Iona Humphries-Cuff - General Care Projects in Peru
I left London in the middle of January with no idea of what to expect, as I had never been to South America before, could hardly speak any Spanish and had never been away for so many months by myself before. However, I was very much looking forward to embracing a completely different culture. When I arrived in Cusco, about 40 hours after leaving London, I was met by one of the Projects Abroad staff who showed me around Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
I was then taken to my host family. I lived with my host mother called Gladis, grandmother called Abelina and brother Marco. There was also another volunteer who was my age from Switzerland who helped to translate for me at the beginning when I could not understand much. It was surprising how quickly one can pick up the language when you submerge yourself in the country and live with a local family.
Whilst in Peru I also had 30 hours of Spanish lessons during the first month to help with grammar but I felt that the most efficient and pleasant way of learning was sitting down with my very patient host mother and having conversations about everything and anything. I would usually start off a sentence, get stuck and she would help finish it off for me. As the days passed I got quicker and found it easier to construct sentences.
For a month and a half I worked in a nutrition centre in Ccotohuincho, Urubamba. I was only meant to work there for a month but I was enjoying it so much that I asked to stay for longer. Each morning I would get the bus from Calca which would take 40 minutes and I would often get squashed as more people would cram in.
From Monday to Wednesday I would work in the centre doing activities with the mothers and their young children teaching them about basic nutrition. Projects Abroad created games which got everyone involved with learning about the different food groups and vitamins and minerals. Many of the mothers and children would draw pictures to express a healthy lifestyle, as some of them could not write, and we would decorate the walls with them alongside the nutrition posters.
We held an event to promote the awareness of anaemia by cooking food that contains iron-rich pig’s blood as it is much cheaper than meat. I tried some of the blood burgers and they were surprisingly not bad at all! On the Thursday and Friday I went on house visits with a nutritionist and we would explain about health to mothers who lived too far away from the centre in Urubamba. It was strange entering someone’s house as I felt like I was intruding but they were always very kind and would listen attentively to my broken Spanish.
During the first month I worked with five to twelve year olds teaching in a summer school. We mainly did arts and crafts, but as there were up to 40 children we generally split them into two groups and took some outside to play. There were two other volunteers but no teachers so we had to come up with all the lesson structures but that meant that we could be as creative as we liked.
The day started at 8am and finished late with a break in between so we would have two classes each day. We taught the older children basic English including numbers and animals. Some items they made during activity time were papier-mâché hot air balloons, flags of South America and a rainbow using tissue paper. We also had lots of obstacle courses using skipping ropes, balls and hula hoops and they had great pleasure playing with a colourful parachute.
My Care Project
The first centre I worked in, in Lamay, was a short bus journey away. I looked after children between the ages of one to three years old. We fed them during meal times and helped clear up as there was always food that had been thrown on the floor!
The second was in Calca, where I lived, with three to five year olds and was more of a kindergarten, where there were two teachers and we would play games, puzzles, sing songs and teach them colours in Spanish and English.
Travelling around Peru
After over three months of volunteering I left Cusco and took a 20 hour bus to Lima to meet a friend and start travelling for two months. We went up the north coast of Peru visiting Huanchaco to see the city of Chan Chan. We then crossed the border to Ecuador where we spent two weeks. Our first stop being the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca, then the very remote town of Chugchilan in order to see the breath-taking Lake Quilotoa.
We continued onto Quito where we did some day trips to the Equator and the artisan market of Otavalo. Our final destination in Ecuador was Vilcabamba where we could admire the scenery on horseback. We spent a couple of long journeys on the bus to get back to Lima where we then continued down to the south of Peru calling at Paracas, Huacachina and Nazca where we had a boat trip to see a variety of marine life, went sand-boarding and dune buggying, and flew over the mysterious lines.
In Arequipa we looked around the stunning Monastery, spent a couple of days exploring the Colca Canyon and admiring the condors. We then travelled to Puno and stayed a night on Amantani, one of the islands of Lake Titicaca, with a host family where we got to try their traditional dress and learn some of their dancing. We also saw the reed islands of Uros and learnt about their way of life.
We traversed the border to Copacabana, Bolivia where we went to the island of the sun where the first Incas were meant to have appeared. The next cities were La Paz and Cochabamba then we headed down to Uyuni to do a three day tour of the salt flats. Our last stops were Potosi and Sucre where my friend and I separated then I got four buses in order to get back to Cusco.
I stayed with my host family again for a few more days in Calca and experienced the festival of the sun before I got my flight the next day. I felt ready to return home after travelling but when I returned back to my host family I had such mixed feelings as I felt that Calca was partly my home having lived there for a few months and they had cared for me as if I was their own daughter.
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.