Last weekend I was sat on thirty hours worth of buses over a period of two days so that I could get from Peru to Ecuador – and in the week prior to that, I spent approximately another fifteen hours on buses and crammed in vans. I used the time wisely and wrote up my next three blog entries.
I edited and formatted; I added images and I checked my spellings. And then somehow, my phone decided that because I had moved to a different country it should request sign-ons for all my email accounts and folders – and in the process, it wiped the memory.
So my meticulously written report on working for the NGO, my write up about Carnival and the document which detailed my adventure around the Andes have all gone.
I initially got mad, I was raging about and then after about three minutes I looked up from my netbook. I was sat in a beautiful garden fronting onto the Pacific Ocean and the soft creamy sand was being pounded by thunderous waves. The sea beyond the foam was sparkling in the sun and pelicans scooted around on the water, whilst black angular frigate birds circled alarmingly overhead. Why was I allowing myself to get angry? It was my own fault for not backing up my work. So, I hate rewriting work – life is too short. I may or may not now tell you about the soldiers who boarded our bus and the paint throwing at the Carnival, and I may leave out some of the smaller details. I am sat by the Pacific Ocean in Ecuador.
This is the shortened reworked version of my time with SKIP
I came out to Peru in November and I began working as an English teacher with SKIP. Supporting Kids in Peru is a grass-roots organisation which works on the margins of the city of Trujillo. I have written about the district of El Porvenir before so I won’t repeat myself but I never cease to be amazed by the resilience and the enthusiasm of the majority of the children who are a part of this tough community. The police refuse to go into the area at night and gunshots are not uncommon. The vast majority of the children are squeaky clean and they take great pride in their school work, have impeccable manners and are delightful.
I was lucky enough to try my hand at several things. I taught English to both primary and secondary level children, I worked as a teaching assistant for the Group One ‘babies’, I helped out at the swimming pools for both primary and secondary, I sort of helped at the sewing workshop for the mums (this was limited because of my lack of Spanish) and I went along to the beach for our treat for the secondary aged children.
I took time away at Christmas to explore much of Peru and Bolivia, took weekends away to visit more local sights and I have met the most fantastic people.
Volunteers come from all over the world and I have worked alongside people from Australia, the UK, Spain, Argentina, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Canada and the United States as well as Peru itself. I KNOW that some of them are friendships made for life and I also know, without a shadow of a doubt that I will bump in to some of them again, somewhere in the world, (unless of course they change their address and not tell me). I have never been a bridesmaid but I even have high hopes of being a matron-of-honour one day!
My working day varied, but when I was teaching at SKIP it usually began with a twenty minute walk to the volunteer house through the parks and backstreets of the city, where the volunteers would gather on the pavement and begin the daily performance of persuading cab drivers to take us to the SKIP building in El Porvenir. Hailing cabs with the taxi waggle (hold your arm out at right angles to your body, slightly above the horizontal, palm down and limply flap from the wrists) – then when about three or four cabs are lined up, these are negotiated with for the cheapest journey. Cram aboard as many bodies as can be tolerated and drive the fifteen minutes or so up to the area where our work is based. Once we pass the market with its stinky smells and the rubbish dump where piles of crap burn with toxic smoke by the side of the road, the sand takes over. The graveyard is a vast, desolate, sad sandy pit and pavements are no longer a feature. Houses are smaller and more basic, roads are sand or a mass of rubble and people have planted crops of maize or potatoes in the patches of sand between their front doors and the roadway.
The cabs arrive and generally a gaggle of kids charge over to take our bags off us and help us in through the large steel sky blue door. Inside the high walls exists a little sanctuary from the poverty which is outside. Maria is always to be found sweeping; not for one minute will she allow the desert sand to take over her beloved yard; and the basic classrooms are prepared for the children. Not a day goes by that as I enter this building I don’t think back to the schools in the UK with their carpets, shiny desks and seemingly unlimited resources. Here in Peru the walls do have pictures and posters on but whether because of the dry atmosphere or the cheap paper, they always look tired and sad. We are always scraping around for pencils and paper, desks are very old and rickety and chairs and wooden benches uncomfortable and some on their last legs. I have been into a school in the more affluent city centre of Trujillo and things were not much better there – classrooms are simply large spaces with desks and chairs and not a lot else to stimulate or encourage. But as I said, the children are keen to learn and just prove that you don’t need to pay a fortune for the latest digital classroom aids.
There are of course petty office politics within the NGO which happen as they would within any business or organisation and these can be frustrating, and are no doubt amplified because of the intensity of working and living together in such close proximity. Some characters clash but generally everybody rubs along well together. If there is a drama, everybody pulls together and supports each other. It was very tempting to stay longer but I knew that it would just be harder to eventually leave.
Trujillo can be a dangerous city and many of the volunteers have experienced some level of crime or hassle. However, it is important to note, this is not just because we are foreigners – many Peruvians have also been subjected to robbery and mugging. I was lucky and didn’t have any problem apart from in my first week when I was followed but I managed to lose the two men. There was also an almost-incident in a cab when myself and another volunteer were decidedly suspicious about the motives of our driver who looked like a gangster with his cap on backwards, gold teeth and giant gold chains around his neck. We whispered that should he pull a gun on us we would leg it – and we almost did dash for it when he opened the glove box and pulled out a black object – only to collapse with relief when it turned out to be the remote control for his radio!
Several volunteers have been relieved of their possessions or subjected to a random attack and often at gunpoint, although I have felt safer walking around Trujillo than when I was walking around my home town back in the UK.
My final week at SKIP was the very best. It was very emotional and saying goodbye to many of the children and my friends was hard. We had parties for the volunteers and parties for the children as well as outings to the beach. We were allowed to take photographs at SKIP in our final week – some I shall share with you now but I hope to place others within another entry in the future.
If you would like to support SKIP either financially or with your time, you can check out their website at www.skipperu.org or follow them on Facebook. I was privileged to be a part of these children’s lives for a short time and I am sure that some of them will go on to change their world
Thanks Elaine x
Dear Jane As ever fascinating to read about what you are up to on the other side of the world. Life here is hectic and confusing at the moment, with lots going on. So looking forward to seeing you when you return, if ever. How will you ever settle? Miss you xx
Thank you Jane. I really don’t know how I could settle to ‘normal’ again. Every day here is different and I am meeting some amazing characters. I know that I am very lucky
I have been following your blogs with great interest. What a fascinating insight you have given us into your work and travels. Well done. Sue x
Thank you again Sue
Oh. My. Giddy Aunt!!!! What an amazing post! I’d just got over the shakes reading about your lost work, and then you casually drop in stuff about being followed, and shaking them off … and then “if he pulls a gun?” Holy crap, woman, you are LIVIN’ IT!!!! Awesome stuff, my friend, awesome stuff!! xx
Haha, I know – but I am still less stressed living here with all of the challenges than I was walking around my home town.