Aldea Yanapay

Voluntarios Por Amor

A Brief Introduction:

We have been working for Aldea Yanapay for two weeks now, and have wanted to post some photos from the school since we started… Aldea Yanapay is a social organization here in Cusco working with children from 4-13 year-olds in one of the poorer parts of Cusco. We work with the children about four hours a day, helping with their homework, playing games, teaching art classes, or introducing them to other cultural subjects like world-religion, environment, social issues, art, or theater (The themes of the last two weeks have been Recycling, and Inca Religion)

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Escuela Uno (For kids aged 4-8)

From Jason:

One of this things that is really striking from the moment one walks to the neighborhood where the school is located, is the very evident difference in the quality of life and appearance of the people and the buildings in this part of the town. Away from the center of Cusco, which is very beautiful and is filled with tourists and upscale boutiques, one begins to see the reality of the situation: Whole families (including grandma and grandpa) living in a single room in a house with no electricity or clean water, living on a few soles a day, problems with alcoholism and abuse, and children without a proper education (Peru has the second-worst public education system in South America). The school itself is located through a dirty courtyard on an empty street. It is very simple and the lack of funding is certainly apparent, but as well the love involved in a project like this shows through as well: The walls are colorfully painted, there are plenty of toys and games, and meager but adequate supplies for the children to use.

Some of the kids during the 'Circle of Expression'

So, here we are: Two Gringos with minimal Spanish skills, in the ‘bad’ part of town, doing our best to make some kind of a change in a few kids’ lives. So, for this has proved more than challenging. Aside from the language barrier (which the kids don’t seem to mind one bit), there are also some obvious cultural and social barriers as well. First of all, neither Lena or I are properly trained teachers, nor were we adequately prepared to be thrown into a class of six year-olds and be expected not only to teach them, but also keep them under control for four hours! Very quickly we learned how to say sentarse (sit down!), and escuchas (listen!), among a few more practical necessities like pencil, eraser, glue, etc.

The kids, unable to properly pronounce Jason (sounds like yahs-sen?), have taken to calling me Profi Jesús. I think it’s a rather affectionate term, and I assume it originated from my unusually long beard (compared to their Peruvian fathers who genetically have little or no facial hair). It caused quite a stir the first few days of school when all the boys wanted to tug on it, and the girls laughed and exclaimed ¡me pica! when I gave them the customary greeting kiss on the cheek.

Luis Working on Homework

One of the tasks I have been assigned to do for the past two weeks is to help with the homework. Luckily, mathematics are indeed ‘the universal language’ and so I am able (though with some difficulty) to explain addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, and even the occasional word-problem. Still, I think it’s my favorite part of the day since I get a feeling of satisfaction, that in at least one way I am able to connect with the kids and at least make a very small difference in their day-to-day life. We’ve also helped a little with teaching some Inca legends (which we also had the pleasure of learning!), and introducing the concept of recycling disguised as designing Halloween costumes (more on that in another post), a few random art projects, and of course plenty of games and craziness.

Textbooks in the classroom

Still, the fact remains that we are two ‘rich’ gringos teaching ‘poor’ kids in a foreign country. At the end of the day, what have we really done? Have we really made an impact? I am quite unsure about that point (not to downplay the importance of Yanapay as a project in general), but I do like to feel that in at least some small way we have connected with at least a few individuals… For me I guess that has to be enough. The smiles of the kids, the girls hanging on my arms, and being called Profi Jesús are some things that will stick with me for a long time to come. In many ways I feel as though perhaps I have learned more from the kids than I could ever teach them: The whole experience has given an inside view of a small piece of Peruvian culture as well as a social perspective on problems much larger than just one school in one city in one small South-American country. It’s something that I hope to be able to explore further in the future, and perhaps one day find a way to participate in making a difference on a larger scale.

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From Lena:

Yanapay logo painted on the wall of the school

One Tuesday a fortnight ago I found myself suddenly thrown into blue overalls in the middle of Peruvian children in a game room. Jason and I were thrown in by Igor (the volunteer organizer of Aldea Yanapay) without warning and regardless of the consequences. From the website of Aldea Yanapay, I expected that there would be a range of opportunities for volunteers to help the organization. There they spoke about a restaurant, where I already saw myself working as a cook. And a Culture Center, in which there was supposed to be a Chilean theater director who makes theater programs with the volunteers and children.. In reality, a restaurant and culture center are both in place, but not covered by the volunteers. What falls within the responsibility of the volunteers is the school. For me, it began to be somewhat difficult from this point. For one thing, I never said I even begin to possess the talent to teach. I would probably reject this task already in Germany. Second, there is the huge problem of language barrier.

Multiplication Flashcards

My Spanish is only barely available; ranging from just a few broken sentences to something like mumbling between the lips. I don't even want to start to talk about, how hard it is to understand the children, and even if I understand it, what meaningful response to give. I think, that the situation with language ultimately turned out to be a great source of stress for me. Because it's all well and good, as long as you play with the kids, make art, and have fun together. There are however, just as many situations, in which one must direct and control the children so that the situation does not end in utter chaos. In these cases my Spanish is simply not sufficient. It might be enough for a brisk “Sit down!” or “Listen!”, but this is not my idea of the proper way to educate children. I would have felt in some situations much better able to connect with the children when I could properly communicate with them. Not just loud and forceful, but tell the children, exactly why a more orderly situation is needed. So that was much of the first major problem, that I had with Aldea Yanapay ( not as a charity in particular, It was probably exactly the same in any other project with the same tasks.) ...

Escuela Dos (For kids aged 9-13)

Although are there equally moments, where work at Yanapay is incredible fun. The kids are great and in some situations one can hardly resist a chuckle. It is incredible, how quickly the children, especially the younger ones, bring the “Profes” close to their hearts. It is difficult for me to assess, to what extent a loving and gentle environment in everyday life of children is available. And certainly there will be differences among them. However, the Atmosphere at Yanapay is always respectful between children and volunteers, warm and very physical. There are many hugs, the children have virtually no reservations. They grab after your hand if you go only a few meters away. Because of this physical aspect, is it sometimes very amusing, even scary, to see how some volunteers, who come mostly from Europe or the States get used to this.

The School Children during a 'Friday Fiesta'

The “círculo” at five o'clock is one thing, I find very exciting at Aldea Yanapay. Here the children and volunteers sit together in a circle, with moderator Yuri (the head of the Organization) and discuss various subjects. This can be really everything: Politics, Morality, Philosophy, Religions and more. It is supposed to serve the children to expand their vision and to open their world a little.

One of the reasons, why I participate in Aldea Yanapay, is the desire to get a better understanding of the Peruvian culture and way of life. And I hope to be able to deepen this in the next four months. Unfortunately we got only a certain introduction after our first week at Yanapay, what the reality of the lives of many Peruvian children: In the schools they are still beaten, Patriarchy of the father, Alcoholism in many families…One hopes to be at least somewhat helpful in this context. And if it is only for a few hours in the afternoon, to make the day for the children a little better. Whether this in a larger context is, or has more far-reaching consequences, I hope, however am still undecided…

Mobiles Hanging from the Cieling

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