Friday, September 17, 2010

Peru: Opportunites and Memories

By Betty

Life does hold unexpected opportunities for learning and service. Perry and I were invited by Global Volunteers (GV) to be on the first team of volunteers to teach conversational English at La Molina University in Lima, Peru. The university has programs in agriculture, engineering, and sciences. It is a very historic school on a very large campus.

We were assigned advanced students, which included students, professors and some English teachers. They were eager, knowledgeable, and fun to be with every day. On our first day, an opening ceremony was held at nine o’clock. We served pisco sours, the traditional Peruvian alcoholic drink, along with sweets. What a way to start the day. Perry thought pisco sours tasted like margaritas.

We were taken from our hotel by van to the university and brought home by the same van and driver. It was about 10 miles each way and took about 60 minutes or more each way, and we quickly determined it was best not to look, just pray. We tried to leave 30 minutes later than expected in the morning to avoid traffic and it still took 55 minutes to get to the university. Traffic with the cars and buses was always very “challenging.” The university was about 10 miles inland and much warmer than our hotel area along the coast. Our driver made endless turns to avoid traffic and we all agreed we would never find our way without him.

Lima has about 8 million people, traffic 24 hours a day, and there were many bus lines. The bus lines have different zones, different levels of quality with different sizes of buses and we were warned not to attempt to ride them as it was an “art.” Be aware that stop signs, pedestrians, and lanes were totally ignored by buses and most cars. Taxis were everywhere but have no meters so fares were negotiated in advance and were usually higher for tourists.

On Sundays it is a tradition for families and couples to go to the many beautiful parks. August is winter in Lima so it was somewhat overcast and in the 60's but a light jacket was workable. Most apartments and hotels have no heaters or air conditioners. Some retail buildings have three walls with the front wall open during the day and were closed a night by heavy roll down doors. Water comes from mountain rivers but we were admonished not to drink it. Our hotel was located about 2 blocks from the ocean with sidewalks along the ocean. Sidewalks have a green lane for bikes and runners. Courteous dog walkers were everywhere. Overall, the 42 municipalities of Lima all provided on-going street sweeping and park cleaning so we think Lima was impressively clean.

The city brags it never rains in Lima. A mist of fog seemed to be the norm. To us, it rained one night. The rain was really a very “heavy mist” and our students did not think it qualified as rain. Most drivers did not even turn on their wipers. The people most impacted had clothes drying on the roofs for days and had to wait even longer for any hope of clean dry clothes.

Our students had strong training in grammar! What they wanted to do was talk in English! We discussed many American idioms or "adverbial phrases" as the students called them. We also had fun lessons on the social skills of shaking hands and table manners. The students practiced not being "wet fish" or "muscle women" when shaking hands and the interest was very high. They told us about Peruvian food, cultural foods, family food traditions and more. It was so exciting for them to share with us and we learned so much. Now, let me make it clear, "cuy" was not on our menu plans-----it is guinea pig! The students have grammar rules, rules, and rules from their classes so we were very appreciated with our explanations, pronunciations, teaching supplies, humor and willingness to answer specific questions. We were truly blessed with their enthusiasm!

Part of the original plan for our team was to teach writing research abstracts. There was a moderate mutiny on our first day after the GV team tried to teach this topic to all three student levels. This proved to be two hours of agony for the basic and intermediate groups and for our team members. Very few students were interested so Perry and I made a proposal to the university to help students more by changing the curriculum. I agreed to teach those who still wanted the original class and the rest of the team cheered. The university agreed and the revised plan worked well. It was an opportunity for my students to know that writing in English is very different than writing in Spanish and computer translation programs do not produce needed results. One important lesson was we have many prepositions in English while Spanish has very few.

We conspired with our driver Joseuy to sooth a team member’s soul and get a special treat – a Starbucks’ coffee. The Starbucks’ parking lots were a very tight basement parking lot and a traditional parking lot with one lane used to both enter and exit. Parking in Lima was very difficult even for small cars and we had a van! The coffees and hot chocolates were wonderful. Yes, we did purchase a coffee for our driver. However, our driver did get a call from our team leader to find out why we were late. Our team leader and the department director were waiting for us as we sheepishly showed-up with Starbucks’ cups. Fun memories.

We found the students, professors and staff to be very friendly and appreciative of us being here to work with them. They were very proud of their heritage, country and school. Wow, there is a big lesson!

Our final lunch at La Molina University was beyond exceptional with fabulous fresh trout (cooked with slivered garlic and fresh oranges), potatoes, pisco sours, and the popular refreshing purple corn drink called chicha morada. Potatoes and rice are commonly served together at lunch, the big meal of the day. (There are over 3,500 varieties of potatoes in Peru.) The location of the lunch was just outside of the campus in an outdoor market that sells items from the university. The market sold beautiful plants, produce, meats (including cuy, pig’s feet and poultry with heads), dairy products and fresh flowers.

School was to start in the next two weeks. Many students were having mandatory computer instruction at the student center. Students must complete two computer classes before full admission. Students can get a “free college education” but only 5% of the applicants are admitted based on their test scores. Students pay 200 soles per semester at La Molina but pay about 300 soles per month at a private university. The government minimum wage is 200 soles month. (There are approximately 3 soles per US dollar.)

We made special plans to go to Cuidad de los Ninos where two GV team members worked. This program has been run by monks since 1955 for boys from profoundly high risk families. The boys range in age from 3 to 18. They are from families who are beyond needy and must sign special contracts. The boys live at the huge farm-like setting, fed 3 meals a day, clothed, and go to school. In the afternoons they must do homework and learn a trade such as auto repair, woodworking, barbering, or sewing machine operation. One morning Dunkin Donuts donated donuts for the boys. It was a very special day!

The two GV team members painted the inside of one dorm in two weeks, a huge undertaking for two women with limited equipment, and then they put on a fiesta for their boys. The chips, cookies and strawberries along with Congo-line dancing were very very special for these children.

The boys must go home every other weekend and the family must visit on the opposite weekend. Couples, often including their children, are hired to be "family parents" to the various age groups. A few of the older boys stay while they attend a trade school or college and they also teach vocational classes. It was depressing to see the plainness and conditions but then to think this was so much better in so many ways than what their families have to offer. The school has 350 students but turns away more than that number.

There was definitely a “police presence” in Lima. The majority of buildings, both business and residential, have security devices and guards; most guards wear protective vests and are armed. The other police include the national police, the city police, the district police, the traffic police, and the traffic directors who have special perches at major intersection (young women in tight motorcycle pants, white helmets and bright green gloves… “hot cops”). Police were often seen around construction sites to manage traffic and at shopping areas. Our students told us the police bought new patrol cars from China several years ago and the cars are very bad. The police motorcycles most commonly seen were Hondas that looked like our dirt bikes. It was life threatening not to remember that STOP signs are completely worthless, traffic signals are up for consideration, and the use of a horn is a mandate.

We went the orphanage which also has a Global Volunteer program and a team leader who is totally amazing. The orphanage was started 80 years ago by a dentist. It now has 600 kids. Most will stay until age 17 1/2 and then are “put out.” Most will not graduate from high school. The girls program is run by nuns and the boys program is run by brothers. The only time boys and girls see each other are on special holidays or possibly in school. The high school students do see each other. Siblings have limited contact. Most of the children are orphans but some are children of parents in prisons. A few judges mandate visits to the facility so fathers usually come with two "friends" to make a visit once a month. Often children are dropped off at the front gate as young as four days old, some with papers and others without papers. Some children are orphans as their parents were “guerrilla terrorists” in the north area. The buildings are old and many need serious work. The United Nations rents a section of this huge facility and the rent money is used for building repairs, an on-going battle in Peru. The children were nicely dressed, their living areas very clean, and ¨tutors¨ live with them. The team leader knows these children are missing loving parents and the lifelong impact of this fact. Children get up at 6 o’clock, eat breakfast, go to school until 1 o’clock, come back to each lunch, take showers in unheated water, do homework, play games, and go to bed at 7:30. The team leader told us how she called Proctor & Gamble and asked for expired shampoo. She got a 6 month supply so the company is on her list. Formerly, the children had no shampoo and still have no soap or toothpaste.

Perry and I have concluded we were treated with kindness and patience by every person we met during our trip, including the merchants we bartered with while shopping. The university assigned Claudia to help us. She worked as a clerk in the language department and had the most English skills. We quickly determined she was our special angel. Every day at 10 o’clock she would come to our work area with a daily menu. She would explain the Peruvian dishes and their ingredients. She was so kind, so caring and full of smiles. It seemed to us that office ladies have never worked or talked with Americans before our invasion. We hope we left a good impression. Most of them were in tears waving their good-byes after our two weeks together.

Totally amazing! Breathe taking. Massive. My description of Machu Picchu. Seeing it was a bonus trip we planned. It was worth the extra effort and cost.
We think the reason the Incas abandoned Machu Picchu was it was so much work and all of the stairs.....along with the tiny mean-spirited mosquitoes.

After almost 3 weeks of wonderful opportunities, adventures and experiences, we flew home. Yes, we have some great pictures but we also have very special memories of our service time in Peru.

Global Volunteers is a service organization in more than 20 countries. It offers programs in medical care, construction, nurturing, and conversational English. For more information on countries, programs and service dates see, … and no you do not have to speak a second language.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

And the painting continues!

Wednesday 15th Sept

Today I arrive to CDLN right on time. Myriam starts our daily meeting. Our painting windows project continues in Sonrisa fransciscana pavilion. Today I continue painting the 5th window. Jose is bringing us the ladder. It really helps to reach and paint the hightest part of the windows.

It is 1:30 p.m. and we start our lunch with prayer. We have fun with kids at my table. We enjoy each others company, a counting game in English begins. After lunch I go to help kids to dry off the dishes and we have fun. Myriam takes a photo of us standing by the sink.

After lunch I go to the pavilion to finish the painting. I use Jose´s ladder a lot. There's another 4 windows... the paint is making me a bit dizzy and it has a strong smell! It has been a long day and it is getting pretty hot today :)

At 5 p.m. my taxi punctually arrives and I go home. The taxi driver takes a different route, with less trafic. He drops me off at Larcomar. I walk home by foot enjoying the beautiful scenery.

I am then at the hotel and I am ready to eat my dinner at our restaurant. It is small but very cozy, and they make great steak skewers. I am tired and go to bed early today!

Written by Volunteer Karina

Friday, September 10, 2010

Adding a Little Sunshine to their Lives...

Friday 10th September

Today is my last day at CDLN even though Karina will be staying on until next week. It`s gone extremely fast, and I find myself feeling like I need a bit more time. Nevertheless, the day starts with a frantic search for cookies for the party later in the day.

Once we arrive, Hermano Pedro started to help Karina and me with the painting supplies, but got sidetracked telling us about Arequipa (where he is from) and invited us to his pavilion to watch a DVD he`d recently bought on the area. He was so generous to offer us crackers and to tell us about the condors, bullfighting and his hometown. He seemed very proud of where he was from. We did eventually get around to painting (another ordeal moving benches outside, trying to find supplies...) and soon thereafter, it was then time for lunch.

The kids had pasta today instead of rice, and it was funny to watch them trying to negotiate away the mushrooms in the pasta and then to twirl the noodles around and throw them at each other. Even though that wouldn`t go over well in most kitchens, it makes me glad to know that they can still be silly and playful at CDLN. They also got oranges today and were trading and stealing each other`s oranges. The fruit was definitely a treat for them. Everyday, there has been one little boy, Elias, who doesn`t eat his food and, since the kids are required to eat everything that they are given, he gets in big trouble with Hermana Juanita when he doesn`t finish. Today as we were cleaning up, he was trying to hide it under the table and wanted me to help him. They`re all just so funny in how they manage their lives here. In many ways, it`s not much different than if they were at home.

Since it was Friday, the kids were able to watch a movie after lunch. They were all glued to Avatar (which I haven`t even seen yet) and were excited for Karina, Myrian and I to sit with them and watch. Later in the afternoon, we served them the cookies and handed out balloons, both which seemed to be a big hit. I tried to show them the trick of rubbing the balloon against your hair to make it stick to the wall, but it wasn`t working so well. Maybe there`s not enough static electricity in Lima:)

At the end of the party, they presented me with a thank you card that they had made. It was very sweet and the boys were all very gracious in making a line to thank me for various things during the week. I really was moved not just on Friday, but throughout the week, by how sweet and affectionate they were.

In a perfect world, they would have people there everyday just to play and give them attention. I hope that the short time I was here has added a least a little sunshine to their lives. I know that it has mine.

Written by Volunteer Jill

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day Two in Lima!

Tuesday 7th September

Today is Tuesday, our 2nd in Peru. We have our hearty breakfast at our hotel and get ready to go to CDNL. Our taxi is very punctual, although the streets are filled with trafic, we arrive to CDNL on time at 9 a.m.

Upon our arrival Myriam comes to greet us with her warm and welcoming smile. We start our day with a Spanish lesson. It is really fun, we are learning slowly but surely. Then Jill and I have big project, painting the windows in St.Fransicana pavilion. Freddy is giving us a helping hand... he teaches us how to scrub rust from the windows. Then we clean them with the brush and paint them.

And now it is lunch time at 1:30 p.m. We are going to the cafeteria to set up the tables for the children. Once we put the dishes on the table we help to serve the food. Suddenly we realize that all children gathered around in the cafeteria at individual seat. Then ready for the prayer. We pray with gratitude.

Suddenly I notice that children are coming towards me saying “hello hermana Karina" and kissing me on the cheek... what a delightful moment for me... I am being accepted as their team member!

After we eat we help them to clean up the tables - they are so efficient in doing the chores, I am very impressed. Then we go to our pavilions. My children from St. Antonio pavilion go to play football, they reall love it. I hang around with them, saying "go go go" and I wish I could play footbal!

Then it is time to do the homework - the fun part. I say "who needs help with math?" and we start doing the homework. I am impressed with them. They are really very good at math, complex divisions and subtractions, although they need little it is nice to just be there and cuddle with them while they do their homework and they are really appreciative when they do it well.

It is 5 p.m. and our day almost comes to the end, we are so glad just to be there for them. Our taxi is waiting for us and we go back to our cozy Hotel Torreblanca.

Written by Volunteer Karina

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Summer of Service in Lima ~ Get Inspired!

Please enjoy some candid photos of our volunteers on summer service programs in Lima, Peru!