So today was officially my last day at the San Isidro school in Cusco and also marked the end of my 3rd volunteer abroad adventure. It was bittersweet as always: I’m definitely going to miss the kids but at the same time it will be nice to wear clothes that aren’t covered in glue and paint all the time!
As always, I arrived to a stampede of screaming children – “HOLA PROFE”, “MIRA, MIRA” – and I felt a strong sense of dread. I was far too tired and headachey to be dealing with all these kids: get me home! But then suddenly, I was filled with the realisation that this was my last day and I was really going to miss the constant cuddles and hilarious peruvian child antics, so I quickly changed my mind-set and prepared to make the most of my experience!
Luckily for me it was a super relaxing day. Hours of singing songs, dancing and drawing, but to top it all off – it was all for me! I was lavished with small gifts and a handmade book of cards from my favourite class. I felt super humbled by it all, insisting that it wasn’t necessary (seriously, all I’ve been doing is cutting and sticking…) but they carried on with their hugging and singing and dancing and eventually I just couldn’t resist the celebrations.
The children have absolutely no idea where England is, or why it would be hard for me to ‘pop in once a week’. The teacher had to explain multiple times that I have a family and a life to return to and can’t go home with 4 children clinging on to my legs. Their goodbyes were sweet though – plenty of kisses and cute words – and it definitely made me feel bad for complaining about having to go in that morning… oops!
Overall, I’ve had a brilliant time at the San Isidro school. It’s been a great way to practice spanish: listening to children speak is the ultimate test! Although it wasn’t quite what I signed up for (there was a glitch and I ended up working with much younger children than expected), I still made the most of it, that’s for sure!
I’m probably not going to work with 4 year olds when I’m older, or even be a teacher for that matter, but the experience was invaluable. It taught me about commitment (ok, I missed 4 days of work in total due to travelling to Pisac and Huacachina but I did push myself to go in even when I couldn’t be bothered), patience (the children and even the teachers can be hard to comprehend sometimes) and most of all open-mindedness (the culture and the education system are very different, but after talking to the teachers you realise that you can’t try to put a ‘western footprint’ on everything you encounter, it’s good to embrace new rules and try new things)
Volunteering in Peru was a VERY different experience to my previous two in Costa Rica and Ecuador. At just 4 hours a day, it was way less work and nowhere near as tiring. The school was also slightly better off than previous ones I’ve seen/worked in – they had lots of supplies, a uniform and a great play area. That being said, it was still basic in comparison to UK schools and so the poverty really can’t be denied.
In general, I think it felt more like fun than a job, which is really great in some respects but at the same time they could definitely cope without having volunteers around! You’re never gonna ‘change the world’ by being a volunteer abroad for 2 months and I think that’s something people forget. My motive for volunteering was more to improve my spanish and to build relationships with people. The smallest gestures can mean a lot to children – just having someone to play with, or having someone to chat to, or having someone to teach them a bit of english. So, I would definitely argue that Peru was just as good as my last 2 experiences 😊
There were 3 different classrooms but in 2 of them I found myself just cutting, sticking or drawing in a room away from the children, so I decided to say something and make a point that I preferred being in the classroom where I could interact with the kids. Although it seemed a bit controversial at the time, I’m glad I said something because it meant that I could get the best out of my experience. I always think that if you want something then go ahead and ask cause the worst thing they can say is no! So, being able to work with my favourite class and actually do beneficial things and form relationships with the children definitely improved my experience (although, I secretly enjoyed the cutting and sticking too because it’s been years since I’ve done arts and crafts!)
Obviously volunteering isn’t for everyone – it can be hard when you’re in such an exciting country to motivate yourself to go to work without being paid a penny for it. So I’m not going to lie and say that I’d totally recommend it to anyone. However, if you are interested then I do think that the company I volunteer with, UBELONG, is the most cost efficient.
There’s a lot of controversy behind volunteering abroad nowadays – some companies will charge up to £2500 just for 2 weeks and consider it value for money. I don’t quite agree with ‘paying to volunteer’ as such, and there’s so many ways to get involved when you arrive in a country (for example in farm work or education) without paying, but at the same time it is nice to have a company that will provide you with support, accommodation and food. I just think, if you’re interested in volunteering, you have to find a reasonable price and program for you – Simple!
Anyway, now volunteering is over I have 10 more days to finally do whatever the hell I want to! I’ve been refraining from drinking and nights out purely because I wanted to be on form for work. It’s one thing showing up and another thing actually being alert and enjoying the experience. Some people can handle small children on a hangover – sadly I’m not one of them!
I can’t try and pretend that I’m about to become a party animal though: I’ve had a whole year of university nights out and 4am crawls to my bed, plus I’m moving to Russia – land of vodka – in a month so I need a break here! I’ll probably still be in bed before midnight most nights knowing my body clock and I’m really not a big fan of sleazy clubs, but I’ll definitely embrace my newly found freedom 😉
No early mornings or commitments is something that I’m very much looking forward to, so here’s to dancing the night away and having all the fun I can squeeze into 10 days. Plus, I’m going to the beautiful city of Arequipa on Sunday so make sure to keep updated with my travels!
P.s – That’s my pal Benjamin running towards me just as I’m taking the photo. His hug knocked me to the ground and my phone flew half way across the school – SO worth it.