First Impressions

10 Dec

The volunteer house which lies behind a wooden door set within a high wall is a crazy place.  The building is a rabbit warren of rooms which scootle off in all directions and it is full of people and noise. A wooden staircase climbs up to the bedrooms on the first floor at the front of the building whilst a steep, stone, narrow spiral staircase twists up two floors at the back of the house with a final vertigo inducing flight to the large roof terrace.

After being dropped off by the taxi driver I was greeted at the gate by a couple of the volunteers and I was then immediately swallowed up in a whirlwind of activities with introductions and instructions all around.  About twenty volunteers live and work from the house with others based in nearby apartments or home-stays.  I had been placed in a home-stay for the interim as the volunteer house was bursting at the seams.  I was taken there by one of the volunteer coordinators.  I spent an hour or so catching my breath, wondered about the likelihood of frying to death in my shower and then went out for a wander in the immediate vicinity to get my bearings.

The Cathedral at Plaza de Armas, Trujil

The Cathedral at Plaza de Armas, Trujillo

It turned out that my home was just a couple of blocks from the main central Plaza de Armas and a multitude of cafes and coffee shops.  Later I made my way back to the big house and we all set off out for a party. I thought that it might be wise to keep away from the cocktails that first night but I managed to last out until three thirty am which was quite impressive considering the travelling that I had recently done and was up dancing for much of the night to the rather good live band

Reed boats drying on the beach at Huanchaco

Reed boats drying on the beach at Huanchaco

The following day was a Sunday when all the volunteers have a day off and after a relaxing introduction to the nearby beach resort of Huanchaco the following afternoon, I reported back to the volunteer house on the Monday morning for my induction to teaching and the place where I would be spending the next three months.

The non-profit organisation helps economically-disadvantaged children in the north of Peru realise their right to an education. The group works to educate and empower parents to take control of their lives and to improve their own living circumstances. They are currently based in the impoverished districts that surround the city of Trujillo.  I will go into a lot more detail about my work and what the group achieves in future blogs but for now, consider the following.

Trujillo is the second largest city in Peru.  What we would probably term ‘shanty towns’ are popping up around its perimeter as people are attracted to the city to find work, as they are doing in cities all over the world. Trujillo is a bustling cosmopolitan city with colonial architecture, large shopping malls and manicured parks and gardens.  There is the usual Plaza de Armas (main square), nice museums and sports facilities.  In the districts of El Porvenir and Alto Trujillo where I will be working, the majority of streets simply consist of sand and most of  the houses are very small, one storey square boxes, built of simple mud bricks. A large proportion of the homes lack roofs or solid doors.   Luckily it rarely rains in the north of Peru but consider the security options – if nobody is home then a thief only need jump over the top!  Volunteers are advised not to move around in the districts alone and should never carry any valuables, also many cab drivers refuse to drive up into the barrios.

El Porvenir – the facts

  • Population in 2011: 164,931
  • % of the population which has migrated from their birth place: 45%
  • Population in extreme poverty: 8%
  • Population in poverty: 33%
  • Population with no running water: 14%
  • No latrines or sewer drains: 8%
  • No electricity: 18%
  • Cooking on wood-burning fires: 20%
  • Houses with earth floors: 58%
  • No phone connection (or mobile): 41%
  • Illiteracy rate in men: 2%
  • Illiteracy rate in women: 9%

I was excited but a little bit apprehensive about what I might find when I went to work the following day.  My role would be to initially deliver English teaching to the primary school children whose families have signed up to the project, deliver English lessons to the children in the outreach scheme in one of the public schools and to support the Economic Development project which works with some of the mums who make and sell products.  After Christmas and the schools have broken up for their long summer break I would be involved with the holiday clubs for the children and ongoing English teaching.

Huanchaco beach

Huanchaco beach

The organisation offers holistic support to families and works in partnership with them. The aim is to empower them to be able to make positive decisions in their lives, in order to improve their current situation and to provide the best possible opportunities for their children.  Unlike other NGO’s which I had researched before choosing this one, the whole family has to commit to the project and must support the children who attend additional lessons after their normal schooling.  Children here usually attend public school either in the morning or the afternoon and those children who belong to the group attend two sessions (half days) per week in their spare time.  Support and a a space for them to complete their public school homework is available, there is a library, additional English and Maths classes are delivered and they also play sports.  They have the chance to let off steam in the playground and generally run around and be children in a safe environment.  Psychological support is also an important side of the facilities offered as many of the children have emotional and behavioral problems.

Workshops are offered to the mums and these provide a safe space where the ladies can gather and chat together and share ideas.  There are three types of workshops where mums can make jewellery, bags and purses from cloth or knit and crochet.  Help is offered with materials and sales outlets are provided. There is also a small micro-finance scheme available to the families to enable them to get small businesses off the ground.

The weather here is warming up every day and people are getting excited about the sun coming out.  The temperatures are due to rocket any day now and the foggy cloud is lifting for longer each day already.  Come Christmas and the temperatures will apparently be in the thirties and stay there for a couple of months.  After Christmas the children will attend holiday clubs at the centre and will go on various outings and trips.

After my induction morning I went along with some of the other volunteers for ‘menu’.  I have come across this in Spain in the past.  It is a lunchtime menu offered by most restaurants and cafes at a very reasonable price and consists of two courses plus a drink.  There are usually a couple of starters and about five main courses to choose from.  A group of us walked a few blocks away to a small basic cafe where I had soup and a dish of chicken and rice.  Wine would have been the usual tipple in Spain but here in Peru the drinks are fruit squashes.  The whole lot amounted to the grand sum of S/.7 – seven soles which equates to approximately £1.75.  Portion sizes as I was soon to find out are on the large size and doggy bags are willingly given out.

After lunch I was to go up to El Porvenir and see for myself what I had let myself in for

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4 Responses to “First Impressions”

  1. Concha December 10, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    Wow, I have an amazing picture in my head of where you are and am really looking forward to hearing how the teaching goes for these poor kids. I have a feeling a wonderfully emotional time will ensue. If I was younger I’d’ve loved to have done what you’re doing. Keep safe and well my friend. X

  2. Terri Nixon December 10, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Fantastic post, as always! Loved the description of the wooden staircase and all the little details of where you are, helps to build a properly rounded image. The organisation sounds wonderful too, great ethos!
    Such a rewarding thing to be doing, and something you’ll never ever forget no matter where your travels take you next!
    Look after yourself. x

    • Scarlet Jones December 11, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

      Yes – I took a very long time to find an organisation that I was happy with. I hope to go into more details in future posts and get some pictures up too. The other volunteers are all amazing and are lovely people

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