Huanchaco, Peru: surfing in a very cold Pacific ocean. miserable looking street dogs. ride atop kayaks made of reeds. lots of dust and sand. This is our life for the next 2 months.
We arrived over a week ago and are finally feeling a bit more settled in. Cameron was thrown right into his volunteer work at a local primary school. Tutoring and English classes. The kids are absolutely wonderful, but it’s also frustrating to watch the Peruvian teaching methods. All the teachers are 100% volunteer- no salary what-so-ever. Every class is close to 30 kids with one teacher- even the 3 year olds. You can imagine the insanity. Cam’s got some good stories from school but I’ll let him tell them in another post.
I started on Monday with a woman named Lucia- also 100% volunteer- who has been the director of a woman’s refuge for over 10 years. I travel about an hour by bus to reach the neighborhood of La Esperanza, where I have been warned not to walk alone and to watch out for the local gangs the Spiders and the Scorpians. The neighborhood was an encampment not long ago, but is a proper district now. Lucia is very connected and I’ve been introduced to all the local health centers, the community services, and the municipal government workers. Within 2 days we had set up my project (with Peruvian timelines and dealing with the bureaucracy that is a major accomplishment!). I’m to start on Monday teaching a 4 week long workshop on sex education and HIV prevention to kids at 2 secondary schools (ages 12-17). I’m starting with a lesson on self-esteem and how culture views sexuality….should be interesting, especially in Spanish and with teenagers!
The umbrella organization we are working with is called Otra Cosa and organizes volunteers to work with a handful of projects including a school for disabled and blind children, a dog rescue, teaching English, and a few rural projects like working on a coffee farm and teaching English up in the mountains. There is also a really neat project called Fairmail that is loosely associated with Otra Cosa. It trains local teens in photography and helps them sell their work fair trade.
Otra Cosa is super organized in the sense that they have a full time employee (NOT volunteer) who works in the office and is available 5 days a week to answer emails etc. Because most low cost volunteer organization don’t have this, we felt reassured and relieved when our emails from the US were answered so quickly. The downside, is that we ended up paying a ‘fee’ to work with this organization of $100 usd. It’s not a lot, and we told ourselves that it was going to a good cause. Unfortunately, after arriving, it quickly because obvious that the money was disappearing into a black hole. None of it goes to the projects. None of it is available for our supplies. And the number of volunteers coming through this organization to volunteer for 2-4 weeks means that the project is easily receiving over $2000 usd this month. It’s frustrating, and it’s been a challenge to both Cameron and I to let go of the feeling of being slightly scammed and focus on the work we are doing, which in all reality is pretty wholly separate from Otra Cosa Network. It’s true that without the organization, we wouldn’t be doing what we are doing. But the principle of the thing has left us both with a bitter taste that we’re still working on letting go of.
Besides that, we have met some wonderful people and are enjoying be unpacked from our
backpacks for a while! (Even if we are unpacked onto a twin size bed with a Thomas the Tank Engine bedspread!) We’ll write again soon with more stories!