Florbela Blenkinsop - General Care Projects in Peru
Volunteering - the beginning
When I decided to volunteer in Peru with Projects Abroad I knew I did not have the average profile. People in my circle of friends thought that volunteering is for teenagers, people on gap years and definitely not for the over 30’s, but with my daughters grown and gone (one to work abroad, another away from home at University), I grew more and more restless. I wanted to feel useful and help people.
I never had a doubt about where I wanted to go – Peru was my choice right from the beginning. I was at the time reading the Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming and was totally fascinated by the country’s history and the Inca culture. I also wanted a challenge and being terrified by mountains since I nearly died in an accident at the age of ten, this high altitude country definitely represented a huge challenge to me!
I was really pleased that Projects Abroad could propose four different placement choices. I picked the PRONOEI (Programa No Escolarizado Inicial) because it was the most interesting but also because I thought that maybe not so many volunteers spoke fluent Spanish, so I might be more useful there.
Meeting my host family
I arrived in Cusco on a Sunday afternoon. Waiting for me at the airport with a friendly smile was a member of Projects Abroad staff. He showed me the town and took me to Urubamba to meet my Peruvian family for the first time.
I could not have picked a better host family if I had chosen myself. Jesus, Lupe, Yurmo and Carlos received me with open arms and were so warm and welcoming; they immediately became a real family. The cherry on top of the cake was the volunteer I shared my family with, a Danish girl barely older than my eldest daughter and the sweetest, most wonderful house mate anyone could wish for.
The care placement
The next day I went with my Projects Abroad supervisor Yessica, to the PRONOEI to see my workplace and meet Elsa and Roosevelt, the 2 people in charge and the children. Over the next 8 weeks I came to know well and developed a good relationship with everyone, including most of the parents.
I helped in any way I could, from doing photocopies to bringing much needed materials provided by Projects Abroad, that they could not afford. I also had to replace Elsa a few times, as she was heavily pregnant and needed to take the odd day off to go for check-ups. When she had the baby the parents asked me to take over for a few days until she came back. I was incredibly touched when Elsa gave my name to her baby and told me she would have liked me to be her daughter’s godmother.
Despite the age gap I was welcome by the other volunteers and invited to their evening escapades. I officially became part of the group the day I climbed to La Cruz, a traditional trek up the Urubamba mountain, from where you have a spectacular view of the Sacred Valley. It was scary, but with Signe’s encouragement I made it! We also had a social event every week, either a cooking class or a trip somewhere. I enjoyed the one to the Chocolate Museum in Cusco.
I was lucky enough to be invited to join Yessica and another 2 volunteers to go to the province of Espinar to do a workshop for teachers. It was an amazing experience and I found it very interesting to see how other PRONOEIs worked.
Travelling around Peru
While in Urubamba, I had the opportunity to visit all the wonderful sites nearby such as Maras, Las Salineras, Ollantaytambo, culminating with the amazing Machu Picchu. It’s even better than in the photos and deserves its place in the 7 wonders of the modern world! And I swear I bought at least half of the stock at Pisac market!
After leaving Urubamba I went backpacking for a month. I went to Puno, visited the Uros islands and Taquile, crossed the border to Bolivia, went to Copacabana and La Paz. Then took a coach to Oruro and the train to Uyuni and did the 3 day tour to see the salt flats, the geysers and the lagoons. I went back to Peru, visited Arequipa, saw the Nazca lines, Huacachina oasis and the Reserva de Paracas and finally Lima.
Nearly three months after leaving home I came back. Peru was everything I hoped for and more. It was a life changing experience. I realised that volunteering is definitely not just for teenagers and I can teach others what I have learned over the years, I can still be useful and help people who need me; who thank me not with empty, meaningless words but with lovely toothless smiles in their little faces, with hugs and kisses, while calling me “Florcita”. In Peru I left my safety zone, survived and actually lived!
I now know that I am capable of much more than I thought, both physically and emotionally. And I loved that time which was all mine but which I gladly shared with strangers; I loved the work I did, the people I met, the country and the culture so different from mine but at the same time, with lots of common points. I came back feeling younger, fitter and richer in what really counts - confidence, experience, knowledge and understanding and I cannot wait to volunteer again.
So there is only one thing left to say: thank you Peru and thank you Projects Abroad!