I wanted to share some things that were either surprizing to me or that I wish I knew more about prior to my volunteer experience:
Read the Blue Sparrow predeparture guide. It really sets your expectations for Huancayo.
Plan on getting food poisoning and having stomach illnesses. Invest in some immodium before you arrive. Beware of ceviche that isn´t local trout.
If you have doubts about personal hygiene, visit a eucalyptus sauna at least once a week (you are given a room with a shower) and bring lots and lots of wet wipes. Also, bucket showering isn´t half bad on a warm day.
I feel really safe in Huancayo, and I often wander the streets alone, even at night. People here tend to be very warm and disarming. It is also my experience that people here are eager to share their culture with you. Some of my most memorable moments were when I threw caution to the wind and joined parties-fruit picking-hiking-eating with locals.
People often laugh at me and I now understand that it is not derisive, but rather out of a feeling of discomfort. Not many tourists pass through here and some people are nervous around a ¨gringa¨like myself.
Warning: cliche coming…
have an open mind and always assert your needs.
Here is the work of the kids that are attending Blue Sparrow’s computer center (Péru). The project was to take photos with different angles on a chosen theme and edit them with the Adobe photoshop program.
I arrived with very few expectations. Other than what I was told during the Blue Sparrow skype interview and the images I found on wikitravel of Huancayo, I really was not sure what I was in for. Perhaps a pastoral scene with alpacas and snow-capped mountains, with sheepherds in traditional dress and women selling potatoes. Not knowing any better, I allowed myself to indulge in some cultural stereotypes before I arrived.
What I found was a city of dualities. An economic hub of the Andes but also a beautiful agrarian locale. It is at once a city of action, color, and vibrancy with bustling open-air markets and the sound of carnival-barker-esque vendors, but it is also a city that surrenders to the strong rains and forces of nature. Huancayo is a place of tension between tradition and modernity, where a granny in full Andean regalia can order a frappucino at Starbucks and see a movie after a day of selling produce in the market. Conversely, a teenager with a Justin Bieber haircut listening to Pitbull on a smartphone can knit woolen wares and can talk to his family in Quechua (I have witnessed both cases).
This cultural tension makes the volunteer experience that much richer. I am happy to be here at a time to witness a transition of sorts, but still take full advantage of the very rooted traditional culture. It is through this concept of tension that I understand how important it is to volunteer here and be an ambassador of economic empowerment. I think it would be really easy to disregard the local culture and supplant it with the new, modern, and efficient, but that is not the goal of Blue Sparrow.
Our projects are 100% oriented towards providing tools and resources for the benefit of the clients. Whether it be in a classroom or out in the campos working the potato fields, there is aways a sense of respect for the local culture and a goal to help clients generate more creative output or more agricultural yield. Us volunteers traverse through the technology center and Blue Sparrow- supported agricultural enterprises with an open mind and some ideas/methods to improve pre-exising systems.
Since it is currently “summertime” in Huancayo, we are working in the afternoons at the Blue Sparrow Technology Center with the Adobe Youth Voices project helping students with creative projects. We support creative projects that champion social causes and the students love learning about design, composition, and different creative mediums. I will not teach in a school during my time here due to scheduling, but at least I get a glimpse into an educational process of sorts. On the weekends we are living and working in Pachachaca, either fumigating the fields or fixing the micro-finance center. The goal is to build a “bio-huerto” or a greenhouse model to help diversify the crop output to ultimately lead to more capital for the local residents.
At times I feel small and passive in the city center due to the overwhelming crowds, smells, speed of the combis..etc., but in three weeks I have grown to appreciate the chaos. Now I find it endearing. I struggled at first with the mud and the not-so-pristine state of the city (I think I even used the example of the current Syrian Crisis to describe the appearance of some parts of the city). To contrast, the communities on the outskirts are more tranquil and feature vast fields of corn, potatoes, and eucalyptus trees. Yet another duality of Huancayo.
I lived in the office at first, a bit timid of a rustic homestay experience, but then I decided to really get the “grandaaaso” experience of Huancayo. My host family is incredibly kind and welcoming, not to mention multi-talented and entrepreneurial. I live in an adobe house with a squat toilet and no bathroom to speak of, with chickens, ducks, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and a parrot. I can admittedly be a bit of a princess and I thought that not having hot water would be a struggle, but I have adjusted easily to my new home. My host family has been so kind to knit both me and my volunteer roommate a warm winter gorra, and they are teaching us how to cook Peruvian cuisine, and how to make macrame bracelets. They sell animals and their crafts, and they are so eager to share their culture with us. I regret not being able to stay longer.
Now I’m here..in Huancayo, doing a Voluntario for blue sparrow..I guess i came here for the reason i maybe share with other voluntarios or travellers too:
-Curiosity about other ways of living, culture, mentality..
-Diving in and experience a different awareness of live..
-well there are many reasons why anyone decides to travel and to do a Vluntario and that shouldn’t be the theme right now..
So one month ago at new years eve i landed in cusco where i spent my first time visiting a language school to pimp up my spanish. Before i came here i had (to be honest and there’s no reason why i shouldn’t be) a few fears which can come up when you’re going to spend the next few months in a country and society which differs much from the country you are from. So one of my fears where (and still is a little bit) that i can’t communicate with the poeple here properly. And well my spanish is not the best but gracias a dios there are more ways to communicate than the correct spoken language! So for example i’m able to teach the youngest boy in the family how to jonglage and and another hostbrother showed me how to make macrame even if we don’t understand every single word spoken..
So yes i’m living here with a family a little bit outside of Huancayo..3 boys in the age between 8 and 16, a aunt, the parents a grandfather a grandmother (i’m not sure to who she belongs..) all in all a big, funny and very warm family who give you the feeling of being part of. We live in a loam house. We means i and another Volunteer (and of course the family). There are electricity, water out of the tab but if you expect warm showers and a WC you shouldn’t measure with the “normal” standard in your country, means there is no shower and the toilet is more or less a thunder bar. But what there are is a dog, a cat, chickens and even a perrot. I really enjoy myself and the live in the family for we have everything we need in material and things like friendliness, helpfulness and obove all joy of living.
To be honest i don’t like this when other foreigners tell me how they have mercy on the poeple living here because they have nothing. It’s right they usually don’t have much money, big cars and so on but they have something what gives me the feeling that they’re somehow more real. Like we (who r coming from countries where it’s normal to have an i phone) are so busy to show who we are with the assistance of material things we have long forgotten to experience ourselves in a basic way of living, which in my opinion is an really healing experience..
Well however at the beginning i couldn’t enjoy myself as much than i can now, just because it’s (even if you have your hands and feets) not easy to communicate in a foreign language, accomodate to a new family etc. But i’m learning and right now i’m so happy to be here inspite of all difficulties!
Maybe i should write what life looks practically.. so what happened today: I woke up at 8 what’s a bit later than usual. i went to the thunder bar and washed my face outside with the cold water out of the basin under the tab. For breakfast we had bread (which baked the aunt who is cook), potatoes and noodle soup. Then i wanted to go with my hostmother to the market that means we jumped on one of the collectivos (mini busses which you can stop along the road) drove through this chaotic, anarchic traffic and got off at the market. We walked through this colourful, lively market to get all the things we needed. Tomorrow is my turn to cook a meal which is tipical for my region. Today was the turn on the other volunteer. So when we came back we were all together in the kitchen to prepare the meal which was really delicious. After the meal i felt like sleeping or at least having a coffee but we had no time for this luxury because we had to be at 2 o’clock at the technic center. This is actually one part of the volunteer work. Here the kids should learn how to use computers and working on different projekts. Well to be honest one more time i doubt if i’m the right person for computer stuff but maybe we can learn from each other and maybe i can serve with some ideas..
So that’s how my day was so far..and it’s fine!
I think thats enough for now and there’s nothing left to say but i didn’t regret my decision to come to here at all!!
To make a great echo to the title I will start with telling you my first impressions of this experience, yet to be completed!
My first feeling was one of trust, excitement and happiness. I was ready to start whatever was waiting for me.
I came here with an open mind on any work that could be helpful, which also means with no idea of what to prepare for.
Even though I came here with no expectation I couldn’t have been happier of what I got.
I live in a family that made me part of their own the first minute I walk in the door.
The first moment we’re somehow super exciting and all like a dream. The small and rustic house is the ‘’living the experience’’. I felt off my blindness by the end of the first day in my family. A moment of snap back to reality I like to say. I was walking in the street, looking at people, realizing that would be my life, or something close to that reality, for the next 3 months. It is not an experience over 3 months; it is living a new life. The one I was going to live had no point of reference with my real life. I talked to myself, and also to the other volunteer who was staying with me to clear my thoughts, and it helped.
But, what really help and helps all the time, it is the fact that I embrace each moment. Might be cheesy to say, but it is a matter of fact. Every single time I doubt or just question myself why I am here, there is a great moment that comes to my experience and I know that what I am living here, the work that I do, my only presence, is meaningful (and not just for people here, you will probably the one to learn the most out here).
Taking the public transportation here is an adventure, but when a woman is so happy to meet you and talk to you while she breast-feed her baby with nothing but proud, you know you are where it matters. I have a book full of moments like theses.
This is it, the simplicity and the beauty of the experience of leaving abroad and working in a community.
As I was referring, I had a moment of doubt. I will most probably happen because every thing is so different; from the food to the hygiene habits. The nights are family dinner and sweet talks with the whole family. The water isn’t hot and the toilets paper a luxury. But after 1 day, these will all become your own reality and nothing will matter more than the feeling that you are coming home after your day. It will be part of the way you live.
I am not going to say that you will realize how lucky you are, it means to me that we assume that we are better, and I would never see thing this way. We do have different way of living and enjoying life, no doubts. You will realize how different culture is, and it is important, I think, that you find a place where you feel confortable. We are here as role model, but not here to change mentality from the bottom line with our education and beliefs, but with respect and care.
We are here to help, but it doesn’t mean that after 2 weeks, a month, or even a year that you will see a tangible sing of your implication. It takes time. Time to change things that need to be change according to a real evaluation; it takes time to be part of a community. You need to know that the little step you made here is one less to take for the next volunteer. This step is one less for the community. This step is one thing less the family in the field or the teacher at school has to do over his long ‘’to do list’’.
Peruvian people are a welcoming, open and warm community.
You will love your experience. Blue Sparrow is a small organization. With small comes good and bad. You have to know what you are expecting before coming. Working with a small organization means low budget, long ‘’to do list’’ and a starting structure in some projects. According to me, this flexibility in the structure and this ‘’day by day’’ schedule that was facing us sometime was great. Sometimes I wish I would have know better what were the tasks or expectations, but in the meantime the thing that I really embrace with Blue Sparrow is this sense of responsibility and involvement in the organization. The kind you can’t get in a big structure. It is the trust and proximity of Matt and Serei, of the people who built and dream of this for years.