The Halfway Mark: June 22

Halfway into the DukeEngage experience and I am in love with the rich culture, friendly people, and the beautiful sights that surround us on a daily basis in Cusco, Peru. Every morning, I wake up to breakfast made by my host mom Marcia which usually consists of fresh fruit juice, eggs, and artisan bread. I always look forward to eating and conversing with my host mom, whom I usually only see in the mornings since she works in the afternoons.

After breakfast, I take the bus to my service placement at Hogar Juana de Aza, a home for adolescent mothers who have faced sexual trauma and their children. Although everyone is paired at their organizations and I am the only one from Duke working at the home, my experience has been incredibly enriching thus far.

At first, it was difficult to insert myself into the hogar’s already-established routine. As soon as I walked in for the first time, the mothers quickly greeted me at the door and continued busying away at the kitchen, preparing popcorn and assorted cakes that they sell at the kiosk for the students of Santa Rosa de Lima. I went upstairs to find five of the babies (all under two years old) watching their favorite show Peppa Pig alongside three other volunteers from other service programs. The volunteers explained that they primarily were in charge of making sure that the babies received their meals, entertaining them in the playroom, and taking them out on occasional outings. Once Maruja arrived, the in-house psychologist, she took me on a tour of the dormitories, classroom, kitchen, and bathrooms of the home and explained to me that I would be able to work directly with the mothers through creating workshops and helping them with the items they prepare for the kiosk.

As of right now, I’ve done four workshops with the mothers and have slowly been able to form closer relationships with them and with their children. We’ve created a set of group norms for the hogar, discussed the theme of respect for others, and done activities aimed to build the mothers’ self esteem. Today, we had a workshop on body image where we discussed issues surrounding body dissatisfaction and how this can be problematic in terms of building a positive self-image. We also focused on the importance of positive self-talk, especially when it comes to speaking about their bodies around their children. Yasmin, mother to Angie, mentioned that this was the most helpful discussion that we have had so far because she had no idea how much a mother’s language about her own body could affect the child’s own self-perception. At the end of the workshop, we all drew self-portraits and named five things that we loved about our physical appearance. Although it was difficult to name positive aspects about ourselves and share them in an open space, I was really happy that the mothers were all willing to participate and seemed to really enjoy the activity.

After the babies eat their lunch at around 12:30 PM, my workday comes to a close at the hogar, but the mothers always make sure to hug me goodbye and express their gratitude for my assistance. I am so excited for the weeks to come but know I am going to deeply miss the incredible experiences I’ve had in working with these women and children.

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