After weeks of searching for just the right volunteering we finally found one where we felt eager to contribute! Tierra de Ninos! Only about a 40 minute drive from Cusco City center sits a small town called Huacarpay where a school has been established. 3 teachers, 1 maintenance man and about 20 beautiful children ranging in age from 6 to 14. Our first day there, we were greeted with hugs from the children and needless-to-say we knew this was the place for us.
The School and Children:
The children that attend the school come from poor local families. Many family’s come to live in Huacarpay to work for little money. Yet, the children are happy and full of energy.
The school is government run. This means that at the beginning of the year the government drops off a few supplies such as paper, pencils etc and leaves the school to manage itself. The government provides some food that contributes to lunch and breakfast each day. Three days a week they are given full meals and two days a week they are provided a simple staple meal such as arroz con leche which is rice and milk.
The school and the staff are humble. They use recycled plastic bottles for just about everything they need. They use it to create rooms for the children, an assemble area, hand washing facilities, decorations. You name it, they do it. They use shoes and old backpacks for pots to plant flowers and they grow their own vegetables. They use what they have around them, recycle and are working to create sustainability within the school as well as educate the students to do it too.
Despite the need, Yanet, Norma and Yeni have worked so hard to make it one of the best school in Peru. Yanet (the director) works with other schools in Peru and in England to create support for their amazing environmental school as well as to educate them about creating more sustainability. Charles Hopkins, of the UNESCO, who is considered the founder of environmental education, was amazed by the school’s efforts and said it was something he would share with the world.
In addition, the students are taught in Spanish as well as Quechua which is the native language of the Andes. This is quite significant since most schools refuse to teach in Quechua. Many of these students speak Spanish at school and Quechua with their parents who do not know Spanish at all. Keeping this language is an important part of their tradition and heritage and the teachers work to ensure it is not forgotten.
As volunteers we have been able to come into this school and help these three hard working teachers do all the things they simply don’t have time to do. So far this has ranged from collecting water from the lake (on a day when there was no water in the tanks) to sewing, organizing, taking care of the chickens, making things from plastic bottles, planting beans in the garden, washing dishes, mud bricking, digging holes, weeding, planting trees and painted signs.
Our experience and what we have learned:
My experience here has taught me to be more resourceful, and to look at what I have before buying something else. On the other hand I felt impacted when they called me “Mama”. Even the teachers! This made me feel closer to them, like family. Also I was able to learn more Spanish from communicating with the children and teachers.
Its no lie I loath physical labor and my first few days where nothing short of a challenge. Yet I developed a love for the children and the teachers that motivated me each day to give them my best. Regardless of the heat of the day or the intensity of the work I knew in my heart that it wasn’t about me.
At times it was challenging while digging holes, weeding, and filling and carrying big buckets of water, but I enjoyed playing and talking with the other kids. I felt like I was making new friends and they made me feel comfortable. Being there, I was able to talk to the kids and teachers and learn more Spanish. Over all this was one of my favorite places to volunteer.
As soon as we arrived we were treated like friends by the children and staff and on one occasion, we were surprise to have a small celebration with cake to celebrate Tahira’s Birthday. It was a beautiful gesture that touched our hearts. Regardless of all that they do, they found time to give back to us as well.
On our last day, we were surprised to have been given a fiesta. A mommy cooked up a big special lunch and all the children made cards and picked flowers for us and the other volunteers. We were all so speechless. Some of us cried and were just so touched by the gifts that the teachers and students offered us.
Being able to work with this school has taught us so much about sustainability, and how to make the most of what we have.
Collectively we have learned:
-How to make several decorations and practical items from plastic bottles. Including:
-Making hanging ordainments
-Making curtains from bottle bottoms
-Making walls from bottles
-Making tables and seats
-Making soap holder
-Making hand washer
-Making seat backs
-Using the bottle tops for game pieces
-Making bird feeders
-How to utilize ripped or old clothes and fabric
-Mainly to create curtains
- How to cook several dishes with local ingredients
- We have learned more spanish communicating with the teachers and children
- Saving and recycling materials such as metal scraps, wood scraps and other plastics
- How to plant inside shoes
- Making curtains from CDs
- Making fences from empty cans
- How to make a platform using roof tiles and mud
- Making a door mat from metal bottle tops on wood
- And how to take care of chickens
Below are photos of our time there as well as photos of the some of the things we have learned to create.
We all feel very privileged and honored to have been accepted into this small school when in so many countries volunteers, would never be given the opportunity to give back. Especially when those volunteers don’t even speak the language.
- Gincori, Alexandria, and Tahira