Huaraz: Seeds of Hope

Trip Start Sep 08, 2012
Trip End Nov 27, 2012

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Flag of Peru  ,
Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Earlier this year when I began planning this big adventure, I wanted to make sure I spent some time volunteering. I did a lot of research and decided to volunteer with Seeds of Hope. The initial draw was Huaraz, which is near the 'big mountains.´ It also fit in with how I wanted to map my overall trip. I wasn't really sure what I would be getting into other than working with kids in a sort of before/after school program, but I figured it would be a good experience to be open to. 

I spent two weeks volunteering for Seeds of Hope and it was anything but easy. The organization focuses its efforts on children who come from the poorest families in Huaraz, ranging from 6-18 years of age. Below is a sample of what my day-to-day looked like (schedule adapted from the Seeds website):

9.00am: Arrive at school, greet the children (high school age) and get them settled quickly. Help the children with their homework or set tasks for the children who don't go to school or don’t have homework. This is usually mathematics, reading, writing or art.

10:45am: The children have free time.

11.00am: Children wash their hands and volunteers serve breakfast to the children. 

11.30am: Children and volunteers work together to tidy the classroom, making sure all the pens, pencils, books, glue and scissors are tidied away and the classroom is ready for the afternoon session.

12.00pm: Siesta Time! Free time to eat lunch, explore Huaraz, and practice your Spanish, and prepare activities for the afternoon session if you wish.

3.00pm: The afternoon session of school starts with the same format as the morning (grade school age).

4.30pm: Children wash their hands and volunteers serve a warm afternoon snack to the students.

5.00pm: Children and volunteers work together to tidy the classroom, making sure all the pens, pencils, books, glue and scissors are tidied away and the classroom is ready for the morning session.

I did the above routine (mas or menos) for the first week but seeing as my Spanish is only at a very basic level, it was really challenging to help the older kids. Sadly, this resulted in me not really feeling useful. Teenagers can be difficult enough even when you do speak the language!

It´s very humbling to attempt teaching your own language to kids who comes from unimaginably rough backgrounds and even more humbling when they end up helping you more. Come to find out -through one of few conversations I did have- I was the same age as one of the student´s mother. This blew me away bit. I did the math and thought back to what I was doing at that age and was grateful I was trying to get my act together from a previously terrible college semester so I could graduate somewhere in the 3.0 range. I was even more grateful that I did just that. There are so many kids in Peru who will not even have the chance to recover from a bad semester and it breaks my heart. Thankfully, Seeds of Hope is trying to help position kids for better opportunities. 

I ended up going on ´outreach´ detail in the mornings the second week, trying to get the word out about Seeds to various international Universities. I did also manage to use the morning time to help out with a few photography projects-- which were much better suited for my skill set.

On the less challenging side, I really enjoyed my time with the afternoon grade school kids. They were so loving and just so freaking adorable. I will be the first to admit that I am not much of a kid person -I ´accidentally´ left my baby clock in Dottie´s womb- and taking on this gig was going to be hard but the younger kids made it worth it. At least I could teach them a little bit of English AND understand their questions. Communication! Yay! I also managed to help with `easy` math, even though this took relearning fractions and then learning how to do long division the Peruvian way; they show their work very, very differently here. Who knew! 

Below are some highlights of my time with the afternoon kiddos. There are lots more but this what I wanted to share in my very limited Internet time at the moment. Feel free to ask me about it when I see/talk to you next!


#1 A tiny little first grader who wore a tiny little jean jacket on the back of which was an even tinier littler (yes, it´s a word I checked) jean jacket sewn on to it- it was ´melt your heart´ cute. Sadly, I was without my camera and/or I felt it would have been too distracting to capture it.

#2 While working with the tiny jean jacket chico I noticed he was writing the numbers 3 and 7 backwards... uh oh. I notified the appropriate folks and was told that sometimes younger kids do this when learning how to write numbers. I was unaware of this seemingly common occurrence but I did observe that he only seemed to struggle with math problems containing those specific numbers but yet quickly completed other problems. I am not an expert by any means but it did seem very frustrating for him. I hope it was just a developmental hiccup and not dyslexia. Although, I still continue to mix up my left and right and reverse numbers too... ah well. Maybe he´s a kindred spirit? 

#3 Kid drawings! Kid drawings are always the best! Another adorable student drew me a picture (I posted it below).

#4 Piggyback rides! Some kids liked for me to be their ´horse.´ I think in Spanish that would be ´gringa yegua´?

#5 Song time! Whenever I hear "Feliz Navidad" I will always think of Seeds. And "El Burrito de Belén" is my new international favorite Christmas song!  PS Sally you are amazing!!

Fridays with the younger kids were especially fun since it was game day! They play a game called ´bata.´ Bata is similar to baseball except for the ball is slightly larger than a softball and is made of crumpled newspaper taped together with scotch. I didn`t get all the rules but when the ball is pitched from the mound, it´s then hit with the open palm. Once contact is made you run (the direction always seemed to be to the right but I don´t think that´s mandatory?). If you are hit with the ball you are out or dead (muerto!). There is also a rule about about getting 5 out and something about becoming undead but I didn´t catch it all. I tried playing but didn´t have the correct footware as the backyard was the exact opposite of a modern day American plastic playground.

The kids had a blast! It was fun to watch them just play. On several occasions I was reminded of George Carlin`s bit on kids. It´s classic Carlin but the point he makes is a good one... kids don´t need every moment of their life to be structured. Actually, I think a lot of us could uses a National Lazy Day. Maybe lazy people should be forced to work on National Lazy Day? BAM! What do you think of that policy? Kellie O´Donnell 2012! but I digress... Anyway it´s truly amazing what creativity can come out of a structure-free block.

On yet another side note, a saw a giant metal slide in a Cusco playground that had what appeared to be a 3ft drop into a deep ditch... American kids nowadays are indeed too soft! HA! 

Throughout my time in working with Seeds, I decided to stay in the volunteer apartment which already had 7 people (including two folks in the apartment across the way) in residence. It had been a long time since I did the community living thing so I was challenged straight out of the gate. Plus it didn't help that I arrived at the end of the week wanting to rest from the epic bus ride and my fellow apartment dwellers were in an entirely different space of wanting to blow off steam. I considered staying at a nearby hostel but decided against it because I wanted to get to know everyone. I'm glad I did but next time, I'm going to opt for the hostel. I recognize that I like my space and quite much more these days. And I think I'm finally over the shared space on a large level scene. A special note to my dear friends: I wholeheartedly support you in your youthful awesomeness and I would like to dedicate this song to you. Thanks for reminding me of my younger days!   

All in all it was a good experience. I learned a lot and in the end I was the one who got schooled. HA!  Oh and the kids even made me a card, said thank you and gave me big hugs. Dont´t tell them but I got a bit choked up. The cuteness really was too much.

Thanks for reading! 

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Sol on

I'd fallen way behind on your entries, but have now managed to catch up. Whew! Sounds like you have been having a pretty amazing journey so far. =)

Madie on

Hey Kellie,

Thank you so much for the great entry, but especially thank you for the great work you did with Seeds!!! We were very happy to have you!

Muchos gracias y muchos besos!

mc1rvariant on

Madie! Thanks for your comment. It was an honor to be a part of Seeds even if it was just for a short time. The kids are truly amazing! My heart is warmed just thinking about it. I am inspired and hope to do more in the future!

mc1rvariant on

Thanks Sol! And thanks for reading! I hope all is well with you. :) Let's catch up when I get back!

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