Anna Keenlyside - General Teaching Projects in Peru
I spent three months in Peru with Projects Abroad, and loved every minute of the experience! I was a volunteer on the teaching programme in a secondary school, but because my placement ran into the Christmas holidays I also helped on two dental health campaigns and taught at a summer school for adults. I lived with a family in Urubamba, a small village in the centre of the Sacred Valley where the Projects Abroad office is based and where volunteers gathered in the afternoons and evenings.
Having recently graduated from university, I was keen to explore a different way of life and to explore the Peruvian culture as best as I could. My knowledge of Spanish before leaving England was limited, but I soon picked up words and phrases from my family and the children at school. Spanish is not a difficult language to master, and because the Peruvians speak fairly slowly and clearly, spending time in Peru is the perfect opportunity to learn the language without necessarily needing formal lessons. Being able to speak Spanish certainly helped me to become part of the family, and I especially enjoyed spending time with the children who appreciated having a volunteer to play with!
I taught at the Agropecuario school in Urubamba, only a short walk from my host family which was fortunate as lessons started promptly at 8am. I mainly taught alongside the school's only English teacher who was somewhat old-fashioned in his approach to lessons! The staff in the Projects Abroad office encouraged us to prepare original materials for classes and I found this helped vary the lessons and class sizes of around 40 pupils didn't particularly help matters. The arrival of Christmas meant exams for all classes and the volunteers were alarmed at the levels of cheating amongst the pupils and this was frustrating for all of us.
Schools in Peru take a 3-month break for Christmas but there were plenty of other projects for the volunteers to get involved with. This included two dental health campaigns where we visited small villages to clean the children's teeth and provide them with free toothbrushes. As there were very few volunteers over Christmas, we had lots of fun together and made the most of our free time! Five of us took the opportunity to do the four-day Inca Trail, which was definitely the highlight of my trip. Waking up at 4am on the last day to reach Machu Pichu at sunrise and before the tourists was simply breathtaking.
We also visited the vast and colourful Christmas Eve market in Cusco, bartering for presents for our host families. There were plenty of celebrations in Urubamba and we partied the arrival of 2005 in the main plaza in traditional Peruvian style: dressed in yellow and toasting the new year with 12 grapes - one for each lucky month of 2005.
In January, teaching resumed in Cusco where I had a much more manageable class of six adults, all teachers or prospective teachers wanting to improve their English. Our summer school proved very popular, and the adults showed a real keenness to improve. In my last lesson, the students held a party for my departure and were genuinely grateful for the lessons. It was time for my travels around South America to commence!
From Cusco, I travelled south to Peru's second busiest city, Arequipa and the surrounding Colca Canyon. The views were spectacular and a trip to see the condors in their natural environment is a must! We found time to visit a Peruvian seaside resort of Mejia, off the main tourist trail, and then headed to Lake Titicacca in Bolivia via Puno and the floating islands. Travelling in Peru and Bolivia brought never a dull moment, and even the lengthy bus journeys proved memorable.
My three months with Projects Abroad ended on a high note and I then spent a further month travelling in Argentina. The air-conditioned busses and up-market hostels I met as I travelled south through Patagonia felt a million miles away from what I had experienced in Peru, but I have extremely fond memories of the people and places I encountered in Peru. Five months on, I have planned a reunion with some of the other volunteers I met through Projects Abroad and will no doubt relive my Peruvian tales for many years to come.