Start of the day, singing a song together

Volunteering in Peru – A Glimpse of an Incredible Reality

Isa Lamers

Isa Lamers

Isa Lamers is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Netherlands).

I'm Isa, a Dutch girl traveling through South-America for 7 months while learning Spanish and doing some volunteer work. I love to write and share my experiences and stories with anyone willing to hear or read them. I also love to meet new people from all over the world, as well as play my guitar.
Isa Lamers

First things first – I’m traveling through South-America for seven months in total, and at the moment I’m volunteering in Cusco, Peru for about two months.

Volunteering is such a special thing!  I didn’t know what to expect, so I arrived totally open-minded.  And it turned out that an incredibly magical experience was awaiting me.  In the short time that I’ve been with the project, I’ve been flabbergasted at times simply by watching the children and getting to know their reality.

The school where I’m volunteering at is called the Aldea Yanapay.  It hosts children from about 4 to 16 years old, whose situation at home is truly bad.  The children can come in here during the day-time.  There is no space in their own homes for any activities, talk or love and affection that they deserve and need.

You would expect that this could be compensated through school or through friendships, but that’s not usually the case.  The education system is poor and then outside of school, they’re not even allowed to hang out with friends, since the families need these kids to take care of them.  The parents and the rest of the family members don’t mean anything bad, it’s just the reality.  And that’s why the Aldea Yanapay was founded, some 15 years ago.

The project’s philosophy is that if we just give the children enough love and hugs, they will grow up to be good people.  Every day we start and finish with a meditation.  Incense burning and sacred coca leafs included.

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My first thought was: “How did I get here? What have I gotten myself into?”  Because that is not at all how I’m wired…  I believe in independent education.  I believe children learn from experiences.  But that’s just my European point of view.  Where the education is good, where homes are safe, where we have money to pay for the food, roof, and shoes that we need.  In Peru, my beliefs have no reason to be, they make no sense.  Because the reality is completely different.

Children playing tag during their break

One of the things that surprised me the most is the sheer happiness that I witness every day at this volunteering project.  The laughs, the good intentions and the love that the children seem to carry with them all the time.  Even though, that’s not how their real lives are.  I’m aware that we might only see the happiness, whilst outside of the Aldea Yanapay, most have miserable lives.  However, we can never see or comprehend their true realities.

I know that volunteering is frowned upon at times, especially by kids.  The children see so many new faces and all of them seem to invoke some sort of a role model or even a maternal or paternal feeling.  And just when they start to get attached to a volunteer, that volunteer disappears.  I do agree that on some projects it is just like that.  So with that in mind, I actively searched for something different.  And that’s how I ended up here.

I know of course that I’m not able to change their realities, I’m not able to change their lives.  I can’t help the fact that most of the parents are alcoholics who sometimes forget to pick up their kids after school.  I can’t really help the girls who have been or are being sexually harassed, sometimes even at their own homes.  But what I can do is give them the love, hugs, attention, and fun they surely need.  I can dance, sing, laugh, play and talk with them.  Even though that might not be entirely according to my Dutch point of view – I do it with love, as I can see how much the children need it.

The school's playground

The school’s playground. On the walls, there are a Condor, a Puma and a Snake. They represent the past, present, and future, and at the same time, they stand for one’s body, mind, and spirit. Which is part of the school’s philosophy.

One of the beautiful things that I see in the kids, is their ability to live in the present.  At home, they have very poor circumstances, they have to take care of their elderly parents instead of the other way around, and some are simply neglected.  But when I see them, they seem to be so full of happiness and laughter.  They seem to leave that negativity at home.  Emotionally – they live in the present.

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This helped me a great deal to process the very recent death of my sweet grandfather.  Many people have told me this, however, it was those kiddos who showed me that the negative stuff should never prevent you from feeling happy and having fun.

Among many other things, this very experience taught me that I’m not just here to teach the kids.  I learn just as much, if not more, from them as they do from me.

In fact, this is a very important theme in the school’s philosophy: every kid learns and teaches.  Everyone is a teacher and a student at the same time in his or her life.  That is something I fully agree with.  Even though this thought is expressed very differently in the Netherlands, my home country, the idea is the same.  Despite the burning incense, the group meditations – I feel very much at home here, since the school and I share this very important principle of both teaching and learning.

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