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01869 338890

Amy's Voluntary Work Placements in Peru

I spent six weeks in the summer of 2008 working and living in Cuzco, Peru. It's really difficult to sum up how much of an impact this experience had on me, and how much it has changed my outlook on life. I had never really travelled much before besides family holidays, and at 18 (I turned 19 while I was out in Peru) I thought it was time to see the world a bit after my first year of university.

I vividly remember my first thought about Cuzco; I absolutely couldn't believe how small the airport was. I don't know what I was expecting, but it was tiny and ramshackle and after the bustle of Lima it felt like stepping into a completely different country. The city itself was beautiful and after six weeks really felt like home; I was completely comfortable and happy there and after a few days was totally able to find my way round without any problems. Myself and Heather, the girl I shared a room with who was also with PoD, even found ourselves a regular place to go for lunch with the best cheese baguette in the world for 5 soles. We went there pretty much every day after our volunteering programme in the morning.

I had the opportunity to do and experience so much while I was working for PoD. Our volunteer co-ordinator, Helen, was absolutely amazing and so helpful, and we had her restaurant, The Real McCoy, as a base whenever we needed a taste of home. There was so much choice and opportunity to do whatever you wanted while you were out there, the structure of the volunteering means you do as much or as little as you want really and you can choose when your free time is.

Heather and I volunteered Monday to Thursday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons too, and then all of Friday. We had the weekends free, which was fantastic and gave us loads of time to do amazing stuff and fully experience Peru. We went walking around Lake Huacapay, went to Puno and Lake Titicaca, climbed Macchu Picchu and toured the Sacred Valley.  We had an army fancy dress night and a legendary game of Ring of Fire, went horse riding in the mountains, visited a llama farm, had the best steaks ever at Fallen Angel, developed a love for strawberry daiquiris, ate traditional Peruvian food, had amazing massages, went paragliding, shopped in so many markets (buy several pairs of alpaca slippers; you definitely won't regret it, I wish I'd bought more than one), went white water rafting and had a salsa lesson.  We learnt a good bit of Spanish.  I had come to Cuzco with about a year's high school Spanish and the intensive Spanish school lessons meant I didn't have too much trouble being understood, although some placements were harder than others for that.

Amy and one of her many young friendsI came back from my time in Cuzco far more mature, more able to deal with problems and more confident by miles. The people in Cuzco were so amazingly friendly and willing to help with anything, which was really great in what at first was an unfamiliar place and a bit of a culture shock. PoD were so helpful and reassuring before I went and Helen was so supportive and brilliant when we were out there; I was really overwhelmed by the effort everyone made for my birthday, I've never forgotten it.

The placements themselves were so much fun. I worked at Marco's, which was a kindergarten for disadvantaged and poor children run by Marco, who is the friendliest and nicest man I've ever met in my life.  He made Heather and me feel so welcome and so helpful.  I was working mainly with the 4 year olds while Heather wanted to work with the younger children (there was a class of 3 year olds, a class of 4 year olds and a class of 5 year olds.  We had a lot of choice about where we wanted to work and with which teachers.  The teachers made an amazing effort to make us feel like we were actually being helpful as opposed to just sitting and observing.  We were able to teach very basic English lessons to the kids, as well as helping them with their work.  (While I was there they were learning vowels and colours and it was great to see their progress).  We also played with them at playtime.  We bonded so much with the children, who were all so sweet that it was heartbreaking to leave.  When we left, we were asked to attend a staff meeting and every teacher told us personally how much they appreciated our help and how much they would miss us. I don't think I've ever been so sad to leave anywhere in my life.

Another of the placements Heather and I spent time at was San JuanAmy volunteering at the orphanage de Dios, which was an orphanage for disabled children whose parents couldn't cope or take care of them.  The time I spent there was probably the most difficult of any placement I did.  The nurses had so much to deal with and so little time that they couldn't pay too much individual attention to each child and really relied on the volunteers to help feed them and play with them. Taking the kids to see the farm animals was always fun, but sometimes it was a real challenge to communicate and interact with them, especially when they were in a bad mood. I absolutely loved one of the little boys called Wilson, who was so cute and so happy all the time.  One of his favourite games was throwing a ball as far as he could and watching me run and get it; I got a lot of exercise that way!

The third placement Heather and I worked at was the Hogar de Amistad, an after-school club where we taught English lessons for two hours on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. We took a class of 8-9 year olds from scratch.  They knew absolutely no English when we started so we had to plan our lessons accordingly, which was a real challenge but so much fun. We dug out all the songs we learnt ourselves in primary school.  The rainbow song was a big hit for colours and heads shoulders knees and toes was brilliant.  They absolutely loved bingo as well and knew all the numbers 1-1000 by the end of our time there, which was amazing and we were so happy. I drew them some wall displays as well, which hopefully they still have. Starting from scratch was so great because we really got to see the impact we made.  The kids were brilliant and eager to learn and were so upset when we left, asking who was going to teach them English now. It was so cool to have really inspired them to love learning English, as it will help them so much with getting a job when they're older.

Our final placement we worked at was the school in Chinchero, which we went to for the whole day on Fridays. We taught the kids, who were all from the local area, for a couple of hours. They were awesome kids, so funny and really eager to learn. In return for our English lessons, the local people gave us all sorts of great experiences. We went to visit a farm and milked cows and saw the guinea pigs (they were so surprised to learn that we keep them as pets in England).  We were able to try weaving, tried on the traditional clothing and went to a local livestock show. It was really great to be shown round the community by its members rather than as part of a tour group, we felt so much more welcome and integrated as a result. We got so close to the kids and the community that on my birthday three of us completed a sponsored paraglide and raised over £250 for the kids at Chinchero to fund materials for the school as well as toys Amy and a furry friendand games for the children. We also took them on a trip to the llama farm, which was absolutely amazing, although I think Heather and I might have enjoyed hugging the baby llamas more than the children did!

I learnt so much from my time in Cuzco.  The main thing I learnt was not to drink the tap water as it gave me typhoid fever, which was a definite low point!  Being so ill away from home was really hard, but Helen was so great and supportive and really looked after me, and the other volunteers were really good too.  Heather and I are still so close and are absolute friends for life  We visit each other all the time and our conversation always goes back to when we met and the time we spent together and with the other volunteers in Cuzco.

At first it was pretty hard to fit back into university life after all the amazing experiences I had, but in time I did adjust and was able to apply all the skills I learnt there to my normal life. One of the mothers in Chinchero made me a bracelet that I wear all the time.  It sounds a bit cheesy but it's a really great reminder of what I learnt and the amazing time I had with PoD. It's really difficult to summarise my experience in a sentence, but PoD was just amazing and I had the time of my life. I would absolutely and whole-heartedly recommend this trip to anyone, it will definitely change your outlook on life and you'll have so much fun along the way!

Amy's package of placements in Peru was arranged with PoD.