and commit myself fully to whatever I do.

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!

By Chantal de Jong (Casa Hogar in Rodríguez de Mendoza, from July - Aug. 2010)

¿Sόlo la Educaciόn Salvará al Perú? how about compost? - James' Volunteer Experience

Padre Tumba believes only education can save Peru. I have a different view. I believe only compost can save Peru.

Morgan and I started a composting project at the CEP school. We built two compost bins, out of recycled adobe bricks (it looks like a mini Chan Chan). Then we filled one bin with food scraps and garden waste and taught the kids all about the wonders of composting. This was our contribution to a greater Peru.

One of Padre’s visions for CEP is to be self sufficient. That is, to have a thriving vegetable garden within the school grounds that provides fresh, healthy, nutritious produce for use in the school lunches. This is an extremely practical idea and one that deserves merit as well as further volunteer attention (hint), but as you all know, the soil in Huanchaco and Trujillo is little more than sand and pebbles. This is terrible soil for growing plants. It holds very little moisture, or nutrients, both of which are essential for plant growth. That’s were compost comes in.

Compost is a free, natural source of additional soil nutrients and general all round garden improver. With compost the garden soil will be nutrient rich and grow lush, healthy vegetables. Using these nutritious vegetables in school lunches will lead to healthier children better able to concentrate and absorb knowledge. This will ultimately lead to a better educated Peru.

Without compost the garden will falta, lunches will be sparse, kids will be hungry, the famished students won’t learn, Father Tumbe’s thesis will be disproved and ultimately Peru will suffer. So for the benefit of Peru, Compost! Compost! Compost! For only education can save Peru, and only compost can save education.

Please save your food scraps, bag up garden waste around Huanchaco and give them to a CEP school volunteer. If you are a CEP volunteer, don’t be embarrassed, haul the bags of composting material on the bus and tend the pile with love, take the time to visit the compost pile, add the scraps from the school kitchen and keep the pile moist. Better yet, help the kids do all this.

Office Volunteer Jack's Experience

When I came to Huanchaco I was initially surprised how calm and quiet it was. I soon learned that words like ‘tranquilo’ and ‘poco a poco’ meaning peaceful and little by little, defined the culture here.

Arriving in late September I was able to see a drastic change in the town leading into the summer months. The coming of spring celebration started with a parade in Trujillo and the Peruvian culture and pride were vibrantly displayed. In November things started to vary. Every weekend more and more people crowded the beaches. Every day a new restaurant opened inside someone’s house. Staying in a pseudo home stay my neighbors were some of my closest friends. Playing zappo, a traditional Peruvian drinking game, every Sunday was some of my best Spanish practice with the locals. The people in Huanchaco are some of the nicest I’d ever met. At a bar in the States when a foreigner sits down and attempts to speak broken English with someone, that person wouldn’t talk to him very much. The average American certainly would not share their beer with this person. In Huanchaco the opposite is true. They want to hear your broken Spanish and to share with you. This characteristic of the pueblo was my favorite, and also the one I will take away with me.

Volunteering in the office, I was able to see the inner workings of a non-governmental organization. Over the course of my three months I was given a variety of tasks. These ranged from specific paperwork, to more open ended input into the marketing approach of the company, to traveling to the specific projects to gather information. Although I recommend that the future office volunteer has more skills with html I was able to make it work without much knowledge of the language. The deadline and timetables were kept in Peruvian time, a little bit slower than the rest of the world, but I was eventually able to find my focus and complete the task work.

As the office volunteer I was able to view all of the volunteer opportunities that Otra Cosa Network offers. This allowed me to choose where I wanted to give extra support by picking the projects that appealed to me. I started with Juan Carlos at the skate ramp project in El Cerrito. Being one of the poorest neighborhoods in Huanchaco there is very little for the kids there to do. We built the floor for a future classroom and opened the half pipe for the kids to come play on. I also became the janitor/handyman at the CEP school. Local workers and volunteers built the school. They left all the building materials and tools scattered all over the place, not a safe environment for a school with almost 300 kids. There was loads of trash lining the walls of the school as well. After about a month the place was a lot cleaner. I also got to play with the three and four year olds a bunch. Daniel- David with the mullet was my favorite little punk. Being the office volunteer allows you to spread your time out at other projects as part time work as well. I liked this aspect of my position tremendously and found it liberating.

Overall my stay in Huanchaco was amazing. The friends made and good times had I will remember forever. The food, the cake, and the surf to quote the menuland chef ‘que rico’. Return to Huanchaco? Definitely. Work more with non-profits? Puede ser. Did I learn a lot? Every day.