Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Peru.

Building a better school for Peru’s children

Posted in Peru on March 20, 2017 by ROI Media Works Corp

March 20

Today is Sara's birthday and her first day on the work site since she just arrived in Peru on the weekend.

We left for the work site later than usual, as we had heard that the grocery store down the street would have water at 8 a.m. We arrived there around 7:45, 15 minutes before the store opened, and unfortunately there wasn't any water available.

Leaving a little later seemed to make a big difference in the traffic, as it wasn't as congested or crazy as it normally is. Either that or I've grown used to it in our one week here.

When we arrived at the site, we discovered that Miguel had been busy over the weekend. He had framed and poured the concrete above the windows. After our morning meeting, several of us - the Pink Floyd girls (Nancy, Susan, Terry and I) along with Sara - set to work sifting the sand to prepare for a top coat over the bricks over the kiosco.

Gino, Lauren and Roland were working up top in the production room after Maria arranged with one of the locals to transport several bags of cement up there for us in his tuk-tuk. They were mixing sand and rock and then lowering it from the top of the back wall to the floor of the room. Chris and David were helping Miguel in the kiosco. They were laying more bricks as well as putting conduit into the brick wall for electricity.

After lunch, most of the group took a siesta right at the table. It had been a very hot and humid morning, and given it was a Monday and we had spent the weekend relaxing and exploring the city, many of us had struggled through the morning. Similar work continued in the afternoon, which wound up with us moving a pile of bricks from one location to another and then hauling a bunch of sand up and over the fence, ready for cement preparation. Where have you heard that before?

We enjoyed a wonderful meal at the hotel to end our day and also a delicious chocolate cake to celebrate Sara's birthday.

Janet Kost,
DWC volunteer, Peru, March 2017

March 17

Happy St Patrick's Day! Today is day five on site and Jessica and Andrei's last day. Work continues on the quiosco and the production room.

I spent the morning writing the blog covering our first four days on site. While I had some notes I had hastily written throughout the week, there were some things I had already forgotten. But it all came back as I started to organize my thoughts and began to write.

Jessica was with me for part of the morning and we chatted more about the family visits she had participated in yesterday. Sandra and her children, Reimond and Cielo arrived. Sandra's family is one that Jessica and the others had visited and she and the children greeted Jessica enthusiastically.

I was absorbed in my writing and before i knew it the ladies started preparing for lunch by putting tablecloths on the tables and bringing out some Peruvian chips similar to tortilla chips.

Since it was the last day for Jessica and Andrei the director of the school and representative from IFEJANT joined us. The lunch they served was a Peruvian dish we had a few nights earlier at our hotel and one of my favourites so far. It is shredded chicken served in a cheese sauce of some sort served on boiled potatoes and with a piece of hard boiled egg on top, served with rice.

Carbs it seems is a staple as each dinner at the hotel has most often been served with rice AND potatoes and that has been the case at the school for lunches, too. Lots of fruits and vegetables are also served at each meal and have been enjoyed by all!

After lunch, there were thank-you speeches from the school director and IFEJANT rep. They then presented gifts to Jessica and Andrei, handwoven Peruvian blankets, which are absolutely beautiful and envied by everyone.

Following this, we spent a few minutes writing responses to two questions that IFEJANTt asked: what has been our favourite part of the experience and what could they do to improve the work process?

Reimond, who is seven years old, spent some time reading our answers aloud in English! I was moved to tears, he did so well and I was immediately struck by the fact that kids at home at that age are generally learning how read in English and here is this young Peruvian boy, living in very impoverished conditions, who can read in English. The school is doing incredible things with and for these children.

After a slow start to work in the afternoon while the local contractors prepared the columns with forms, we finally did the thing we have become pros at in short order: mixing and hauling cement!

By the time we started to haul the mixed cement, it was quite late in the day and our driver, Filman had already arrived. I'm not sure if it was that he wanted to help, didn't want to miss out on the fun that we were having or wanted to get us home so his weekend could begin - probably a bit of all three - but the next thing you know, he rolled up his sleeves and was helping!

We didn't leave until shortly before 6, which is quite late considering it takes an hour or more to get back to the hotel. We've been told that it's dangerous in the area after 6 and it felt a bit like we were running to beat the clock. I'm glad we were later than usual, as we were able to see a group of local boys playing soccer on the cement soccer field on our way out of the neighbourhood.

We made a few stops on the way home in an attempt to find more drinking water. At the first stop, the guys were lined up as they were bringing out pallets of water at the time but they ran out before we got any. Luckily they were able to get some at the next stop, at the stored close to our hotel.

We arrived back at the hotel to find that the ladies who run it had spent much of their day dealing with issues the water shortage is causing. They filled larger garbage pails with water in the bathrooms so that if it completely ran out we could still flush the toilets. Despite the low levels of water they graciously allowed our filthy crew to all take showers but asked if we could be quick. That was easy to comply with as there was no hot water. I had a "cottage style" shower just like I would at our cottage - turn the water on and get completely wet, turn the shower off and lather up, then turn the shower back on to rinse off. I think I am going to instil the process at home for a few months and see how much water we save.

Week 1 ended with a bunch of Canadians who realized how far they'd come in a short time and just how much can be accomplished when you work together.

Janet Kost,
DWC volunteer, Peru, March 2017

March 16

The overnight rains the past two nights have caused significant problems particularly in parts of central Lima and north of the city. There has been a lot of flooding with homes, schools and other structures destroyed. All schools have been closed for several days to deal with the emergency.

The daily meeting with Miguel yesterday appears to have had the results we were hoping for and so it will continue for the rest of our time here. Not only do we have a better understanding of the daily tasks but it appears to be breaking down some barriers and we have all agreed Miguel has become more engaged with us, improving communication greatly, despite the language barrier.

Work continues in quiet today with no children at the school. The activities with the kids will have to wait until next week. You can hear the voices of our group as they co-ordinate their work and share stories. Dogs are barking, birds are singing and there is music playing somewhere. Today we are laying bricks to build the walls of the quiosco we are constructing. At the same time, another group has started in the "production room." This is a room that has a large commercial oven and other equipment used to teach the kids how to bake. It needs the roof to be removed and more trusses put in before replacing the roof, as it is currently very flimsy, flopping in the wind.

My stomach is bothering me today so I am sticking closer to the banos, which is similar to an outhouse but with an actual toilet with no seat and no running water. I feel guilty each time I use it, especially today when I know the country's water system is stressed and in some places in peril as a result of the rain. The area around Lima generally gets two inches of water a YEAR so what's happened is creating a terrible situation. Water is a precious commodity and one I've taken for granted my whole life, I truly never understood its value before. In fact, here at the school, everything is fenced and gated with all the water shut off when there is no one here. Apparently before that they had a problem with crack addicts going onto the premises at night and stealing the water to sell for drugs. Imagine that for a moment - water being of such value that you could sell it for drugs. For me that's difficult to wrap my head around and drives home how much I've taken it for granted.

Several people from our group visited two local families. One home had four small rooms, totalling no more than 400 square feet and housing four adults (three sisters and a brother) and 11 children. They have electricity and said they always have TV, but water is not as easy to obtain and they don't always have it on hand.

The sisters all came together over the past few years from the area closer to the Amazon to provide more opportunity for education for the children. One of the sisters has been helping to prepare the meals we have enjoyed so much while working here at San Jose Obrero. The other family lives higher up the mountain in a home that has a cement patio which, it turns out, is because a landslide destroyed a portion of the home a few years ago and all they have left of it is the cement floor.

Sandra is the mom and her children are Reimond and Cielo. Sandra also helps to prepare our meals and her husband works construction and can be away for periods of time.

Each Saturday, many people in the community gather to play soccer. So far all the soccer "fields" I've seen in Peru are cement. And on Sunday they go bicycle riding.

While drug and alcohol abuse along with poverty are an everyday reality here, the people are genuinely happy. As I write this, a cielo is sitting beside me singing and playing. I know how lucky my family and I are. We have a lot of luxuries in our world. Of course we have worked to be able to enjoy all the comforts we have. But these people work hard every day and have to work for basic things that come so easily for us, like water. It seems to me that those who have a lot always want more and those who have little are happy and enjoy what they have.

Back to the work we are doing. Today there were two projects in progress as work started on the "production room." This is an existing room in the school which has a large commercial oven and other equipment for baking. After regular classes end for the day, some kids stay behind until 5 p.m. to learn how to bake. However the roof on the room needs to be replaced before those classes can start for the year.

There is also some other work to be done here, including changes to a wall and moving the plumbing. Work on the quiosco is also progressing very well. Today the bricking of the walls was done. We helped by moving bricks and keeping them wet and mixing and hauling the mortar. At the end of the day, 20 bags of cement were delivered and had to be hauled upstairs to the room where the tools, equipment and supplies are stored and where we take our breaks and have lunch.

Janet Kost,
DWC volunteer, Peru, March 2017

March 15

Day three on the site and we started the day with a meeting including the whole group, along with Miguel the contractor and Javier, our translator. The goal is to get a better understanding of what Miguel wants to accomplish for the day.

We set to work laying the rebar and then putting the forms in place that other members of the team built while the rebar was being laid. This was a time consuming process - important to a well-constructed structure.

Next? You guessed it - more cement! This time we knew exactly what Miguel expected. Soon we will be cement experts. The walls were poured before we left for the day.

Nancy and Terry went with Javier by local bus to a nearby shopping centre to buy the supplies they need for the activities that are planned for tomorrow with the Grade 6 children. They met yesterday morning with the children and the teacher to share their idea, which they had cleared with the director and for which the panels needed were provided to us.

Nancy and Terry told the children that the plan was to paint a mural near the entrance to the school. They asked the children for ideas on what the theme of the mural should be. The children came up with several ideas and then voted to decide on which on to move forward with. They decided on the future of the school. One boy said that while this is his last year at the school, he wants to see the school become a nicer place for his younger brother. They envision water and colour playing into that future.

When Nancy and Terry returned from their shopping trip the panels for the murals were painted white as the base.

Today as we left the site, we were excited for tomorrow as we had lots of activities planned for the children and were looking forward to that and the family visits.

Janet Kost,
DWC volunteer, Peru, March 2017

March 14

This morning while still at the hotel Nancy's luggage - which had stayed behind in Toronto for a few extra days - finally arrived! When we arrived at the school, we got straight to work. Today is a more pleasant day as it is overcast, resulting in cooler temperatures and there is a wonderful breeze. We had to finish digging the trench and once that was done we went to work mixing and pouring cement. Sounds like an easy task and at home it would involve a cement mixer like the portable one we have at the cottage.

Here however, mixing cement is very labour intensive. First you take the appropriate amount of sand from the large pile and put it in a smaller pile. Then you add the appropriate amount of cement. Miguel, the general contractor on site, knows from experience exactly how much of each is needed for the required space.

Next, you shovel the pile from that spot to another several times to mix it all in. After that, you shape the mixture into a volcano crater shape and add water. Then you wait for the water to soak in. This is a great time to take a break and drink lots of water, as once the water is soaked in the real work begins. It has to be done quickly so the cement can all be poured before it starts to set.

In our case, pouring the cement means Miguel puts on rubber boots and shovels the cement he mixes with his shovel into five or six pails which we then pass down our production line from one person to the other until we reach the ladders placed on either side of the fence that separates the school area from the work area. The pails are passed up and over the fence and poured into the trench. The empty pails are passed back down the line and the process begins again.

Our work is done while the children are at school. Of course, sometimes they are in their classrooms but at a certain time a siren sort of sound goes and the children stream out of their classes.

They visit the banos and each washes their hands when they are finished. The fun and play time begins and the children run up and down the stairs with ease. There are always a few who engage with us, asking if they can help or getting us to write something in their notebooks.

This is the time when they visit the quiosco to purchase a snack or enjoy something they've brought from home. I'm struck once again with the contrasts from home. Our schools have banned sugary snacks and drinks, whereas here they are all that appears to be available in the quiosco. I'll admit I'm quick to pass judgement (I'm working on improving that), thinking that this is wrong and that they should do better to provide healthier alternatives for the children especially at school and because I know at our schools in Canada would frown on this being provided in the school. But then I remember complaining at home how much more expensive it is to eat healthy foods and the fact that junk food is cheaper and I realize they are doing the best they can with the resources and conditions they live in. Not only that, I've learned from Maria, the social worker from IFEJANT who spends her days providing us with support, that the families here eat a diet that provides a lot of fruits and vegetables and if what they have been providing us for lunch each day is an indication of what they eat, this is very true. So the moral of that story is the children eat a healthy diet and enjoying some candy on occasion is ok! In fact when I think about that some more, I realize these kids are more physically active than the kids at home and perhaps my judgement should be passed there rather than here.

The homes here are built on the mountain side going up several hundred feet. The mountain side has several cement staircases leading from the bottom to the top and there are dirt roads laid out in switchbacks going from bottom to top as well. The children run up and down the stairs and road constantly. I haven't yet asked if there is gym class here but I think they get a lot of exercise in their daily lives.

Another day ends with a group of tired Canadians who leave San Jose Obrero hot and tired but enlightened and inspired.

Janet Kost,
DWC volunteer, Peru, March 2017

March 13

Hola! Today is our first day working at San Jose Obrero, a school in a very poor area of Villa Maria del Triunfo. It is also the first day of the new school year and there is much excitement. We were warmly greeted by the director of the school, who took us to several classrooms to meet the teachers and students. We were welcomed with open arms, giant smiles and with much thanks for the work we are here to do.

In each classroom, we introduced ourselves, until we got to one room where the teacher had already written our names on a separate piece of paper and we were greeted to see a smiling child holding our name. The Grade 6 class, the highest grade at the school, was particularly curious, asking us a lot of questions.

One girl in this class stood, walked to the front of the room where we were all standing and spoke for several minutes with great passion. Javier, our interpreter, said that she welcomed us to the school and to Peru and thanked us for coming to help at the school. She said we should be sure to enjoy all that Peru has to offer.

Following our visits to the classrooms, we were taken to the office of the director of the school where we were also welcomed by a representative of IFEJANT. We enjoyed a lively conversation with them as well.

Many people we've met are quite surprised to learn that so many of us in the group are related. It comes up often in conversations with everyone trying to remember all the connections.

We learned that our projects for the time we are here are the quiosco and the Centro de Aprendizaje y Produccion (production room). During our tour of the school, we visited the "production room" and met the teacher of that program as well as a student who has already graduated from the school who participated in the program.

The quiosco, think tuck shop at a summer camp or kiosk in a mall, is in a temporary location. A new quiosco will be built and everything moved from one location to the other.

Work groups were established for the tasks of the day and while we all enjoyed meeting the children and sharing in the fun of the first day back at school, we were excited to get started with the work.

Little did we realize that the work would also provide us with true workouts. We formed a production line to move a large pile of bricks that was obstructing our ability to work on the quiosco. Not only did we move bricks, but we had a hot yoga class and weight class at the same time. New friendships were quickly formed as we came together for this first task.

After the bricks were moved, we got to work preparing the site to build the quiosco. This meant breaking up an existing large piece of concrete and moving the rubble.

This was done with one sledgehammer and two large pointed metal bars. It was heavy and hot work. Once the concrete was broken and moved, we had to start digging trenches where the footings for the walls would be poured.

We left the work site hot, tired, filthy, satisfied and energized. We could see the progress that had been made.

Janet Kost,
DWC volunteer, Peru, March 2017

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