Volunteer travels in Peru to benefit school children May 21, 2019

Cathedral in Lima Peru

Posted in on May 21, 2019

Blog One

36 hours of travel and we have arrived! Its 2:00 am. We settle into our rooms for a short nap before setting out to explore Lima-such a beautiful city- full of history, culture, gastronomy and amazing people AND it never rains here…ever!! (According to Edwin, our guide). Lima is the second driest capital in the world, second only to Cairo, Egypt.

We are staying in a lovely guesthouse in the upscale neighbourhood of Miraflores. Ofelia and her mother Mercedes own and operate the place and treat us like family right from the start!

HI HO HI HO It’s 7:30 am on Monday morning and we are driving through crazy traffic for over an hour, into the mountains to a town called Villa el Salvador. The scenery has taken a drastic change. The people here are mostly immigrants, have little resources and nominal government assistance. There is very little work and no water – people live in shantys built up the sides of mountain. Its a very poor place.

The school is called San Jose Obrero. 400 students attend this primary school to grade 5. Our project is to renovate a storage building to be used for the children’s advocacy group DESNNA who work to prevent violence against children. We are also working on the bakery classroom where each of the children attending school learn to bake. The profits go back to children at the end of each year.

The children love us – and we them! We have developed a huge fan base- the children follow us around and hug us all the time!

Laugh of the day…while organizing the storage room, Val found a large bag of plastic balls and thought she should share them with the children so she began handing out to children as they walked by – who immediately shared this information with their friends, eventually becoming engulfed in a sea of little bodies, squealing with excitement and delight with Val unable to move until all the balls were gone! Such a wonderful experience on her first day…until she learned the balls were being kept for a purpose…oops…

Blog Two

Progress is being made despite the language barrier and our lack of construction skills! Miguel, our contractor, doesn’t speak English but has taught us to use the hammer (martillo) to pound nails (clavos). To get the floor lower (bajo) we had to haul out dirt (afuera) using the wheelbarrow (carretilla) . We laid bricks (ladrillo) and leveled. We climbed the ladder(escalera) to scrape (raspar) and clean (limpiar) walls in the bakery and finally paint (pintar).

The hardest part was digging and shovelling the dirt out to prep for the concrete floor. Just when we thought we had finally cleared out enough dirt, Miguel would yell, “Una mas!” which means “One more!” over and over and over…?

While we were shovelling dirt, Miguel painstakingly laid down some guide bricks. So many times I got the urge to pick up that middle brick and toss it outside, only to catch myself from actually doing it. Apparently, this was how several of the others felt as well because sure enough, it did happen…wasn’t me though!

When we finally had enough “una masses” we had to tamp the dirt to ready for the pour. Everyone had their own style-some stomped grapes, some line danced, some did the Cha Cha slide and some did ballet!

Blog Three

The weekend has arrived! There is a free walking tour in either old central Lima or Barranco, the Bohemian chic district along the ocean. We check out the Inca Market for souvenirs before heading to our meeting point and hop on a bus to Barranco.

The areas are known for their street murals and the Bridge of Sighs. It is said that if you make a wish, hold your breath and walk( not run) across it, your wish will come true. I’ll let you know if it works!
The ocean views are amazing! Who knew Peru has the longest surf waves in the world?!? (2 1/2 km)

Our NGO hosts arranged a night out with us to see Brisas del Titicaca, a cultural dance show, featuring traditional dance and dress from all regions of Peru, past and present. It starts at 10 pm. What is so wonderful about this presentation is that in between sets, the band plays dance music and ALL of the spectators spill onto the large dance floor! The music is lively and great fun and this goes on until 3am!!! We only made it to 1!

On Sunday, after just a few hours of sleep, we did a bike tour. The air was crisp (but no rain… it doesn’t EVER rain in Lima) and perfect weather for riding a bike. We toured a few neighbourhoods and a good portion of the malecon, sampled cheeses and dips at an organic street market and enjoyed another amazing dinner after first sampling the local specialty, Pisco Sours. This is a drink made from distilled wine combined with fruit juice with a frothy egg white topping. Delicioso!

Blog Four

Quite early in the first week, Xavier, our DWC translator,  introduced me to a young student by the name of Ignacio.  He described this young boy as the school’s “special case”, and he explained that Ignacio’s mother, Elizabeth, was very concerned about the programming for him. Ignacio has been diagnosed as a child living with autism.  Over the course of the next several days, I had the opportunity to interact with both Ignacio and his mother several times, as well as with another younger student, John, and his mother, Veronica.  Veronica had just learned that the teacher wanted to move her son back two grade levels, to kindergarten, as he was distracting his classmates and not learning at the same pace. John has been diagnosed with ADHD. Both parents were discouraged about their children’s experience at school and the teachers’ level of experience or understanding about their child’s needs.  They were very anxious for new ideas and guidance for programming for their children.

Xavier asked me if I would consider offering my experience (as a district consultant for special education and resource teacher training) and meet with the staff (teachers and principal) to give them suggestions and information about autism, as well as answer any questions they might have.  So, of course, I said “yes”!

With Katia’s endorsement and coordination, the meeting was scheduled for Thursday, May 16.  Prior to that, I met with both boys and did some informal assessments.  I also connected with a colleague in my former school district, who sent me a file of PDF’s for visual support tools. With the help of the manager of our hotel, Casa Rodas,  Ophelia, and her boyfriend, Renzo, I was able to translate the key messages about Supporting Students with Autism that I wanted to share with the staff. Ophelia helped me out a lot by printing out the workshop notes and examples of visual supports. It takes a village!

The meeting was great!  With Xavier’s translation support, I worked through the list of 10 Key Messages, with examples, and some activities to engage the teachers and get them talking and moving. One of the activities was to “turn and talk” to a partner about anything they knew about Canada.  Then, if they could name a Canadian animal, they were invited to stand up and tell us the name.  I got “koala and kangaroo”….then someone said “oso”  or bear!  These were activities to reinforce the key message that students need structured opportunities for communication with their peers, and that sometimes they can contribute much more verbally than in writing. They were particularly happy to hear me say that “Brain Breaks” every 20-30 minutes were important, because their principal was trying to shorten their physical activity time and recess times.

My overall takeaway from this staff inservice was that teachers and principals all over the world care about the same things : supporting students the best way possible, understanding and working together with parents, keeping all students in their class feeling safe, loved and valued, and that they never tire of learning and growing in their practice.  The challenges they described are no different than the ones I would hear in a similar meeting in B.C.; only compounded by extremely limited resources (materials and staffing), lack of technology, extreme poverty and family dysfunction.

I really enjoyed having this opportunity to flex my metaphorical educational muscles, and it was a nice break from the physical labour of the day!

Anne Midzain, DWC Volunteer in Peru

Blog Five: A Strong Start to the Day:

Many students live very far away from the school, up twisty, rocky, dusty roadways into the mountains.  Because of this, some children have not been able to get to school safely in the past, as it can take up to two hours to walk to school. Absenteeism has been a significant issue.  Now, a school bus is part of a DWC Education and Nutrition program sponsored by Urban Systems Foundation. 65 children each day are transported to school from remote neighbourhoods.  This saves them a lot of time, but some families still have to walk for about an hour to get to the bus pick up.

We had an opportunity to meet the bus on two different mornings, see the families walking down the dusty hills to the bus stop and greet the children.  This all happens by 7:30 a.m.!  It was amazing to see them line up in such an orderly fashion and happily clamber on to the bus. Children as young as three years old, independently piled on to the seats, stood up, held on to any available rail or classmate, without a word of complaint!  We then rode the bumpy road to school with them. Even a baby came to school that day!  (Her mother is a volunteer on the bus.)  After disembarking, some of the children were able to go to the dining room and have a nutritious breakfast, provided by the program.  Vegetable tortilla, an warm oatmeal drink, and some melon.  Delicioso!

Anne, DWC Volunteer in Peru

Blog Six:

This was a lot of work that we were very happy to finally complete!

We had to move all the storage units and ovens away from the walls and sand them down, wipe them down and sweep sweep seep! Water is at a premium so unlike in Canada, we had to prep this room with very little access to water.

Once prepped, we did the upper half in a white latex paint but the bottom half was done with an oil based paint- very smelly and much more difficult to clean up-remember when we used this type of paint in Canada?? It was supposed to be a rose colour but clearly wasn’t and Miguel, our contractor, clearly wasn’t pleased when he called the paint store…that was pretty clear, even in Spanish! We told him in Canada we call it “salmon” and it was known as this forever after…accent on the second syllable…

Once the paint dried, the real work began-cleaning the equipment. Fortunately, we now had water and some disinfectant and steel wool to scrub down the appliances and clean the floors and work tables. The baking teacher helped out and everything was spotless and shiny and back in its place in just 2 and a half days. Classes needed to resume as quickly as possible.

The outside wall was painted and a new mural created to brighten up the exterior and to remember us by. This was probably the highlight of the trip! We traced the hands of children as they went by and transformed them into bright flowers and birds in a flower garden. Ignacio didn’t want his hand traced. He proceeded to his classroom to get his own pencil and do it himself, creating a beautiful sunflower of hands! He added a spideweb, anthill, a beehive with a queen bee-she’s the one with crown, along with mosquitoes and a tree! An amazing creation that we happily painted!

Our theme-“Every child is a beautiful flower that makes the world a joyful garden”.

Word spread quickly and more and more students showed up-to have their hands traced, to practise saying the colours in English and teaching us how to say them in Spanish.

DWC Volunteers in Peru, May 2019

Blog Seven:

In Canada and America dogs and cats are not allowed at school because they would be a distraction to the students. The school we went to couldn’t keep the dogs away. There were at least thirty always roaming the grounds.

The dogs are strays but are very used to people. Never did I see a dog growl or snap at a child or myself. They don’t come to you to be petted and generally don’t like to be touched but a few puppies don’t mind being picked up so long as they don’t get hurt.
One dog in particular became very familiar with us. He was a small brown mutt with sweet little eyes. He watched us while we were digging around the office to put bricks to level. Then he started to help us dig earning him the name Digger. He was likely checking to see if we had hid food under the ground but the help was appreciated. We saw him a few more times hanging out with other dogs or resting.
My favourites were this family of blonde dogs. A mom and two pups, one pup bring oddly bigger than the other. The mother was so sweet and licked the children who played with her puppies. She and the large pup would leave the little one at the school like he was a student. The little one was carried and fed buns by the students. For a stray he had a good life.
It doesn’t seem to matter the culture, a dog is a human’s best friend.

Jocelyn, DWC Volunteer in Peru, May 2019

Blog Eight:

P.E. Class:

Jocelyn and I joined in with a Grade Five P.E. Class, the students were ages 10 and 11.  The P.E. class was held on a concrete playing surface, so it was pretty slippery.  It was also a very hot day!

We played pass games with balls.  We also played a game where we had to make groups of a certain number, depending on the number of fingers the teacher held up.  The students were having a good time and so were we!

Caitlyn, DWC Volunteer in Peru, May 2019

Blog Nine:


The kiosk is a concession stand, run by students from the DESSNAS team, and supported by a parent volunteer, as well as two university student volunteers.

At break times, the children run to the counter to give their money and ask for a ticket of a certain denomination.  Then they go to the opposite counter to ask for the snack item they wish to purchase. Some of the snacks available were popcorn bags, chocolate bars and chips.

In the ‘rush’ of break time, it can be very hectic!  My job was to take the money.  So I had to be able to identify the coins and give them the right ticket….PRONTO!

Caitlyn, DWC Volunteer in Peru, May 2019

Blog Ten:

Last Day

It’s our last day, our projects are completed and the children have some ceremonies planned. We start with the ribbon cutting and the official opening of the DESNNAs office. Several members of the student council speak and although we couldn’t understand the words we could feel the sincerity and gratitude. This child advocacy office, run by the student council of all grades, would have a huge impact on their lives.  They presented us with gifts and thank you cards and we presented them with our gifts we had brought from home. After the official presentation was made, there were delicious cupcakes and plenty of hugs and smiles and pictures and then it was time to say our final goodbyes with more hugs. This experience definitely changed our lives and I would like to thank the women who participated-Val, Anne, Jocelyn and Caitlin for putting up with the aches and pains, early mornings and long drives to make a difference In this part of the world. Without them this project wouldn’t have been as fun or rewarding. Thank you, ladies, job well done!

Cindy, DWC Team Leader in Peru, May 2019

Posted in on May 21, 2019