One of the main reasons we wanted to come to Cusco, Peru – besides visiting Machu Picchu, of course – was to volunteer; and Cusco did not disappoint us in that regard. There are a number of volunteering opportunities here. We found a school called Aldea Yanapay where kids can go after regular school hours to experience a kind of love and learning they don’t get anywhere else. Many of these children are abused by their parents, beaten by their teachers at school, and often come home to alcoholism and prostitution. Aldea Yanapay tries to show them another way to live through the example of more loving adults, and a clean environment.
Kids come each weekday from 3:00-6:30pm. For the first hour, the children can choose between art, games, reading or homework help, and the volunteers assist in each of these areas. Each class also gets a little break for more physical activities such as jumping rope and hula hoops. Then everyone at the school meets in a circle to hear an inspirational message from the director, be reminded of the school rules, and reinforce what they’re learning. The last part of the day, the kids are divided into classes by age to be taught about a particular subject by the volunteers.
This week the theme was “countries”, so each class is learning about a different country (last week’s theme was Judaism). I was placed in the “cielo” (sky) class of 6 year olds – mostly boys – along with another volunteer named Maia from the U.S. Most volunteers taught the kids about their own country, but we chose to teach about Japan instead of the U.S. because the culture in Japan is more unified and unique, and because I was already familiar with it having lived there for two years. We made origami, taught them the “Sakura Sakura” folk song, some basic Japanese words, practiced karate and sumo wrestling (only a little, though), made the Japanese flag, and learned some different symbols and basic facts about Japan.
Some of the kids have severe attention problems, ignore you when their name is called, and frequently yell or push other kids or teachers. Violence is not tolerated here, though, and it is sometimes a challenge to keep the environment positive. Other children are really sweet, well-behaved and quite intelligent. It’s a joy to walk into a room and have a child run up to you and give you a big hug because they’re so happy to see you. It makes you feel like at least you’re brightening a child’s day, and they are doing the same for you. I was happy that this happened regularly.
On Friday, each class puts on a little “show” about what they’ve learned during the week. In my class, the kids sang, showed their origami, and told about the Japanese flag, their favorite anime cartoons, and spoke a few Japanese words. Jen’s class learned about Costa Rica, and in the show they made a volcano that erupted using vinegar and baking soda. It was definitely a hit – in more ways than one, because it shot all over Yuri, the director, who of course took it in great humor.
Emily and Marie enjoyed most of their time at the school, but were a bit overwhelmed by the attention they received, and also by the rowdiness of some of the boys. The first few days, Emily clung to me like a vine whenever we were together and was almost scared to tears. But by the end, they were jumping rope, doing art, and having fun with the rest of the kids.
Volunteering at Aldea Yanapay was challenging work, but also very rewarding. I think we grew from it, and hopefully made a small contribution with our efforts. We made some great friends with the other volunteers as well. I’m glad we could have the opportunity to do this as a family, and hope to find other great volunteering opportunities in the future.
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I’m nothing but trouble. I feel bad about the volcano erupting onto Yuri. It didn’t get anyone wet when we did it in our class. Oh well, I guess it just added to the dramatic effect. :) Yuri was a good sport.
One of the really great things about Aldea Yanapay is that they don’t charge volunteers a ton of money to help out. They really appreciated our help, and we really felt like we were contributing to a good cause and making a difference.
I LOVED working with the kids and the volunteers. An especially big THANK YOU to Yuri for putting together such an amazing organization.
Yes, I love that about Aldea Yanapay – it can be hard to find free volunteering opportunities. Yuri is awesome!
What an wonderful way to spend a week – or a lifetime. I so admire those like Yuri who devote their lives to making a difference in the lives of others. And I love how welcoming his organization is – to all ages (I recall it has been a challenge for you to find volunteering opportunities that allow the girls to participate) – and that he accepts people’s TIME and desire to make a difference as contribution… I’ve never understood the rationale for making someone pay large sums of money (on top of their travel expenses) for the opportunity to volunteer.
This looks like such a fun, happy place. So glad you found it and took the opportunity to make a difference. Did you video record the kids singing Sakura? :)
I hope the girls will blog about the experience and what they thought and felt.
Yeah, I’ll say it again. Yuri is an amazing person, and he’s done an incredible job with this school! Beyond that, he’s got a lot of other great ideas he’s working on, including cultural centers, and expanding this model to other cities and even other countries. He’s doing a great work and I’m so glad I got to participate.
No, I didn’t record them singing Sakura. When we performed, I was singing it with them, and it was pretty tough to take photos at that point. I could have done it in the class, though.
What a great experience for your family. I’m so happy you could participate. I’m sure you made a difference in many lives. It sounds like the children really enjoyed learning.
I’m glad the girls were able to help too. And I’m very happy by the end of the week they both felt more comfortable.
Me too. I was really worried about Emily at first – made me wonder if she just doesn’t get enough time around other kids – and she probably doesn’t. But this probably would have overwhelmed just about any blonde haired girl. :) It really was a great experience for everyone, though.
What amazing experiences for all of you. And for the kids you met and taught. I’m so glad you were able to do this… I’m sure it’s something you’ll never forget!
Yeah, it was a great experience. I’m glad we could do it.
[…] Made some great friends while volunteering at a school in Peru […]
THANK YOU very much for doing the ground work for all of us. We are a family of three and live in Canada where my and 5 yr old son are from; I am originally from Costa Rica. We’ve been looking for volunteer opportunities where we can include our 5 yr old son and proven to be a challenge.
we speak Spanish at home so our son can fully learn it.
how were the girls able to volunteer or help with during your experience? Have you guys been able to have any other volunteer experiences as a family? Would you recommend a specific one? We are LDS and would prefer a place where we can go to our Sunday meetings.
Here are some of the other volunteer experiences we’ve written about: https://pearceonearth.com/category/personal/volunteering-personal/
For Spanish speaking opportunities, you may want to check out this site as well: http://www.volunteersouthamerica.net/
I do think it’s more difficult with younger children, because they can only “help” so much, and sometimes distract from the purpose trying to be achieved, so not all organizations are welcoming of young children. But there are some. Our daughter Emily loved volunteering at a rescue center in Costa Rica when she was 8 years old, which she wrote about here: http://emilyonearth.com/my-rescue-center/
I’d also advise you that not all volunteer opportunities are actually helpful for the recipients, and some can even cause harm or exploit the vulnerable in favor or tourism dollars. Here’s one of many examples: http://www.goinganyway.net/2012/05/24/on-not-visiting-an-orphanage-in-cambodia/
So I recommend researching as much as you can before hand, contacting the organizations, asking good questions, and considering the long term effects of your efforts on everyone involved before jumping too quickly into voluntourism opportunities. Good luck!
Does Yuri speak English for calling and coordinating? My husband is fluent in Spanish but the planning, purchasing and coordinating of a family trip will be my job. I know SOME spanish but over the phone my understanding is very lacking
Yes, he does speak English.