Sunday, May 6, 2012

Who Would've Thought I'd be Teaching in Spanish?

Sam and I just spent a week and a half in Cusco, Peru, during which we went to Machu Picchu and actually went on two pretty strenuous hikes (more about that later), took a Chocolate-making class, Sam took more Spanish classes, and I volunteered at an afterschool program (where, yes, I taught in Spanish) and took a traditional weaving class. It was an incredible time, and probably my favorite part of the trip.

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
Unfortunately a lot of volunteer placements requirement payment, and most understandably require a month or more commitment, but I found on a travel forum about a free volunteer placement at an afterschool program where you could volunteer for as little as week. After reading about the program, Aldea Yanapay, I decided it was perfect for me. I really connected to its mission and as most of you know I love working with children and it's the one thing I hadn't done on this trip up until this point.

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.

After class it was "Circle of Expression," where for about 20 minutes the children were split into two groups by age and each day discussed a different topic, from respecting elders to resolving issues. Finally, the last hour or so was spent in our "families," where children were grouped by age (I was in Sol with the 9-year-olds). Again, each week there is a topic to encourage respect and understanding with performances every Friday based on the themes. The week I was volunteering we disccused the continents and world religions, in particular the Inca religion. I loved seeing the children's reaction when I told them I was Jewish--I was the first one they had ever knowingly met and they seemed to be in awe. 

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
In addition to volunteering, I took a traditional weaving class at The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, a nonprofit organization/store/museum/cultural center which aims to keep the local weaving culture alive. In my 6-hour class I learned a couple basic weaves and had to start my loom, which was so much fun, but the best part is watching the local weavers in action in the store. The textiles they weave are unbelievably intricate and are absolutely gorgeous.

After spending the weekend at Aguas Calientes and visiting Machu Picchu, which I will let Sam write about, we spent our few days in Cusco doing some site-seeing, including visiting the town of Pisac to hike the Sacred Valley, go to the local market, and argue with locals to get onto the shared van back; did another free walking tour; visited a few museums; and finally took a chocolate class where we learned how chocolate is made, starting from the cocoa bean.

Although I do not miss sleeping in my long underwear (Cusco, especially at our hostel, was coooooold at night), all in all our time in Cusco was incredible: educational, eye-opening, and a lot of fun!

1 comment:

  1. Bevey, that sounds so wonderful! I think I would've loved it too. I'm so glad you got to do something like that for a week. Keep up the good deeds! besos y abrazos.