Thursday, April 10, 2014

Life As A Volunteer In Peru

I've been working as a teacher here in Huaycan, Peru, for the organization, Light and Leadership Initiative, for almost a month now. For those of you who are curious, this post will be a sneak peek into the life of a volunteer.


LLI is a non profit organization situated in Huaycan, Peru, that focuses on improving the availability and quality of education of the women and children in that area. They hire interns and volunteers all year round to help with their projects for the community -- mostly education related, and volunteers are usually hired as teachers for their English, Art, Chess and PE classes.

As volunteers, we were required to pay a very minimal amount to cover food and lodging. We all basically stay in one house, dormitory style, with a cook that prepares amazing Peruvian food for lunch and dinner. Currently, there are 11 of us who live together.


I teach English to kids who are anywhere from 6 to 13 years old, and adults who are in their 20's. We work from Friday to Tuesday, with Wednesdays and Thursdays off. Our classrooms are located in different "Zones" in the Ate-Vitarte District of Lima. For most of them, you have to take a 20 to 25 minute combi (what they call a very overcrowded van) ride to get to. These areas are quite undeveloped and poor that they remind me of the Favelas in Brazil, or the squatters areas in Manila.

Click the photo for a larger image. Those colorful houses in the mountains? That's where a few
of them live

On some days, I have English classes in an area called, Zone Z, a place about 25 minutes away by combi. I start my commute at around 2:20 to get there by 3, and I teach 3 back to back classes with another volunteer. Our day ends at 6pm.
On busier days, I start at 10 am for PE, then 11am for English, 2pm for Art, 3:30pm for Art, and 6pm for Adult English.
Some days, I have to hike up a mini-mountain and ascend stairs with about a million steps at 9:30 am to tutor a 10 year old boy. (He is my favorite student though, so the pain is worth it. )
Basically, everyday is different. I like the diversity. :)

The combi ride usually sucks the life out of you, so it's not my favorite part of heading up to Zone Z... but what makes it *so* worth it are the sunsets that greet me on my way back. Look at this... I literally see this every single time I go home from Zone Z. Not bad... not bad at all :)

The beautiful sunsets I see as I go home...


... are the cutest. I am particularly fond of my youngest kids in Zone Z. These little chipmunks are in some of the poorest areas in Huaycan (and Huaycan is already pretty poor to begin with), and they come to my English class with so much enthusiasm twice a week after school. Yes, most of the time they are a pain in the butt because they are so naughty, they never sit still, they're always twittering up a storm in Spanish, and it's so difficult to get them all in order. But once I do get the ball rolling, they're so much fun to teach. They're so eager and so excited to learn... They LOVE singing along to my ukulele, and at the end of class, they give me a kiss before they leave. <3

I also really like teaching my adult class, because they *do* speak English. I feel like I can actually talk and get some sense into them... and that what I teach is being absorbed 100%. They mostly need help with grammar and vocabulary and they take everything in like a sponge. These guys go to class every week because they truly want to improve their English to go far in life. I'm more used to teaching adults because of my training background, so being in class with the 20 year old's feel more natural to me.


... can be a little challenging, I have to be honest. They have an English Only Policy in class to get all the students used to hearing the language... but most of these kids don't even know basic English! Zero! So getting them to follow instructions could sometimes feel like pulling teeth... Especially with the younger ones.
My Spanish, however, has greatly improved since I got here. I *can* tell them to sit down, be quiet, listen, look at me, etc... And I can understand more than I can speak, so when they tell me something, I usually understand about 80% of what they say.
All in all though since what we teach is very basic, the classes go on pretty smoothly.


... can take a little getting used to. Huaycan is not the safest of all areas, especially for foreigners. It's a little easier for me to blend in because like I said before, I sort of look Peruvian. But for my fellow volunteers, well... that's another story all together. They stick out like a sore thumb! 3- 4 of the girls are around 6 feet tall, a couple are blonde, one's a red head, and quite a few of them have bright blue eyes... All of these traits aren't exactly what you can call "subtle" in Huaycan. They are pretty much like celebrities over here, so it's hard to go unnoticed when we go out as a pack. We avoid certain alleys after dark, and a few of us walk with pepper sprays.

After work, if we'd like to unwind, we either walk down Ave 15 de Mayo to grab a beer at the local "Juice Place", or take a 15 minute combi ride to a nearby town to eat at a proper restaurant, or hang at a karaoke joint. Life is really simple over here, that I wear flip flops wherever we go and people couldn't care less. (I love it!)

The locals (when you don't have to dodge them) are all really kind. The parents of the kids especially are really sweet... You can see that they really appreciate what the organization does for them and for their kids, and it feels good to know you're a part of a group that makes a difference in their lives.

Living at the volunteer house is great! Honestly, I have never encountered a group of people who are as fierce and as kind as the people in this house. These guys are so smart, so accomplished, and all super capable of ruling the world... and yet they are here, working their asses off for free, to help a small community in Peru live a better life. Everyday I am in awe of them... and everyday I am grateful to have met them. :)


I'm at the tail end of my trip, and I'm so happy I ended my first year of travel with a bang. A few months ago, while volunteering/working at a hostel in Greece, I met a guest, Sophie, who has traveled through South America, and volunteered with LLI. If I hadn't met her, I never would have found out about this place... Being here feels so right... like I was always meant to come here, meet these people, and help out... Almost like I was guided here by the Universe. I will forever be grateful for having experienced everything in this organization and the people involved in it. If you are ever on the look-out for a great and rewarding volunteer opportunity, do yourself a favor and fly your sweet butt to Peru. The Light and Leadership Initiative and the wonderful people of Huaycan will be waiting for you with open arms :)

** There are many ways to help the organization out! Please check out their website here to find out more, and you can take a look at their Amazon Wish List to see what you can purchase to make the kids happy! :)