Day 1: Culture shock and getting to work
Well the first day up to the San Jose Obrero school was a real eye opener! We started off from the Miraflores area of Lima, which is a beautiful, affluent seaside area that is like downtown Vancouver or Honolulu, with palm trees and beaches right by the ocean. We gradually transition to less and less affluent areas to one where the unpaved roads are very steep and the hills are covered in small brick buildings with corrugated tin roofs. The traffic along the route is completely congested and chaotic. Everyone is weaving in and out of lanes, except there aren’t really lanes, just streams of ever merging and crossing traffic. I think many of us were suffering from some culture shock from moving so quickly from a beautiful rich area to a very, very poor, steep, dusty, dirty area with almost no services.
When we arrived we met with the Principal of the school who talked about how much he appreciated that we are coming to help add on to the school. It was started only 12 years ago by parents of the area who wanted to have a school closer to the Barrio are where they live. We also met Katia who provided a range of interesting information about the school, the programs they have, and the characteristics of the families they serve. One interesting story was that the school had a budget for a bus program (which is supported by the Urban Systems Foundation) and they found that the budget was not enough to get the kids from school to home. Rather than ask for more money, the parents all agreed to pay for the extra cost required for the bus. And these are people with very little money. Obviously education for their kids was very important to them!
The kids were very cute and interested in what we were doing. They all wore bright yellow and green school uniforms. As we were standing on a stairway, a group of students, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, came by in their uniforms and they were all wearing little chef hats! They were heading to class where they learn how to cook and they were all very excited, and some were goofing around, just like kids everywhere do. I was impressed by how happy and curious these kids were even though their living conditions were so poor.
After some more presentations and introductions, it was time to get to work. Miguel told us that we had to make room for some washrooms that they planned to add onto a kid’s workshop area that was under construction. We basically had to take a rocky cliff and break it apart, put the rocks into wheel barrows and create a flat landing area about 50 metres away. So we spent most of the day busting up rocks, shoveling them into wheel barrows and carting them up and down steep hillsides. Some others were tying rebar that will be used for supports for a second floor of the adjacent building. Talk about getting your hands dirty! It was hot sweaty, tiring work. We weren’t just talking about doing something we were actually getting it done.
At the end of the day we got back in the van and handed back through Lima from the Barrio to Miraflores. More culture shock, but in reverse. We’re all looking forward to getting back tomorrow to continue our work and meeting more of those marvelous children and their families.
Team Urban Systems
Day 2: Great moments of getting involved
On our second day we followed our planned schedule from the first day based on which most of us have to be on site at 7:30am so those groups mostly were waking up at 5:30am. Some of us went on the bus with children to take them from home to school while some others were preparing breakfast for them, some were involved in constructing the room and some in removing the rocky cliff, and a few were working on making presentation for students. The weather was quite hot and sunny but the work was very pleasant for all of us. We had to use very basic tools such as wheel barrows, and an iron saw to continue with our project.
Some of us got involved with an exciting school recreational program which has been added to school curriculum recently. With the help of a simple speaker, each of us played a piece of music and tried instructing them to exercise and dance with us. It was absolutely joyful to see the happiness and laughter among all of them.
We were informed that majority of these children have been suffering from domestic violence and the school plan is to make them feel less stressed through programs such as dance and exercise with music. According to Katia, after they attend school they claim that they are feeling better and now recognizing their rights. Some of them were suffering from issues such as sexual assault, and being physically abused and didn’t know who they could talk to. Katia informed us there is no physical abuses anymore but some students are still experiencing mental difficulties.
We had such great lunch being prepared by local people who were so kind and welcoming; they gave us some great special Peruvian potato gel along with turkey and white rice; also we had a fruit called Tuna.
The greatest moments of today happened when we finished our dancing with students and they start hugging us. They were very interested in taking photos with us. We taught them how to use the camera and they start taking some pictures and selfies.
Team Urban Systems
Day 3: Learning about the impact a hand up makes
Day three at the San Jose school and it seemed like we had already developed a routine. A small group of us left early morning at 6 am. Within this group, some joined the school bus to pick up the kids, while others stayed back at the community centre to help prepare and serve breakfast. Everybody else joined in later at about 8.30 am. This morning however, before jumping straight into work, we were able to meet and interact with some of the mothers whose children go to the school and are a part of the nutrition program.
It was a great opportunity to learn and appreciate first-hand how the breakfast and nutrition program had impacted the children and their families. Of the stories that were shared included how some of the kids were anemic, and how the breakfast program has enabled the children to develop better nutritional habits and improve their immunity. Additionally, they also mentioned how the school bus program gives the mothers peace of mind, knowing that their children will be picked up and dropped off from school safely and securely. An interesting point to be noted, however, was that nearly all the mothers were immigrants who had come to Lima from different parts of Peru, for a better life for themselves and their children.
After the meeting, we all went back to work. We had some people working on the beams, a group that was breaking up the rocks near the cliff, while some of us started a new project of painting the exterior wall of the workshop building. We started with clearing the dust off the grills and sanding them and then painting them black. Miguel, the foreman later came in and instructed us that we were to do a minimum of three coats. It was a great team building activity in terms of helping each other out with the hard to reach places, and also trying to come up with different techniques to be more efficient. Nevertheless, it was a much needed reprise from the demanding work of breaking and hauling rocks in the heat.
Around 11:30 am, a group of us went to join the first grade children in their Recreation class. The teacher lined up all the kids in a few rows and we all started copying his dance moves to some fun music that was playing in the background. The children seemed really excited to be outside and to be dancing, and were even more thrilled when we joined their group and started dancing with them. Elvera, who is one of the coordinators in the school had once mentioned that Bollywood movies have been a popular thing in Peru, and it would be great if the kids could get the chance to do some Bollywood dancing. So after some initial technical difficulties, we put on a popular Bollywood number and showed the kids a few typical Indian Bollywood dance moves. Even though the kids could not understand the language and have probably never danced like that before, they were all jumping and smiling and having a great time. It was really wonderful to see how these kids got the greatest joy from the littlest of things. We also did the hokey-pokey with the children and shared some Latin tunes with them. After the recreation activity, it was time for lunch where we had a delicious home cooked meal. The potato salad in particular was a crowd pleaser.
After lunch, most of us went back to work. We continued with painting of the wall; the paint on the grills had dried up by this time and now we commenced with painting the wall. We did a few coats of the white paint and by the end of the day, we had made some pretty good progress. The wall was looking so much newer and cleaner.
Some of us joined the afternoon bus ride to drop the kids back home. Riding in the tiny bus with the children along the narrow, steep and bumpy roads of the area was an experience in itself and gave us a new found appreciation for the school bus program that the Urban Systems Foundation has been sponsoring. We were able to see how far some of the children lived from the school and how difficult it would have been for them to get to school without some sort of transportation.
In the last hour of the day, some of us were also able to participate in the Production Workshop that Ifejant has been sponsoring. We got the opportunity to bake with the children and made some carrot cakes, brownies and pizza dough. These goodies will then be sold at the fair on Friday and the money will put back into the Workshop Program. The children were about eight to ten years old and looking at them in their little chef hats and aprons, kneading the dough and helping with the baking really made us happy and proud.
The day ended at about 4 pm and we all celebrated the hard work and everything we had accomplished in the past three days with a few beers and of course, some Inca Cola (because no celebration in Peru is complete without some Inca Cola). As we cross the halfway mark of our journey, I look forward to continuing our work and sharing more experiences with these wonderful children and their families.
Avee, DWC Volunteer
Lima, Peru, November, 2018
Day 4: Thank-you celebration
We now seem to be in a routine here in Lima. This morning we arrived at the school around 8:30 am, after our hour bus ride up the hills to Villa Maria del Triunfo. Work was started right away on the forms and cement as we are helping with the second story of a school classroom, painting was also completed in the walkway to one area of the school and the rock was still being moved for Miguel to construct a bathroom for this section of the school.
Yesterday, Sandra and I met with the principal to see if there was anything we could purchase for the school to help with any immediate needs. Today, with list in hand, Avee, Sandra (interpreter), the PE teacher and myself went shopping to get these items. We purchased a slide for the elementary students, first aid equipment, cleaning supplies and ink for the school printer. I think the slide will be a huge hit with the students as they have no playground equipment at the school.
When we arrived back at the school, there was a thank-you celebration which was put on by IFEJANT and the grade 5 students at the school. The students lead the celebration with dance routines which ended up with all of us dancing and having a laugh. A women with the Ministry of Education and the principal spoke about the area and the support the Foundation is giving them with the ongoing nutrition and bus program. The students presented us with gifts and even spoke about how they have benefited from the efforts we have made to their school. It was very touching to hear the students speak and be so thankful to us, when we are just so thankful to have this opportunity to meet them and experience this little piece of their world.
Lisa, DWC Volunteer
Team Urban Systems
November 2018, Lima, Peru
Day 5: A fair farewell
Our final day at San Jose Obrero School was both a happy and reflective occasion for our volunteer group. As we pulled up to the school for a final morning, our thoughts went from organizing our final construction tasks to reflecting on such a whirlwind trip. A group of us started off removing the formwork from the beams poured earlier on in the week and cleaning up the site. The forms were heavy and soaked with cement – Miguel the foreman’s house seemed so much further away than when we first brought the formwork down! It all seemed so insurmountable when we initially showed up and a huge sense of accomplishment was felt throughout the team.
Today was a little bit different than the other days, as part of the final day of class celebration the students, staff, NGO’s organized a fair to showcase what they had learned throughout the year. There were children from the baking workshop selling their goods, displays on nutrition, information on physical and mental health, peer support services and a huge raffle of gifts for the families. It was amazing to see that the soccer ball we had brought was the among the most prized items! Being around the school throughout the week, it was a great opportunity for the team to enjoy some free time with the children, take pictures, buys some goods and learn about all the good work our partner organizations were doing to help. We even had a chance to fit in a soccer game! With so much to do, it was among the most warm feeling I had felt throughout my time at the school. From school staff approaching us to say thank you, to hugs from the parents a children, I felt like we had made a difference through our time with the kids.
The group was called in for our final lunch at the community Centre where we had lunch with the social workers from IFEJANT. As we were approaching the end of the lunch, Sandra approached us and asked if any of us wanted to say a few words regarding our experience and if we had any suggestions on improving the program. As we went around the table, it was evident that the entire experience had affected us in such a fundamental way. Although the work was constant and the conditions were difficult, I really felt the whole experience was worthwhile. Although we had come to observe the breakfast and bussing program and assist with the construction; the entire experience was summarized in the lessons taught to us by the children and families which we met along our journey.
The students showed us so much of their world willingly and taught us about what can be accomplished given the opportunity. Having volunteered previously for a DWC project here in Lima before I felt like I would be prepared for this experience, however I was left at a loss for words at the generosity, energy and openness displayed to us throughout the week. We truly felt like we were giving the opportunity to these children to succeed and become leaders in their community. The heartwarming moments throughout the week were such a rewarding experience which I am sure we will take with us back to Canada to share with our own family and friends. I am encouraged by the results of our efforts and look forward to getting updates on the students, community and the projects in the future.
Elias Hernandez, DWC Volunteer
Lima, Peru, November 2018