Days 40-49: From Lima Back to Arequipa

Trip Start Oct 15, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  , Arequipa Region,
Monday, December 2, 2013

After our first 39 days exploring Peru it was time to start the next part of our trip, volunteering at an orphanage in Arequipa for a month. At this point we were both ready to get back into a routine and start spending our days doing something productive. We both decided long ago we wanted to spend a portion of our trip volunteering to try to give back instead of leaving just a tourist footprint on Peru. We also wanted to really get to know the culture and figured the best way would be to live in a city or town for some time and spend each day working alongside Peruvians. After researching we learned there are thousands of volunteer programs available ranging from helping out at orphanages, farming, working with indigenous animals in the jungle and mountains, and more. We decided to settle on an orphanage called Casa Hogar in Arequipa which we signed up for through an agency called Traveller Not Tourist (TNT). After reviewing the website and looking at reviews we just had a good feeling about this one and we both thought it would be a lot funner to spend christmas with the kids. Over our first month travelling Peru we met many people who also volunteered at orphanages and they all had nothing but positive things to say.

We also were excited to go back to Arequipa. It's snowcapped volcanic backdrop is a site one will never get tired of. The city is also known as the "White City" due to the colonial buildings being made of white volcanic stone. Definitely the most beautiful city in Peru (we found). Our first time in Arequipa we were unable to try a lot of local cuisine but after hearing many limeños rave about how great Arequipa's food was we are ready to search and find out this month.

We arrived at our volunteer house in Arequipa on November 24th and were greeted by Mel who is a grad student from England doing a year long internship with TNT. Our volunteer house is located in a district called Cayma which is only a 20 minute stroll to the downtown/historic centre. Mel spent a few hours showing us around the house and Cayma, which we were relieved to see that both were very nice and safe. We met all the other volunteers that day. Funnily enough all spoke english as their first language.

Our first two days were free so we spent time settling in and roaming around Cayma to find a monthly gym membership. The closest gym we tried was a 5 minute walk from our house and looked too good to be true with many brand new high end machines and located in a mall with a supermarket. It turned out it was as the minimum membership was for 3 months for 200 US dollars each. The lady at the front desk was not the least bit interested in negotiating a deal for our one month in Arequipa. Before going to Peru I assumed everything would be super inexpensive and bartering would be an option for anything as it was a third world country. After spending time in the big cities I learned that this isn't the case and us two with professional careers in Canada were beginning to feel the budgeting pains from the high end stores and restaurants. The second day we found a hole in the wall gym a 15 minute walk away from our house which gave us a deal for 80 soles (30 USD) each for the month. The gym has a very local feel as we are the only foreigners that are ever inside (we don't even have to show our pass).

On our third day Mel brought us to the orphanage to meet the children, go over our tasks, and also to show us how to get there (40 minute journey through series of walking and a local bus). We are working with 8 kids ages 5 and under plus more older kids who go to school so we would only see them in the afternoons and weekends. The orphanage is run by full time local volunteers (mostly women who the children call "Tia" which is "aunt" in spanish) and they run fully on donations. The government sends them children who were abandoned or from families incapable of looking after them but does not give any funding.

After only an hour with the kids they were already growing on us. They are all beautiful and very sweet children who want nothing from you but to play with them and pick them up. We were told to avoid picking up the small children to force them to walk as much on their own and to not rely on it for comfort as the usual 1 or 2 Tias present at a time cannot possibly do so with all the duties. There are not always enough volunteers to help the full time Tias. Surprisingly December looks to be a popular month for volunteers with 10 of us presently and more to come. I guess it is the season of giving so naturally people from first world countries are looking for ways to give back. Each day there are two shifts 7am-12pm or 1pm-6pm with up to 3 volunteers from TNT. Each volunteer is expected to work 5 days a week.

The following afternoon we had our first full shift at the orphanage. Mel joined us to help us get our bearings. We spent most of the day getting to learn each kid's personality and also names (names were challenging to remember!). At the end of our first day we were surprised to see our day consisted of playing with the kids. We also felt like we were starting to grow on the children in a very positive way. It was adorable to see how all the boys clung to Matt who they call "Mateo" as male volunteers were not as common.

The next day we learned that our tasks were not all fun and games as I was thrown straight into the nitty gritty duty of changing diapers (only females can change diapers leaving me with a good 6-7 dirty diapers in a row after the lunch time nap). We also got a lesson on how to do the laundry which involves hand scrubbing, washing (luckily they have a machine that gives a 9-minute cycle!), hand ringing and hanging. We still got to spend a lot of time with the kids but we were happy to see we have other tasks to do to make sure the days don't go by too slowly and also to help the full time Tias.

Throughout the week we spent three more days (morning shifts) at the orphanage. We got more involved with the domestic duties such as feeding the kids, cleaning, dishes, etc. We learned understanding and taking direction from the full time Tia's would be our biggest challenge who didn't speak or understand any English. This can also work to our advantage as it does a lot to help us build on our understanding of the language. We were extremely flattered to be invited to eat breakfast with the Tia's and director each day as we were told they only ask volunteers they liked. Though it was slightly awkward at times sitting there in moments of silence because no one understood the other it was still progress to learning each other's language as we would ask them words in Spanish and vice versa.

We ended off the week with taking the kids to Dinosaur Park with all the volunteers. The trip was covered by two Dutch volunteers who fundraised at home. The younger kids almost seemed overwhelmed as we first stepped into the huge park filled with giant dinosaurs and playgrounds. Within 20 minutes or so they were all loving it. Even though we were only at the park for 3 hours every child was asleep on the 20 minute cab ride home.
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Brittany on

Truly awesome guys! Love reading about your trip and love all pictures, especially these ones with the kids. Enjoy!

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