Cusco is apparently Gringo central (at least around the main square). In the last 20 years it has become a huge tourist destination, with numerous Spanish-language schools, endless spas where you can get a relaxing massage after the strenuous Inca trail, delicious restaurants and several U.S. chains (including a fancy McDonald's, KFC, and Starbucks in the center), and tons of Inca ruins to visit. Since Sam wanted to brush up on his Spanish grammar and I was done taking Spanish classes, I decided to look into volunteering for the week.
|Sam's Spanish school, Excel Academy|
What an amazing experience! I am sorry that I could only spend one week there. My week flew by and I learned so much and met a great bunch of people through it. Yuri, the founder and director of the program, and a local Cusqueño, has worked really hard to create a stable, loving, and educational place where the local children can go everyday. Unfortunately domestic violence and alcoholism are an everyday reality for many of the children, and
Aldea Yanapay strives to break the cycle and show them that not adults are like that: not everyone is going to hit them if they misbehave or get their clothes dirty, that we can say please and thank you to children, that we can be firm and yet loving at the same time. Also, the public schools are truly failing the children. Most teachers, from what we were told, enter the profession because it is a good, steady income and an easy job to attain, rather than because of any passion for teaching, and often will have two or more teaching jobs simultaneously. How, you are wondering? Well, for example, one child told one of the coodinators that her gym teacher brought her class up to the mountains and had them playing on their own while the teacher taught a class at another school, and then picked the children up awhile later and brought them back to the school.
After years of working with children in the States, the first thing that struck me when I walked through the door was a child I had never met kissing me hello in greeting. Sadly in the States we have to be careful about giving children anything more than pat on a shoulder.
The day starts with children assigned to a different activity: art, library, tutoring, games, or computation, where I was for the week. For two hours everyday I helped five children at a time to practice their writing/typing skills, either writing a letter or story about the program. It was interesting to see the common spelling errors in Spanish and the lack of punctuation, but at the same time the appreciation they felt for the program really came through in what they wrote. And I learned a lot of new typing-related vocabulary.
At any given time up to 7 children showed up in the Sol family. They were quite a handful--and trying to maintain order in a foreign language is no easy feat!--but also so adorable, smart, and eager to learn. Oskar, my co-teacher from England, and I decided that for our performance the children with do a play about the Incan gods, each one playing a different one. Oskar and I would be the evil Spanish crusaders telling them they had to convert to Catholocism, but the "gods" taught us that at Aldea Yanapay we can all learn from each other and we can be whatever religion we want to be. Unfortunately on the day of the performance only one of our students showed up, but he took on extra roles and did a great job.
Sam and I had decided to also stay at the hostel affiliated with the program, which helps to raise money for it and where most of the volunteers stay. Despite the hostel being really chilly at night, we really enjoyed our time there. After spending over a week and there and getting to know the other guests, it really started to feel like home which was what we needed after moving about so much.
|the Aldea Yanapay restaurant|