It’s been quite a while since I blogged here. The only reason being I haven’t been teaching; I’ve been travelling for almost a year.
That changed in Cusco when I had the chance to do some volunteering through a wonderful organisation called Volunteer Peru, easy to remember. While my boyfriend was off conquering scary mountains on a bike I went to a home for boys in the afternoons and helped them with their homework and also just hung out with them. They ranged in age from six to about 13 years old.
The boys are orphans, not necessarily without parents in all cases. Some are orphans of the state – parents that can’t take care of their children for a variety of reasons. Home life was deemed unsuitable.
My time with the boys was wonderful. It started with an introduction that I was a Mathematics teacher available to help. A round of applause erupted around the room, not the usual groans and screwed up faces roused from horrible memories in Mathematics classes. I could get used to that kind of reception.
Volunteering in Cusco meant that I would be helping the boys using my Spanish skills. With almost no formal help outside of a great language app and a few lessons in Sucre Bolivia (which was review rather than new) I did pretty well. I learnt quite a bit travelling around and listening – Escuela de Eschucho I tell people.
If you are worried about your Spanish skills Volunteer Peru have a school with excellent teachers. After my meeting it was decided that I’d be fine. And I was a little to my surprise.
The Mathematics ranged from subtraction problems to irrational fractions, complicated exponents and absolute equations. That session tested my Español but the boys always helped me with pronunciation and grammar. While helping with the more difficult maths a chat about physics and chemistry developed. There are some brilliant minds there. I hope they get the opportunities to keep going with school.
Mostly I was helping the little kids with subtraction and multiplication. Fernando showed me how he did subtraction. Wow, no idea at first. With many of the boys we went back to basics. I drew a 100 chart, grabbed small rocks from the courtyard area for counters and lots of questioning (in Español) to check understanding. By the end of the rocks, the chart and the problems Fernando kept prompting with “Una mas?” – one more, let’s do one more. When we were finished I gave him a few more to do because he was so proud of his new skills.
The classes are big in state schools in Cusco. Forty students and so many can’t get individual help and fall behind. This after school volunteer program is crucial for children to get the help they need. All they need is a little one on one or small group help. It’s also a chance for them to receive praise for their work and creativity, something else that can be missing in large classes.
Once the other boys saw I could really help there were more cries of “Amiga! Amiga!” when I arrived each day. Thanks to Jonatan, a previous student of UNIS, I taught the boys how to do their nine times tables with the fingers trick. That was a real crowd pleaser and the trick was then taught to their amigos. It was a thrill when they showed me how they could still do it the next day and the next. Their smiles were a mile wide when a multiplication problem had lots of nines. I also helped with science and other work but demand for the Profesora Mathematica was high.
On Friday I rocked up ready with my arsenal of Mathematical vocabulary ready to assist, but it was no homework day. Great to see they get a full afternoon of play. I kicked a ball around, checked out their very cool local game with a spinning thing on a string. Like spinning tops and lawn bowls rolled into one. Watched a few films and then lent them my phone so they could film themselves.
As it was my last day I promised to send the film and some photos to them. I have edited the footage as a movie trailer and also put all of the clips into one movie for them. These will be sent in the next week so that they can watch it on a Friday afternoon as a surprise.
When I left the boys ran towards me and encircled me for a group hug. The boys I helped individually hung around shyly for personal one on one hugs at the end. I loved my card, loved the boys and loved the experience. I was sad to go.
I am so fortunate that UNIS in Ha Noi, my previous school made community service a priority.
There was one other from the organisation that sent me (more on them below) called Anton from Germany with excellent Español. He was wonderful with the kids and will be there for some time. As well as us there were some young women from another organisation, but they weren’t as confident in how to help out. I was impressed with my crew from the organisation that matched us to the boys’ home and supported us. It also made me proud of how the students at UNIS Ha Noi approach community service and volunteer experiences, very mature. I think the Cusco organisation would love UNIS students who visit Peru.
I was told that it is more difficult to find volunteers for boys’ homes as most folks want to help girls, small children in kindergarten and get involved in environmental pursuits. I loved my time there and only wished I had done this earlier in my year away so that I could give more time.
Things I liked about Volunteer Peru: They are a very supportive grassroots organisation that have many programs that volunteers can choose from. Background checks are done, language classes are there if needed, homestays are possible for a local feel and also great for language skills. I already had accommodation organised but others said they really enjoyed the experience. On top of all the other things they do to help others they know their way around the tour companies of Cusco and can help you to explore the surrounds. Jimmy and Fabi were great in getting me placed and if I am ever back in Peru, I’d like to go back to the same place and give them some more time.
nb: Volunteer Peru links do not appear to be working any more.