Swan Song

* NOTE: As usual, the names of all the babies and mothers have been changed to preserve their privacy. Thank you to everyone who has been following our blog!

His first steps were uncertain at best. When I lifted him from the baby walker and placed him on his own two feet, Baby Harry threw me an incredulous stare. “I promise, it’s not that I’m too lazy to pick you up,” I reassured him. “I just want you to practice walking.” He swayed on the spot, trying to find his center of balance. I crouched a few feet in front of him, motioning for him to join me. “¡Ven, Harry, ven! (Come on, Harry, come on!)” Slowly, tentatively, he lifted one foot and tottered forward. “¡Muy bien, Harry! (Very good, Harry!)” echoed the tutor’s voice from behind me. Harry beamed and staggered towards me. Before I could form the words “Slow down,” he had thrown himself into my arms, laughing in unbridled glee. The Little Boy Who Couldn’t Walk had become The Little Boy Who Could.

When I first arrived at the Hogar, Baby Harry was one year and two months old – and showed absolutely no desire to walk. His preferred mode of transportation was crawling, followed closely by being carried around. Given his age, his refusal to walk put him far behind the other kids in terms of development. As a budding neuroscientist, my most pressing question was: “Why?”

I can’t say that I ever found a certain answer – especially because Baby Harry himself can’t talk. But I did form an elaborate theory about a Monkey, a Mother, and a Motive. Now, before you dismiss me as completely crazy, take a moment to hear me out.

In 1957, psychologist Harry Harlow began a series of experiments about the mother-infant bond. He bred rhesus monkeys in his lab and, upon birth, separated the infants from their mothers. In lieu of their real mothers, the baby monkeys were offered a choice between two surrogate mothers: identical wire-crafted figures that differed in two ways. One “mother” was covered in soft cloth. The other was made of bare wire but held a milk bottle for its “babies.” One by one, each infant was placed in a room with the two surrogates. And, one by one, each made his or her decision.

Harlow and his team found that the babies spent significantly more time with the Cloth Mother than with the Wire Mother – even though the Wire Mother was the only one providing nourishment. When confronted with a frightening object, the monkeys would instantly seek comfort in the arms of the Cloth Mother. Later studies augmented these findings, revealing that baby monkeys deprived of maternal contact showed greater fear towards new objects and experiences. Harlow’s discoveries – combined with the work of other psychologists – formed the basis for “Attachment Theory,” which explains that a healthy infant-mother bond is critical for a child’s development.

So much for the Monkey; now onto the Mother. Yenny was no older than fourteen when she gave birth to Baby Harry – and that was the inception of their rocky relationship. For his mother, Baby Harry was a very tangible reminder of the horror and humiliation she’d lived through. So she sought to distance herself from him as much as possible. She didn’t hold him; she didn’t hug him; and she didn’t show him any love.

That sort of dynamic is not unheard of in the Hogar. Although most of the mothers love their babies, a few still have difficulty accepting their maternal roles. And it’s perfectly understandable why. Though they themselves are innocent, the babies are all products of past traumas. They’re living remnants of the horrific incidents that shattered their mothers’ old lives. So how can Yenny even look at her baby without having to stem the tide of awful memories about his conception? The answer is: she can’t.

Now, there are certainly mothers in the Hogar who have learned to compartmentalize those feelings. Slowly but surely, they’ve grown to love their babies and leave the past where it belongs. Unfortunately for Baby Harry, his mother isn’t quite there yet. And there’s nothing that I, the psychologist, or any of her peers can do to complete the process. She needs to attain that catharsis on her own.

After learning about Baby Harry’s situation, I resolved to give him as much love as I possibly could. I cuddled him, smiled at him, spoke to him, and did everything in my power to help him walk. On a regular basis, I would lift him out of the baby walker and hold his hands as he ambled around the home. And, on July 21st, I watched proudly as he walked towards me, supported by naught but his own two legs.

I won’t attempt to claim credit for his starting to walk. Ultimately, he made that decision on his own. And I can’t divine his precise Motive for doing so, either. All I can say is that I did my best to help and that I gave him as much love as I could.

It’s been exactly two weeks since I saw Baby Harry – or anyone at the Hogar. I’m writing this from my home in California, and I can’t stop thinking about the people in Cusco who became my family. I remember Yasmín enveloping me in a tight hug when I greeted her every morning. I remember Karla crafting a pipe-cleaner bracelet and shyly sliding it onto my wrist. I remember carrying Baby Belle down the street to the hospital, worried about her possible concussion and unwilling to put her down for the world. The surge of memories is overwhelming – tearjerking and heartwarming at once.

Saying goodbye wasn’t easy, but I’m hoping it won’t be permanent. I plan to stay in touch with all of the girls by sending them regular emails through Maruja’s account. And I’ll definitely go back to Cusco to visit them in person; I’m just not sure when. What I do know, however, is that my “Goodbye” wasn’t the “Farewell Forever” that rounds off Shakespearean tragedies. It was more of an “Au Revoir” – “Goodbye, Until We Meet Again.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Day 65-66: July 23-24

It is 10:26 PM in Nashville. I am back home safely and watching Impractical Jokers with my brother.

Yesterday I had my last breakfast and enjoyed a quiet morning, mostly playing with Baruna. Unfortunately, Pepa wasn’t doing well again, so Daniela had to clean out her mouth once again. She was in pain for the rest of the day. In the afternoon, I packed my bag, wrote a thank-you note, and got ready to say goodbye after a delicious last lunch of spaghetti with white sauce. We took a family photo of all the siblings and the dogs with me. Marianela gave me a nice parting gift of coasters and a hand-carved pencil. I was very grateful for all they did for me. I thought the hardest part was saying goodbye to Baruna. That was when I teared up, because I could always come back but, when I do, I’m not sure if Baruna will be there anymore. He was good to me. I’ll miss him.

Marianela then dropped me off at the airport. I said a goodbye to her and Mily, checked my bag, and waited for the flight to Lima from Cusco. I was the only one in our group who had the 10 PM flight to Miami, so I was going to be cutting it close. Thankfully, I found a few people on the plane, including a nice girl and a high school kid named Destin with his grandmother, who had the next flight. That flight had no problems, and I moved quickly after getting my bag to go through immigration. Unfortunately, my immigration card was smudged, so I had to wait in line an extra 30 minutes and had to pay a small fee. I almost missed my next flight to Miami (Destin, his grandmother, and the girl were worried about me), but I didn’t, and I got on my flight. I got a window seat, but a nice man from Belgium wanted me to switch so his other friend from Belgium could sit with him. I obliged. The flight was long and I did not sleep very well. But we arrived, and I got through Miami customs much more easily than I did in Lima. I flew to Nashville with no problems and arrived.

My parents brought me home in the oppressive Nashville heat. My dog, Fritz, greeted me, and he seems to be doing very well. I’m happy about that. After a breakfast of donuts and then a quick lunch, I took a very long three hour nap, followed by tennis and a delicious dinner out. I was very happy to enjoy some American food. It was delicious.

I really haven’t experienced much reverse culture shock, but I have noticed that the heat here is getting to me. In Cusco, the temperature never gets above 70 degrees, and it’s in the mid-90s and very humid here in Nashville. It may take a while to get used to, but if that’s the only shock I experience, then I’ll be happy about that. Re-adjusting hasn’t been a problem other than with the heat.

Right now, I miss my host family and Baruna, but I’m very glad to be home. It was a good journey that changed my life, and I very much appreciate it. But I do need to rest. It was an exhausting trip. And I appreciate the kind words I received from many of you in the comments. They kept me going. I hope you all enjoyed my blog and my day-by-day accounts of my experiences. I plan to read this one day, but, for now, I think I will just enjoy the rest of my summer. School starts back up again soon, after all.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Day 64: July 22

It is 10:50 PM in Cusco. This will (likely) be my last post from Peru until I arrive in Nashville on Sunday.

Today I woke up, ate my normal breakfast, showered, and watched the 2015 Final Four games before I headed over to the SIT office for our last reflection session. In the reflection session, we talked about what we would miss most about Peru (I said Baruna, my loyal host dog), what we would miss the least about Peru (I said the thin air that was hard to breathe), and we gave a general review of the program. We also were asked how this program has changed us. For one, I definitely do not take my family for granted anymore. Also, my mind was opened to a completely new world, especially the hard world of the kids at Huacarpay. I think this experience will make me more grounded. We celebrated with cake and said goodbye to the SIT office.

I returned home to lunch and managed some of the fantasy Premier Leagues that I will be starting this fall. Then, I went on my last run in Cusco. I’ll miss the route I take and going into the store to buy my Gatorade. I certainly will not miss the thin air. It makes it hard to run. It’s not the most fun. Before we left for the farewell dinner, Marianela helped me clean my room one last time. I really appreciate her and all she has done for me. It will be hard to say goodbye tomorrow.

Then, we went to our farewell dinner at a restaurant in the Plaza de Armas. Marianela and Daniela came, as well as Delia and Norma from Huacarpay. Delia gave Melanie and me very sweet cards that I’ll be sure to keep. The dinner was a buffet-style meal, but it was still pretty good. I enjoyed it. There was a live band there and, as I was standing to greet one of Daniela’s friends, one of the dancers thought I had volunteered to go up and dance and swooped in and took me center stage. We salsa danced. I dance poorly, but I actually think I held my own this time. It was a lot of fun. I’ll never forget tonight.

Tomorrow I say goodbye to Cusco. It will certainly be hard to say goodbye to my host family and Baruna, but I do think the time is right for me to come home. I’m ready. I’ll miss it here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Farewell Cusco

Tomorrow at 7:40 pm my flight will depart from Cusco for Lima and my summer with DukeEngage will officially draw to a close. This summer has been unforgettable. I’ve visited numerous Incan ruins, the highest navigable lake on Earth, the Amazon Rainforest, and even a Rainbow Mountain. But my main purpose here was not to see amazing sights and take fun trips, it was to volunteer with young mothers and their children at Casa Mantay.

Yesterday was my last day of work, and spent my morning in the nursery savoring my last moments with the babies who I feel like are my own. On Tuesday, I was able to give another Guitar class at a time when the girls could actually attend, after having a conversation with the director of the home about improving communication about the weekly lesson schedule. The lesson went really well and with full attendance this time. After playing and singing a few songs with the girls (including their favorite, “Corazon de Seda”) I told the girls that I wanted to teach them a little bit about the guitar, because I was going to give it to the home for them to have. This was an idea my mom originally gave me when we discussed my first class in which I only had one attendee stay for it’s entirety. She suggested giving it to that one girl, but I decided I wanted all the girls to have access to it and be able to play and learn if they wanted to. After I told them about gifting the guitar, the girls seemed happy and excited, and interested in hearing what I had to teach them about it. I was able to give a brief explanation of the notes in the musical scale and how these are played on the guitar and used to form chords. It was a little bit difficult and I was nervous trying to communicate the musical terms effectively in Spanish, but I think it was a good introduction to basic musical theory and the guitar as an instrument without being too overwhelming. Afterward, I passed the guitar around to different girls and showed them the chords to Corazon de Seda, encouraging them to keep practicing and not be discouraged if they didn’t get a clean sound at first. By the end of the hour and half time slot, I was playing them Jonas Brothers and we were bonding over watching videos from the Lizzie McGuire movie (a bit off topic for the lesson, but fun for all of us). I left feeling grateful that I had the chance to give another class and spend time with the moms. When I left, I put the guitar in Raquel (the Director)’s office where she had suggested that it would be both secure and accessible.

Yesterday, after my last morning with the babies, everyone gathered on the patio to say goodbye to Masha and I. One of the girls wanted to play the guitar, so I brought it out and reminded her the chords to Corazon de Seda, and showed her a piece of paper on which I had written them (I left this taped to the guitar for them to refer to after I left). I also told the girls where the guitar would be kept and that I had put a document with video lessons, chord websites, and other resources on the computers in their classroom. We all stood in a circle and each mom as well as the home’s volunteer coordinator, chef, nursery worker, and some fellow volunteers thanked us for what we had done over the past two months. It was really special to me to hear the thanks from the moms, and particularly special that they could thank me for the giving and playing the guitar. In reality, I feel like the lucky one to have been able to play music with them and share something I love so much. In the beginning weeks of my work at Mantay, I doubted whether I’d be able to incorporate guitar into my work, but standing there on the last day I felt so happy and gratified that we had made it work.

All in all, I think my time at Mantay was a success. I was able to feel helpful day to day (changing diapers, playing with, and looking after the kids in the nursery), and also feel like I was leaving something more permanent (the guitar and the little bit I had taught them with it). Additionally, I hung up a sign on a bulletin board for future volunteers, telling them that the home has a guitar, and encouraging them to give lessons. Through this experience I learned how to both bring my passion to my work, but also how to be an extra set of hands and do whatever was needed, setting my own ego and desire to “make a difference” aside. Volunteer work is complicated, I didn’t always feel like I was “making a difference” or having any real impact other than temporarily controlling a group of rowdy toddlers, but in the end, I’m able to look back on my time at Mantay and feel fulfilled. Perhaps more importantly, I was able to learn about some of the social and legal issues in Peru, including weak laws for persecuting rapists and illegality of abortion. These problems lead to heartbreaking situations such as the cases at Mantay.

In addition to making preparations to give Mantay my guitar, this past week Masha and I have been working to set up a fundraising page, that will allow people to easily donate money to the home, without high fees (their current medium takes about 20%, where the new page will take about 3%). We’ve run into some complications with confirming bank accounts, and weren’t able to get the page up and running by our last day, but we hope that in the next few days we can get things squared away to start accepting donations.

I’ll be very sad to leave Cusco tomorrow, but know that I will never forget the amazing place I’ve been, experiences I’ve had, and people I’ve met, especially the brave young women at Mantay and their beautiful kids.

mantay1

mantay2

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Day 63: July 21

It is 10:45 PM in Cusco. I just watched Trump’s acceptance speech at the RNC. Pretty amazing how the Internet connects us to things so far away.

I woke up by my new natural alarm clock, Baruna, ate my normal breakfast, and waited at Orion a little earlier than usual so Rodrigo, a worker at SIT, could take us to Huacarpay in his car with the new uniforms. We took a bit of a different route than usual (which made me a little nervous), but we ended up passing by our usual route – Saylla, Huasao, Tipon, Oropesa, the Real Garcilaso training ground, and Huacarpay – to get to the school. There, we saw the kids getting ready to march. We didn’t quite give them the clothes yet (that was to come later), but we ran a quick marching training. The kids didn’t want to behave, so Norma called a team meeting with all the kids and told them to behave on our last day. I appreciated that.

I think Norma and Delia knew that we weren’t up to working too hard on our last day, so they let us sit and observe. We did, however, help set up for Achievement Day. We put up flags and banners in the classrooms while Melanie helped the older kids finish their projects. It was a nice thing to do. Worn out, we were called into the kitchen for our last lunch. Delia prepared us arroz a la cubana, which is rice with fried banana, egg, and fries. It was delicious. I loved it. After I took some pictures of the school (coming on Sunday when I can upload them), it was time for Achievement Day. It wasn’t anything special. The kids just hung up their projects on the wall, and pictures were taken. It wasn’t as big of a production as I thought it would be since (sadly) their parents don’t come. Right after Achievement Day, however, Delia and Norma recognized us for our work this semester (Norma’s speech strangely left out Melanie, showing how gender is really recognized here). The kids then gave us homemade cards which were very touching. Roy Abel and Juan drew a picture of us playing soccer, while Doris, the oldest student, left both of us a very thoughtful and well-written letter. We then said our tearful goodbyes, took pictures, and parted ways. It’s sad for me because, although I can certainly return to Huacarpay, when I do, certainly all of these students will have moved on. The reality is that I probably will not see any of these kids again, and that is really too bad. They’ve made a huge difference in my life.

I also thanked Melanie for her hard work. She has been an outstanding partner, having to deal with way more than I have in terms of the way she has been treated. Still, she kept her head down and worked hard for the kids and always did the best she could. I was proud to have had the chance to work with her.

I then returned home to a delicious lunch of chicken patties and fried yuca. I decided I was too tired – physically and emotionally – to run today, so I sat back and relaxed for the afternoon and reflected. Soon I will have to say goodbye to my host family, and that is going to be tough as well. But tomorrow we get to celebrate with a dinner with all the families in the Plaza de Armas. I’m excited for that. I just wish Baruna could come!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Day 62: July 20

It is 10:13 PM in Cusco.

Today I took my usual morning routine and headed over to the Urcos bus stop. There, Melanie negotiated with the mean conductor and got us safely over to Huacarpay (for the last time on those buses, thank goodness). When we arrived, the kids were practicing their marching as usual for the parade on Friday. Melanie and I then got to work finishing the paint job on the storage shed. Today’s task was to fill the holes with blue paint. We tried our best and got most of them, and it ended up looking pretty good. This marked the end of our paint job at Huacarpay. We felt good. It was rewarding, and the school now looks really good. Unfortunately, while we were painting, Nayeli, the youngest girl, escaped from class and ran off out of the school. I went to go get her. Nayeli likes when I pick her up and carry her, so I told her that I would carry her back to the school if she agreed to come back. If she didn’t, I would never carry her again. So she agreed, and I was pleased with how that potentially bad situation went.

After snack, Roy Abel suggested that we break out the new soccer ball that I brought the kids today. I think Roy Abel particularly enjoyed the ball. We played one-on-one (I won, as usual, 5-3). The other boys then came along and enjoyed playing with the ball. I think they all liked it. I was glad I brought it to them. After recess, Melanie and I helped with setting up for Achievement Day, where the kids showcase the work they have been doing in school. I glued signs together while Melanie made replicas of the Peruvian flag. By the end of the day, I was completely exhausted. The water repairman came over and (hopefully) fixed the water problem as well.

After lunch (chaufa, which was delicious), Luis and Daniela decided to do a quick home operation on Pepa, who had a mouth infection, and they let me watch. They anesthetized her and opened her mouth, which was bleeding and clearly showing signs of infection. Unfortunately, Pepa did not like this and was barking and crying the whole time. They cleaned out her mouth and found that some broken baby teeth were to blame for the problem. She really didn’t like the operation (and neither did Marianela), but Pepa has been a lot more quiet since the operation and will hopefully get better. She really didn’t enjoy the operation, though.

I then went on a run. I was so exhausted from the day that I didn’t quite finish, so I bought a Gatorade and came home to eat some dinner and to relax for the night. Simba, as I have named him (the dog that Daniela brought home last night), is still here. His new owner was supposed to come pick him up today but hasn’t done so. Hopefully he will be gone tomorrow, for Baruna doesn’t like him and attacks him constantly (I don’t really blame Baruna either. Simba isn’t very nice.). Tomorrow is my last day at Huacarpay, and I am being picked up at 7:30 AM in front of the grocery store by an SIT office member, who has the uniforms. It should be a good yet sad farewell. I’ll miss the kids.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Day 61: July 19

It is 10:08 PM in Cusco. I’m chilling with Baruna and a new dog that Daniela just rescued (he’ll have a new home soon). I’m having a contest for the name so we can give him (a male) a temporary name – comment what you think his name should be!

Today I woke up, ate my normal breakfast, and headed over to the Urcos bus top. Unfortunately, as Melanie and I shortly found out, our least favorite conductor was there getting ready to leave. So Melanie went over to him and asked if he could drop us off at Capilla. He said no, as he does sometimes. So we tried a new strategy. We said we wouldn’t ride with him and said we’d take the next bus. He finally relented and let us get dropped off at Capilla. We arrived in the middle of the parade practice, and we were told to move all of the stuff from Norma’s room into another room. We moved heavy dressers and loads of books for a while. Then, we had a new task: to put freshly mixed drywall on the storage shed. Unfortunately, no one knew how to mix it. We tried our best, but the drywall did not stick at all. Melanie kept trying to get it to stick as I painted the already-placed drywall from a few days ago. I have to give credit to her for trying, but it just didn’t work in the least (as I kept telling her as she kept trying in vain). So we just painted some parts of the storage shed. We really don’t have much left to do there. We’re wrapping it up. Just two days left there. When we left, we truly hitchhiked home; a very kind tourist service bus driver picked us up. It went well.

When I returned home, I learned that Marianela was not feeling well at all. She kindly left me a good lunch of chicken patties and a vegetable salad. Daniela then brought home the dog (who has been fighting Baruna over some bones, and unfortunately I just got caught in the crossfire). The dog was dirty but very sweet. As Daniela gave him a much-needed bath, I went to the mall to buy a soccer ball for the kids at Huacarpay. I bought the cheapest one I could find (25 soles was the price, an absolute steal), but it is in great shape and should last a while. I’ll bring it to them tomorrow.

I went on a run, bought a Gatorade, and returned home to a pizza dinner brought by Daniela. Marianela (who is now feeling a little better) presented me with some hand-knitted socks that she made for me. They are very warm. I’m enjoying them right now. I’ve really appreciated all that my host family has done for me.

Tomorrow I go back to Huacarpay to work. Two work days left. I have to finish strong!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Importance of “We”

I have three days left at Hogar Amantaní, and I want to share some final thoughts about my time as a volunteer and really think about what I have brought and what I have learned. I want to go back to the first blog post I wrote on May 13th soon after Duke Engage Academy, in which I was so excited to apply what I have learned in the classroom to a “real life” context.

One of the questions that I want to think about is: What was my main role at Amantaní? Looking back on my time as a whole, I very much feel that it was to make the lives of the full-time employees easier for the past two months. When there were volunteers from Spain as well, I spent most of my mornings washing the dishes from breakfast. However, when they left, and I became the only volunteer with the group of fifteen two to five year olds, Lupe needed my help getting the kids through their daily routines. Therefore, I no longer had time to wash the dishes and Sra. Antonia had to resume her responsibility of washing the breakfast dishes on top of cooking three meals a day for fifteen kids. For the past two weeks, during the time I had previously spent washing dishes, I have helped the kids go through their morning routines of washing their faces and brushing their teeth and then taken them downstairs to play so they don’t get bored before they eat a snack at 9:30. However, I know that when I leave after Thursday, Lupe will just have to help a few more kids with their morning routines and the kids will just have to remain upstairs in their rooms until snack time. Furthermore, just as Sra. Antonia is capable of washing the dishes in half the time that I am, Lupe is twice as fast as me at changing diapers and much more efficient in getting the kids through their morning routines. Have I helped at Amantaní? Absolutely. However, will the Hogar cease to function after my last day on Thursday? Absolutely not.

At the same time, I cannot forget about moments in which Katy and I have felt extremely needed during our time here. For example, last week, two babies were in the hospital. Lupe had to go visit them one day and Katy and I were left alone with the kids for most of the morning. Also, everyday I have to pick up kids from two different schools. On Fridays, one of the kids has to stay later for physical education, but I still have to go to her school at 1 to give her lunch. Therefore, I get back later on Fridays, but I still have to go pick up the other kid at his school. This past Friday, his teacher asked me why I was so late and I had to explain the situation to her. In that moment, I felt guiltier than ever that I was leaving in a week. It is extremely difficult for one of the employees to have to leave to go get kids from school when there are fifteen other children that need to be taken care of. Being an extra set of hands to pick up the kids from school significantly helps Lupe and the other employees in charge of the two to five year olds.

Tying this back to the question of what I have learned as a volunteer at Amantaní and how it relates to what I have learned in a classroom setting this past year at Duke, I have learned a lot about the nature of volunteer work, especially volunteer work abroad. In my first blog post, I talked about a presentation during Duke Engage Academy talking about how we may be perceived as arrogant outsiders that want to “save” an organization or community. After explaining the “Savage-Victim-Savior” or the “Messiah” complex, I said, “However, the presenters did not mean to discourage us but only to encourage us to acknowledge the great complexity of the work we are about to do – to realize that we are not going to go into these communities and miraculously solve problems that have present for years.” To apply this to the context of Amantaní, I have learned that the humbling nature of volunteer work can give us insight into more complex and deeply rooted issues present in a country, but we cannot expect to dive right in and solve these problems. Even though most of my hours were spent doing work such as watering plants, washing dishes, and playing with children, I have gotten profound insight into the existing problems such as stigma against adoption, the difficulties that NGOs face, and the lack of sexual education and access to birth control in Peru as well as the intricacy of these problems. I have learned that service work is complex and requires a lot of thought and reflection, but that just because making a difference and doing effective volunteer work is complex doesn’t mean that it cannot be done. It means that one should not enter a volunteer site with the privileged mindset that he or she can use his or her superior knowledge to change a community for what he or she thinks is “the better.” Sometimes a tangible difference is simply not what an organization needs.

Related to this, I have learned that especially when you are entering a community with a culture different than your own, it is very important to observe before acting. I spent at least my first two weeks at Amantaní observing the way that the employees interact with the kids in order to learn what is appropriate in both the contexts of Peruvian culture in general and Hogar Amantaní in specific. This helped me to become both culturally competent and accustomed to the norms of the Hogar. I think that observing before acting can be an effective way to avoid the Savage-Victim Savior Complex in a volunteer site. Even beyond to avoid forming a negative relationship with your volunteer site, I feel that this is important because different cultures really do deserve respect and learning about cultures other than your own can change your perspective in ways you never thought possible.

I think that the most important lesson I’ve learned this summer is the importance of time and patience when doing volunteer work. I’ve mentioned this in past posts, but I’d like to reiterate how difficult it was for me to form relationships with the employees and kids in Amantaní. It took time, hard work, and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. I’ve learned that forming relationships, especially across cultures, is not easy, but that it is also essential to doing service work and making an impact on a community. Forming relationships helps us get past the mentality that “we” are helping “them” and instead feel that we are all working together to accomplish a similar objective. At Amantaní, I feel like I am a part of a community or even a family that is working together to give the kids the life that they deserve. I did not feel a part of this family after the first day or even after the first week. It took time for me to adjust and connect with people. This will not only impact the way I approach volunteer work in the future but the way that I approach relationships in general.

From my experience at Hogar Amantaní, I will not only take the beautiful memories of Mauricio and Adrian’s adoptions or just spending my mornings building houses out of blocks with the kids, but I will also go back to the United States with a deeper understanding of the complexity of volunteer work, cultural competency, and relationship building. Thank you Duke Engage, SIT, and Hogar Amantaní for enhancing my perspective and opening my eyes to a part of the world I never thought I would have the opportunity to know.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Day 60: July 18

It is 10:13 PM in Cusco. I’m sitting in the living room with Baruna enjoying my evening.

Today I ate my normal breakfast (Marianela is feeling a little better) and headed over to Huacarpay. Unfortunately, Melanie and I ran into our least favorite bus conductor who never likes to drop us off at the school. Thankfully, Melanie was able to negotiate with him and got us dropped off properly. When we arrived, the kids were in parade formation. We then met a new student, Diana, who is 7. After this, it was time to finish our paint job of the bathrooms. Today’s painting was a little tedious, for our goal was to cover up any paint smears and to finish any areas that still had a little white left. It took us two hours to do, but, when we were finished, we were very happy. A good job at Huacarpay was done. The teachers were very appreciative. The teachers, however, were frustrated with some other issues today. For example, the water stopped working. Again. Also, they’re still a little disappointed that the school uniforms have not arrived. I’m disappointed as well. I hope they come soon. We discussed this over a great snack of french fries with chicken, which Delia made for us. It was delicious.

In the latter part of the work day, the English teachers came. They are two German girls about our age who have been in Peru for almost a year in the German equivalent of the Peace Corps. I enjoyed getting to know them. Unfortunately for them, when they come, the kids tend to behave in their least proper way. Juan, Roy Abel, and Nilsa were the key troublemakers today (who would have thought). I had to pull Juan aside after he hit Doris and had to tell him that wasn’t acceptable. He apologized and re-entered the class. The girls tried to teach the class “If you’re happy and you know it,” which was pretty funny to hear the kids sing. Surprisingly, Diana, the new student who is one of the youngest, showed some of the greatest command of the song. I was impressed.

I then headed home to a delicious meal of lomo saltado, followed a Wolves pre-season win, and then went over to the SIT office for our reflection session with Alex. We finished our talk on poverty in Peru and then talked about the leaving process. I expressed my mixed feelings about leaving – how I will be excited to go home but sad to leave behind Huacarpay, my host family, and Baruna. It was a good session. Today was the last time we will see Alex for this trip. He did a lot for our group, and we appreciate him.

Melanie and I then went to the market to shop for gifts for our families. I was particularly impressed with my negotiating skills – I got my parents’ presents for a 50 sol bargain all together (about $15) and got my present, a Peruvian soccer jersey, to 25 soles, or about $6 (soccer jerseys typically cost about $80, or 260 soles) and a Peruvian flag for 5 soles. Melanie had me beat. She managed to get all of her gifts down to about half price. I was very impressed. She said her mom, who is Peruvian, taught her well. I believe her.

Tomorrow I go back to Huacarpay. Three days of work left.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What does this mean?

It’s our last week of work and I’m amazed at how quickly time has passed. I’ve loved my time at Amantaní but as its getting close to our departure date I find myself reflecting upon my work at the Hogar especially in regards to what my time here has meant to me and what I think the impact of my work has been on the house.

At every worksite there is a distinct and personal need that we as volunteers have been able to fill. At Amantaní that need was child care and help around the Hogar. I’ve changed diapers, I’ve fed babies, I’ve washed dishes and I’ve played and laughed with the kids. I feel Gianna and I have been a much needed set of hands at meal times and when putting kids to bed for a nap, but at the same time we are a supplement. The Hogar does function without us there and the kids are taken care of so well by the permanent staff. I think where Gianna and I have stepped in are in the moments such as when a kid is crying after falling and they need a hug or a baby needs hand holding to learn how to walk and luckily these are moments that the staff alone doesn’t always have time to support without extra volunteers due to other critical duties. Yes these moments are awesome and it feels so good to help, but the kids will get up from their fall and the baby will learn to walk even when Gianna and I are not there. I think that I understand now what Gianna and I were meant to do at Amantaní. We are there as aid to the staff, to try and make their lives easier and also to add a little extra fun to the kids days that is sometimes hard for the staff to provide when they are alone with the children. I am so happy I was able to help in the ways I have at Amantaní and I really am proud of Gianna and I and the work we have done at the Hogar.

When doing service work it’s so easy to just want to fix it all. I so wish that my work could get all of the little ones adopted, could stop newly abandoned children from arriving at Amantaní every few weeks and could make these kids lives infinitely easier and happier but that’s just not the case. My biggest takeaway from my experience at Amantaní has been trying to keep myself checked in with reality. I think in the U.S. with volunteer culture we are bred to want to help which is great, but we are also bred to think we can change it all, our work will drastically change lives and that doing volunteer work makes us heroes. We are only here for two months and although that seems like a long time it isn’t necessarily enough time to change our volunteer sites incredibly and only being at these sites for two months definitely does not make us heroes. What’s gonna happen when we are gone? Who is going to take on the roles Gianna and I have as “Mamis” to the little ones at Amantaní, who is going to be fixing fences, who is going to update websites, who is going to teach art classes? It’s amazing many of us in our respective sites took up these roles but the chances of refilling these roles is not very high because the sites don’t necessarily have the resources to do so. Also, despite these being roles that need filling, each site functioned without these roles filled before we arrived and WILL continue functioning in our absence. I have worked so hard since I’ve been at Amantaní and have loved helping in all ways I can and I know that I have filled a need. At the same time I am always reminding myself that although our work has helped it has only been one drop in the large pool of challenges our sites face. There are systematic issues that contribute to the abandonment of children in Peru and how adoption is perceived in the country and unfortunately in my two months here, I haven’t even been able to directly confront these issues in the slightest. While our work here in Peru probably won’t have the most dramatic, long-term impact on our sites and the Cusco community, that doesn’t mean our work here doesn’t matter. We came, we provided our hands, our ideas and our work ethic and we have helped in our best capacity, which is just about as much as we could possibly do and is definitely all the service sites could ask for.

The importance of staying conscious and staying humble during our work has for me, been the most important take away from my time here and I think it is something that needs to be focused on more in the U.S. in regards to volunteer work. I am already getting anxious about Thursday and having to say goodbye to all of the kids and the staff I’ve spent so much time with over the past two months but I hope to just laugh and enjoy the next few days as much as possible before we go! See ya soon N.C.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment