I came to Huanchaco with barely any expectation or idea of what would await me there – my main goal was simply to spend some time abroad, practice my Spanish, find some llamas and do some volunteer work – I didn’t really care that much where that would be. Little did I know that volunteering with Otra Cosa would be one of the best experiences of my life, with the most lovely people I’ve ever met (co-volunteers as much as locals), the most stunning places I’ve ever seen in my life and some of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever tasted (and I’m a vegetarian!).
As I stayed for five months, I had the lucky opportunity to work in different projects; I started out as a teacher for the HELP English programme and when the summer holidays started I switched to the HELP Environment programme and worked in a dog shelter.
I’ve never done teaching in my life before and I was quite nervous when I started to be honest. However, that completely changed after a few days – Otra Cosa gave me a good introduction and working materials and also a great co-teacher, so I was never alone in the classroom. Even the language barrier vanished after a couple of weeks and the times I had with the kids there ranged from absolutely adorable to absolute madness, but I enjoyed every second of it. It was utterly stunning to experience the development (not only in the classroom) of some of the children! When I quit teaching in December I realised to my surprise that I was going to miss the children that I was probably never going to see again. I definitely didn’t expect for this programme to have such a big impact on me.
Switching to HELP Environment however, was just as interesting, but demanding in a very different way. Because the number of volunteers in this programme was quite small when I started there, I had a fairly big impact on where the projects were going to go. Interacting with the local community, going to the huge market el mayorista in Trujillo to get materials for composting and planning the next Yo Cuido Mi Playa (monthly beach education afternoon for the kids) were only some of the tasks I had and I got to know Huanchaco in a very different way through this.
Finally working at the dog shelter was definitely one of my highlights. Other than in HELP English and HELP Environment this was pure physical work and a welcome change to the planning and organising I encountered before. If you’re scared of dogs this is definitely not a place to go for you but as a dog lover it was very nice to go there twice a week and basically call it work to pet the dogs for an hour or so. Furthermore it was very satisfying to clean the (admittedly sometimes quite disgusting) rooms and walking the dogs because you could see the immediate results – happy dogs that wanted more cuddling.
However working for Otra Cosa Network did not only include work – you get plenty of time to experience Huanchaco and travel around the vast country of Peru. I took several weekend trips or a week off to see Huaraz, Máncora and Cusco. With Huanchaco being more or less in the middle of all of these places it serves as a great basis where you can return to regain your powers – be it by going surfing (great fun, even though I still suck at it), eating out in the plenty and diverse restaurants (so cheap and so good!), visiting El Brujo or Chan Chan for some pre-Columbian culture (there’s so much more than just the Inkas!) or by experiencing Huanchaco’s night life (it’s always Happy Hour!).
And if you’re too tired for any of that, hang out with the other volunteers! Otra Cosa Network’s volunteers have a very open, welcome and family-like community with plenty of movie nights, shared dinners or simply cake-by-the-beach-gatherings. I met an innumerable amount of interesting, inspiring and utterly cool people within this NGO that I will never forget and now happily call my friends.
When I came to Huanchaco I had barely any expectation or idea of what would await me and what I found there surpassed anything I could have imagined. If you’re harbouring doubts about working with Otra Cosa Network my advice is don’t. Just go for it, take the plunge and if it’s anything like my time there you will not regret it. What started with me being confused and not knowing what to do after school ended with me having had one of the best times of my life.
Written by Florian Kloss.