Finish your homework and go herd the sheep!

Trip Start May 18, 2007
Trip End Jul 28, 2007

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Flag of Peru  ,
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

¡Hola Amigos! 

Well, Day 2 of school is over, and I already feel like I've been there for a long time. The routine is already familiar, and the kids act like they've known me forever. I have to say that in a given day at Colegio Victor Maldonado, a volunteer like me goes through a number of different emotions.

Today, I distinctly remember feeling 1) happy to see kids smiling and working hard, 2) sad because 2 volunteers are leaving us, 3) slightly frustrated with how long the whole pill distribution takes, 4) quite disgusted at the bucket of warm milk (more on that later), 5) mildly annoyed when the kids aren't listening, 6) slightly more annoyed when the Peruvian teacher yells at the top of her lungs, 7) thrilled to see kids that live in very difficult circumstances still want to learn, and 8) sad to see the situation in which these kids find themselves.

So - what do I actually do in a day? Today, I started with distributing the antibiotics and other pills that most kids are taking these days, since they're ALL sick. This distribution is very time-consuming -- averaging 1.5 hours to cover 22 kids... Why? Each kid needs to take 1 to 3 different pills, some kids need a half-dose only and therefore need to bite the pill in half, other kids just can't swallow pills and take forever... After that first distribution, I spent another 1.5 hours packing pills in little plastic bags so the kids could take home their nightly dose. After lunch, more pill distribution again.

OK - being a drug dealer currently occupies a solid 3 to 4 hours of my day. But the mild boredom incurred on my part is well compensated by the knowledge that at least these children are being treated for the myriad infections from which they suffer.

In between the Florence Nightingale repeat performances, today, I watched and helped the kids with crafts, as they first made little flags of Peru to celebrate Flag Day tomorrow, and then more crafts as they made cards for the 2 volunteers leaving us. The afternoon was a special "farewell ceremony" to those 2 teachers -- very touching, with the little ones reciting poems, and some of the older ones singing and making speeches.

It is very easy to become attached to these kids, especially as they are extremely affectionate. They are very "huggy", especially the younger ones (ages 5-6), and even the older ones (13-14) seem to crave affection and attention. Despite the environment in which they live, they do appear quite carefree and happy. In some cases, I've already learned that they present a pretty good front, but that their reality does affect them in challenging ways.

Pablo, Grade 5, goes home after school, and works with his parents making bread until 2am, every night. I'm not sure if it's in a "proper" bakery or some neighbourhood thing, but either way, for a 12 year-old, he doesn't get much sleep.

Alejandra (Grade 1), Yovana (Grade 3), and MariCruz (Grade 4) are sisters. Very cute and very sweet... After school today, they went into the fields across the road, and joined their mother and other family members herding sheep. I sure don't remember herding sheep after a day of elementary school...

Every day, the Peruvian Government provides some bread and milk to feed the children. Usually, each child gets a roll (sometimes "the government" doesn't deliver enough), and a cup of heated milk. This milk is delivered to the classroom from the kitchen in a red plastic bucket (the kind we use for household chores). It's unpasteurized milk, and smells very strongly. Most of the kids gobble it up - they do come to school hungry in the morning. Most of us "gringos" would get sick from drinking that milk, but for the children, it's certainly better than what they get at home.

For lunch, GVI helps to provide a hot meal - usually rice with meat and vegetables. The children do take food seriously - no food fights, spillage or waste.

Watching them wash their hands, face and hair is quite amusing. Most don't get to wash at home, and if they do, it's with cold water only. We have big plastic barrels that get filled in the morning, and then sit in the sun all morning. After lunch, the kids get to scrub with nice warm water... Apparently, the first week they did this, many a water fight ensued, but they've since learned to appreciate feeling clean, and they're very careful with the warm water.

My favourite time of day so far is the fruit distribution. Right after bread and milk, during recess, we (GVI) distribute fruit - oranges, tangerines - to the kids. They have to "earn it" by answering a question. In just two days, I've managed to make this quite fun. I've got the kids lined up, and very eager to go first. "¿Matematicas o Ingles?", I ask. Most pick math questions, but often come back for seconds and pick an English question. Since the ultimate goal is to give them fruit, obviously, the questions are designed for them to answer fairly easily. But - they love it! I can't claim all the credit - before I got here, other volunteers were doing it, but I seem to have inherited this task, with a lot of joy, I must say.

Starting tomorrow, we'll only have two volunteers - myself, and Jacqueline - to take care of the kids. Next week, from Monday to Thursday, that means that once the Peruvian teachers leave at 1pm, it's Jacqueline and me taking care of 22 kids until 3pm. I know that for most Canadian (or "Western") teachers, that's nothing... but for us, operating in Spanish exclusively, and with hardly any resources that one would like to count on (running water being an example, decent toilets being another), it will be a challenge. That's why we came here...

So - what's life like in Arequipa apart from the school, you ask? Arequipa is actually a pretty nice city. The Plaza de Armas is quite striking - very different from that of Cusco or Lima. Most colonial buildings, and several newer ones, are made of a white volcanic rock called Sillar, which gives the whole city a light appearance.

The weather...! Wow! It's the beginning of winter here - which means 18-20 degrees during the day, and about 7-10 at night. What's great is that, at this time of year, it's ALWAYS sunny! One can count on the sky being clear in the morning, afternoon, and evening. I really do enjoy that...

The city does offer most modern conveniences. I've just come across a Radio Shack, several Bata Shoe stores, a number of pharmacies when you can find any product from home (well, almost...), health stores, cell phone stores galore, cake shops, fashion stores, appliance stores, and the Cusco Coffee Company. The latest is a Peruvian imitation of Starbucks, and is actually a pretty decent alternative. The service is distinctly slower, but the coffee is really good, the chocolate cake awesome, and the decor is a nice reminder of North American life. What's more, it ISN'T Starbucks (nothing against it, really, but I'm in Peru!), and it is Peruvian-owned.

Since I had Monday off, I took the opportunity to go visit the Monastery of Santa Catalina (I believe I mentioned that in yesterday's entry), and then a bus tour of the city. Before signing off in a few minutes, I'll try to upload a few pictures...

Enjoy, and please continue to join me here in the future!
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