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.