Bethany Lockhart - Care & Community in Peru
Taking part in the Projects Abroad Care and Community High School Special presented me with a number of new experiences; first time travelling alone, the first time in South America and the first time visiting four airports in one day! If there was a way to nudge me out of my comfort zone in a simultaneously exciting and slightly scary way, this was definitely it.
Choosing a project
After volunteering at a kids’ club the previous summer in my own city, I decided it was time to branch out and Projects Abroad provided me with an ideal trip by both volunteering and assisting the community and also getting to experience and enjoy a new culture.
Thanks to the help from the Projects Abroad travel team and my volunteer advisor, my flights were booked, my placement was confirmed, my parents were reassured and all that was standing between me and Peru were four weeks of exams. The time flew by and before I knew it I was heading to the airport with a rucksack that weighed almost as much as I did and a stomach full of butterflies. Projects Abroad also helped make the journey less stressful by putting me in contact with the other volunteers heading to the same destination. I had been in contact with Alex from England and Euna from the United States prior to my departure and knowing that I would meet them made navigating an airport I had never been to before slightly less daunting.
On arrival in Cusco, we were greeted by a Projects Abroad staff member and I can assure you that there is nothing better than being greeted by a friendly face after an 11-hour flight! We were soon introduced to the very different form of road travel in Peru with people blaring their car horns from all directions and although we would become accustomed to this manner of driving, I don’t think we became less intrigued or entertained by it throughout the trip.
We arrived at our host family, who welcomed us with open arms and met the other volunteers who would be staying in the same house. Living with 15 other volunteers meant there definitely was never a dull moment on the trip! After our introductions, we were given time to unpack and rest in our own rooms. All the bedrooms were clean and comfortable which was much appreciated later in the trip after having worked with 25 energetic kindergarteners all morning! On the first evening, we were given a tour of the centre of the town which was captivating, ranging from the beautiful architecture of the surrounding buildings to the colourful patterns on jumpers, scarves and blankets in the shops and markets.
My Care Placement
We were split into three groups, attending to different kindergartens in Cusco. On our first day, the kids seemed to stare at us in awe and slight confusion, but 10 minutes later they were chatting away and dragging us along behind them to go play. One of my favourite memories was seeing the kids all line up to sing together before heading off to their respective classes. Another volunteer and I were paired up to work in a classroom with the five-year-olds who had a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Usually at the start of the morning we helped them with their reading and writing with guidance from their teacher, sat with them during their snack time and play time and then after break we could do our own activities with them, including singing songs and teaching them some English, making masks and play dough and on the last day teaching them how to make a fruit salad.
I think studying Spanish at school gave me an advantage in being able to chat with the children although I’m glad I was working with five-year-olds because I don’t think my Spanish is much more advanced than that! The kids brightened our day and seemed so excited to see us every morning, gave us affectionate nicknames and seemed appreciative and interested towards all the activities we did with them. Working with the kids was really rewarding, especially seeing their faces light up whenever you tell them how good their work is or when they give you a hug.
We also spent two days at a nursing home, helping at meal times and to clean the home. This also allowed us to have conversations with the older people and learn about their lives. I think this really helped me improve my Spanish listening skills as well.
Host family and free time
Our host family were very friendly and I really admired the fact that they would cook for around 15 hungry teenagers every day! I was a bit concerned before my trip about the food in Peru, especially because I’m a vegetarian but they were so accommodating and helpful and I enjoyed the food and conversation at meal times. My host parents and their three sons were lovely and always happy to have a chat with us or help us with anything we needed. Their goddaughter helped out at meal times to make sure everyone was well fed and happy and offered to take us to the supermarket multiple time in order for us to buy some snacks. She even helped us to order a birthday cake for one of the other volunteer’s birthdays so we could have a surprise party for lunch!
Usually, in the afternoon, we had an activity such as visiting a market, dancing, or cooking classes. These were all so interesting and fun and allowed us to experience Peruvian culture. We all received a detailed itinerary which was really useful for preparing for what you would be doing each day and I was also able to email this to my parents to keep them updated with what was going on every day on my trip.
My favourite activity was definitely the trip to Machu Picchu, it was a truly unforgettable experience. The train journey to Aguas Calientes had the most beautiful views and even the photos we all took couldn’t possibly do it justice. After a night’s stay in a hotel, we were up bright and early at 4 am to start our day. The steep walk upwards left us all tired and sweaty but was definitely worth the effort and the views were jaw dropping, making for some of the best photos of the entire trip.
The trip was everything I had hoped for as I was able to make a difference to the community, experience a different culture and make friends with people from all around the world. I would particularly recommend this project to any young person who is nervous about travelling alone for the first time as Projects Abroad makes everything as easy as possible and offers you so much advice before you even start travelling.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.