Volunteer Abroad - Peru, Volunteer Abroad Programs

First Impressions, Lasting Lessons in Peru

story and photo by Kaitlyn Whiteside, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Abroad Participant in Peru

During the 10-minute walk to school, with a cup of coffee and piece of toast in hand, I felt anxious about my complete lack of expectations for my first day volunteering. I didn´t know what age group I would be working with, what type of disabilities the children would have, how I would be assisting the teachers, nor how to accommodate the children´s learning needs.

The five other volunteers and I entered the gate and Laura, the volunteer coordinator, greeted us for a tour around the school. Just as we took our first steps out of her office, a young boy ran toward us and hurled himself onto Laura for a bear hug.

“¡Profe Laura!” he exclaimed in a squeaky, high-pitched voice. Here at the school the teachers are called profesor/profesora which is always shortened to the endearing term of “profe.” My name is officially “Profe Kait” since Kaitlyn apparently does not roll off the tongue very easily in Spanish. I had to repeat my name at least four times to both the students and teachers, and after hearing their agonizing imitation of “Kayleeen?” I decided to permanently shorten my name to Kait during my stay in Peru.

During the tour I found out that our tag-a-long friend is named Piero.  As we walked the grounds I noticed that Piero has a strange limp with each step. At one point he ran ahead of us and it looked like he couldn’t control the speed of his legs and I was sure he was going to tumble to the ground at any moment. Fortunately he didn´t and he stood waiting for us to catch up. When we reached him I looked down at him as he stood with one leg straight and the other stretched out much further to the side. I realized that one leg is prominently longer than the other, causing the hindrance in his stride. I later found out that Piero had complications during birth that also impaired his ability to speak and left him with a low-functioning right hand as well.

At this point it was just a little after 8:30 a.m. and students had started to trickle in the school. Looking around and accessing the students made me realize there was a huge range of disabilities. There was a spectrum of both physical and mental disabilities and the children greatly differed in severity.   Some children are like Piero with physical disabilities. Others have Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or Autism. Three of the children are deaf.  Almost all of them experience abuse, neglect and/or impoverished living conditions.

Read more about Kaitlyn’s first day at her project…

About Greenheart Travel

CCI Greenheart Travel is personally invested in providing cultural immersion programs that change lives, advance careers and create leaders. We achieve this by partnering with organizations and governments overseas that empower their local communities through experiential learning and practical development. We provide others with the same positive travel experiences in which we ourselves engage. Through travel and cultural exchange, we help individuals reach their full potential, leading to a more tolerant, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.

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