learning curve in peru

peruvian boy by nathan kellett

When Sophie Wade visited Cuzco, Peru, with her family, she decided then that one day she would be back.

So now 18 months later, after completing her final year at school, waiting tables and cleaning rooms, stints working in Intrepid’s Beijing and Melbourne offices and an unlikely but most amusing job as a USA summer camp petting zoo counsellor, she’s finally back in Cuzco. But this time Sophie is there to make a difference on Intrepid’s Peru Teaching and Building trip…

“After a year and a half I did not expect to remember all that much, but I can say for sure that Cuzco has not lost its appeal. Cobblestoned streets, women wandering in traditional dress with blankets strapped to their backs (carrying anything from flowers to children) and the Andes towering above the city still give this place charm. And arriving from ever-imposing New York I could really appreciate the lack of tall buildings… or any building over 3 or 4 stories. Of course not everything is perfect… some streets smell of things you really don’t want to imagine people doing in the street, and occasionally the extreme altitude will hit you, but it’s all part of the Cusquenian experience and personally, I am loving it!

Living in the project house is an experience in itself, with past, present and future volunteers always dropping in to say ‘hi’… or telling a crazy story from the rainforest involving shamans and some serious ‘purification’, as we heard recently. But when it comes down to it, the reason we’re here, the importance of the place to us, is the kids we teach.

Ella, a friend from home, and I are teaching at a small home and school for kids – Elim. The kids are mainly orphans, and a lot had been living on the streets in their pre-Elim life… which makes it all the more surprising when they run away, which, as we found out recently, happens quite often. My first day being introduced to the boys, one was escorted in by a policeman. Yikes. But other than a little cheekiness we haven’t encountered any major problems with them.

Kids just drop in when they aren’t washing their clothes (which entails laying them out on a bench and scrubbing – can’t imagine many 13 year olds at home doing such a task!) or making ships in a bottle (they’ve shown us how they do it, very cool, but I won’t give away any trade secrets…).

Though class is kind of casual we have a few class regulars: Yoel. Hilarious. Responds to any question with the phrase ‘oh yes! oh yes!’ Eber. Cheeky as. His first question to me upon Ella’s arrival was ‘is he your brother?’ …though I believe this particular incident was an innocent mistake. He is always telling us ‘one moment’ as he grabs our pen and decides to re-write something we have written, or thinks how to correctly answer a question. Kevin. Smart kid, only 11 or so. Good at English, but has started trouble-making like a crazy man. Imitating us in class, not saying sentences we know he can say, and then behaving perfectly as soon as I tell him he can play games on my phone if he is good. Funny as. Brian. Our star pupil. Started with next to no English when we came, but put in so much effort he could tell me of all his favourite and least favourite hobbies and name most of his body parts in English within the first few days. Yay! We were so proud.

Yesterday, we arrived to class to be told Brian had ‘exited’ with a boy called Rovin, one Ella and I knew from his occasional visits to class to be trouble. Having seen another kid be escorted back to Elim on my first day by the police, I had the feeling this meant he had run away. Upon asking Hilario, a 17 year old with the best English in the place, who acts as a big brother to most of the kids, we found out that yes, Brian had run away, and taken Hilario’s camera with him. “We have some trouble,” was Hilario’s quite apt description of the situation. Hardly under Ella or my control, and the boys seeming to think it was the standard situation, we taught as usual, and began our project of chipping old paint off one of the courtyard’s walls to begin a new paint job.

So today we plastered and started painting the wall. It was interesting. Some might say very interesting. And it is possible, vaguely possible, that even after showering I still have white paint all over me. It’s a good look. But the kids seem to have fun with it, and so did we… Despite some oh-crap-look-how-much-paint-is-on-the-ground incidents. Tomorrow we will begin painting a sea scape on the wall. Yes, you heard me. The sea, on the wall of a school very high in the Andes mountains. Far away from water. Ahhh well, it should look awesome and we can teach words as we paint, such as ‘whale’.

Most importantly today, Brian was back. So happy. ‘Brian!’ I exclaimed as I wrapped him in a deformed hug when he went for the morning kiss-on-the-cheek welcome. So star pupil back we taught the colours, and all the words relating to our wall painting project, such as ‘plaster’ and ‘sand paper.’ Tomorrow should prove interesting, as we commence the actual design on the wall. Ella’s artistic skill being far higher than mine, she plans to sketch it out while I supervise the boys in our weekly test. Hopefully under my strict supervision the cheating this time will cease… but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

Located high among the spectacular Andes Mountains, Peru Teaching and Building focuses on assisting a rural village in Peru for 14-day, 28-day or 42-day projects. With time split between a building project and teaching at a local school, you’ll make life-long friends and become an essential part of this Peruvian community.

photo: Nathan Kellett

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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