About 6 months ago, I remember sitting at my desk working through my daily tasks as Partnership Manager at a Digital Marketing Company in San Diego, daydreaming of being in an unfamiliar country helping bring smiles to children’s faces. That’s when I realised that I wanted to take some time off from my Marketing career and volunteer abroad. I’ve always wanted to volunteer, but right out of college I jumped right into my Marketing career. After 5 years of Marketing experience, I felt that it was time for me to take a short break and fulfil one of my dreams. If I didn’t do it now, I’d continue asking myself, then when?
I arrived to Huanchaco, Peru on 1 May with no big expectations or judgements of Huanchaco, my living arrangement or Otra Cosa Network. I came ready to step out of my comfort zone, face challenges, experience a new culture, and meet new people! It was a bit of a shock at first, but after a couple good night’s sleep, I was embracing my new life for the next 2 months. And I loved it!
My weeks were split between two different projects. Monday, Thursday, Friday afternoons I worked for the HELP Youth project located at a skate ramp in a nearby shanty village. On Tuesday, Wednesday mornings I took a 15-minute bus ride to a kindergarten located in another small shanty village. I’m really glad I choose two different projects to work for because it allowed me to meet and help more children. Both groups of children were very different and I enjoyed getting the opportunity to work with both. The kids at the kindergarten were ages 3-6, mostly girls. The kids at the ramp ranged from ages 3-14, mostly boys.
Doing crafts with children at the skate ramp
My main focus was on HELP Youth with a goal to start an organised craft schedule for the kids. I came to Huanchaco with a long list of crafts I wanted to do with them. Within the first week I put together a schedule for the 2 months I was going to be here. To my excitement, most of the crafts were a success and a huge hit with the kids. However, there were definitely challenges to overcome. I had to be very flexible and creative as materials were difficult to get and some crafts required improvising. I also had to read the moods of the children and figure out if they wanted to do an organised craft or not. Some afternoons they had so much energy from being in school all morning that I didn’t want to bother rounding them up for an organised craft. Another big challenge for me was being patient with the children’s different skill levels. Some of the crafts I had planned were quite difficult for the kids and required a lot of my help. Despite these challenges, I was very pleased with how many crafts I was able to do with the kids. On my intro interview with Otra Cosa Network, they asked what my big end goal was for the kids. Without thinking much, I immediately said I wanted to make tie dye shirts with the kids. Sure enough, I fulfilled my goal and held a successful tie dye event on my last day. Each kid got to make their own shirt to bring home. We also decorated cookies I baked for them. This was by far my happiest day with the kids. They absolutely loved tie dying and almost all of them came up to me thanking me for their shirts.
I also facilitated crafts with the kindergarteners
My work at the kindergarten was a bit different, as each day was unpredictable. I’ll never forget my first day there: one of the little girls peed her pants on my lap and then an hour later the same girl cut her finger and got blood all over me. I thought to myself, well, I guess it can only go uphill from here. Sure enough it did. For the first couple weeks I mostly got to know the kids, playing games with them and assisting the teacher with educational activities. However, after a couple weeks, the teacher noticed what I was doing at the ramp and asked me to start doing crafts with the kindergarteners. I was thrilled! She allowed me to take full control of the class and facilitate crafts. Crafts were much easier to execute here than the ramp because we had more supplies, materials, and work space. The kids were much less energetic and more eager to learn because it was morning. My favourite craft that I did with the kids was magic bottles. We made 6 different bottles by adding an assortment of water, oil, glitter, sand, etc. All of the bottles are now displayed in the classroom for the kids to play with.
My volunteering experience brought me everything I hoped for
Reflecting back on the past 2 months, I can truly say that I got everything I had hoped for out of this volunteering experience. Not only did I enjoy every day with the children, but I have learned so much about working with them. I will bring this knowledge back home with me as I continue to fulfil my desire to work with children. The memories I have made here with the kids are everlasting and my hope is that the kids can look at their crafts at home and always remember me.
Lastly, I want to thank Otra Cosa Network for allowing me to make one of my biggest dreams come true and supporting me along the way. One of the best things about Otra Cosa is the people. Coming from all different countries, backgrounds and stages of life, each of us ended up at Otra Cosa for a reason. I have met some of the most amazing, motivated people that I can now call best friends. I couldn’t have picked a better organisation to work for. All in all, I have had such a great experience here that I know it will not be my last. I will be back to visit one day.
This blog was written by Leslie Barron