Picaflor turned out to be everything that I’d hoped it would be. Before even arriving in the country, Picaflor’s project manager kept in touch with me and did everything she could to put my nerves at ease before I travelled to the other side of the world. Upon arriving in Cusco I was met by the project’s manager and taken around Cusco for my Orientation; she showed me where to find everything I could ever need (ATMs, Laundrettes, banks, supermarkets, the tourist office, Spanish schools, and even the vegetarian hangouts) and attentively listened to and answered all my numerous questions. On my first day I was met again at my hotel and brought to the bus stop, and no time was I left to feel lost or unsure. The charity even give you a Peruvian mobile phone with all the staff’s numbers on there so if you ever need to contact them doing so is made easier and cheaper, which was very useful as there were a variety of occasions where I needed that efficient means of contact.
Volunteers were required to be at the project by 2pm Monday – Friday, although we would normally get there around half 1pm. Before the kids arrived we’d sweep the classroom floors, wipe the tables, empty the rubbish, and help plan our lessons (or whoever’s lesson we were assisting that day). In my first week I got stuck into art class, and me and the kids made pseudo Masquerade masks out of paper mache. I quickly discovered that 4-14 year old’s LOVE to paint, colour, and make a mess, but it was all in good fun and it turned out they also really enjoyed helping you clean up afterwards! Later in the week I also helped out in English class, but seeing as they had a hired English Teacher most days, I preferred helping in art as it meant I got to do more and, well, I really like art. The kids particularly enjoyed my lesson on how to make paper-mosaic self portraits. Kids have such incredible imaginations – I loved seeing their art work evolve and how each individual would take to the same task differently. English class was interesting to assist as I stepped backed and studied the children’s behaviour. It seemed no matter where in the world you are, the same class dynamics exist in every class room! The show offs, the teacher’s pets, the chatty hyperactive ones, the shy and insecure, and unfortunately the outcasts and the bullies ( luckily I only saw one tiny instance of bullying which was only a little name calling across the room, which the teacher was quick to put to an end).
Having read about how volunteer charities can actually do bad rather than good, I was keen to examine whether my being there was worth while and beneficial in any way. If a charity relies on volunteers to teach English, I can see why this may have a negative affect of the children’s learning of English: changing teachers every few weeks means the children have to understand a new accent, get used to different teaching styles, and just because someone knows English does not mean they are able to teach it well. At Picaflor this problem is averted by the fact they have hired a qualified English Language teacher, and volunteers merely assist lessons (unless, like myself, they are qualified and are able to stand in if the teacher is absent for some reason). Having volunteers assist can be a very beneficial thing, so long as the volunteer knows their place (e.g. don’t take over/interrupt the class). The kids at Picaflor in particular would study English at school in classrooms crammed with 50 students – in that crowded environment it is easy for the quiet and the shy ones, or the ones who aren’t catching on as quickly, to shrink into the back and never get the help or encouragement they need. Any extra body in the room to listen and help the students means the students get more individual attention and help where needed. I could hear the very shy students at the back say the right answers under their breath and was able to praise them for their work, as well as spotting who was struggling with pronunciation and give them a little extra help accordingly.
But at the end of the day, the big smiles and expressions of glee on the kids faces when they came through the turquoise puerta said it all. Picaflor didn’t only offer them a place to supplement their learning and get help with their homework, it gave them a safe place to play and be children, running away from the toils of babysitting siblings and work that children living on the poverty line are so often required to do. After a messy art lesson a fellow volunteer took it upon himself to wash the paint off one of the children’s hands, who stared in amazement at their clean fingers and nails; before he knew it he had a queue of children behind him (some of whom had purposely painted themselves) wanting the same treatment. It’s amazing how the smallest acts of kindness was like a bucket of candy to these kids. They also get to go on days out to the local park, photography safaris, have talks on the environment, and have started a teeth-brushing regime to encourage better dental care (a big problem amongst sugar loving peruvians). All the staff are absolutely wonderful people with big hearts, and the kids adore them for everything they provide. Now I’m not saying Picaflor is perfect, but it is still quite young and it has flourished in just 2 years. If you’re looking for a volunteer placement, I would definitely recommend going with Globalteer at Picaflor. I was on my own in a developing country I’d never visited, in a continent I’d never been, where they speak a language I’d never learnt, but I was in safe hands the whole time.
Plus, it was great fun! At the end of my placement I had some spare cash laying around (Peru is waaaay cheaper than I budgeted for) and decided to make a donation of printer ink, toner, play-doh, colouring books, and whiteboard pens. The project relies heavily on donations, and printer ink especially is like gold dust! If you’d like to make a donation just visit their Virgin Money-giving page 🙂 http://www.globalteer.org/ http://www.volunteer-in-peru.org/ https://www.facebook.com/pages/Picaflor-House-Community-Project/129612747143760