Marisa from the US volunteered in Peru and she tells about her experiences in a school for indigenous children. Read her interesting point of view and what she has learned from her volunteer abroad stay.
During the summer of 2014, I had the opportunity to serve as the Project Assistant for a relatively young NGO, Volunteers Peru. The organization is based in Arequipa, Peru working with two different projects. The first project involves providing social development and support at the Torre Fuerte Casa Hogar, a home for girls who have been abused and/or abandoned by their families.
The second project is assistance at the Colegio Honofre Benavides, both a primary and secondary school located in the small pueblo of Tomepampa, located in the Cotahuasi canyon, about a 10 hour bus ride from Arequipa. In a remote location, you leave the noise of the city and enter a tranquil environment. Many of the inhabitants are of indigenous descent and speak both Spanish and Quechua.
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The issue of education starts at the bad condition of the school building
Upon returning home, I became very interested in indigenous education, particularly in Peru. After conducting research, I found that the quality of education is lower for indigenous children in rural areas of Peru. This was no surprise to me after my three week experience in Tomepampa. The building itself was able to house the two levels of schooling with 250 students total.
However it did appear the infrastructure was in need of some repair. Almost every classroom needed new windows since many were broken or missing. During break periods, students were able to purchase food from a small shack located on the school grounds. Other students were provided free food if they qualified for government assistance, similar to the United States’ meal assistance programs in schools. These meals were prepared in a shelter with a wooden stove placed on a dirt floor, where the children would walk in and receive their meal. The school lacked a cafeteria or seating area for students to socialize and eat their meals in sanitary conditions.
I was initially surprised to find that school resources were scarce. Teachers would ask their students to copy homework or class exercises from the board, which at times took up an entire class period. This left little or no time for teachers to teach new material. If students wanted to make photocopies instead of copying from the board, then a student would go around and collect change from every student to make the copies. There were days I saw students having “free” periods because their teacher did not show up for class. There was no substitute teacher who would come in and continue covering new material. Instead, the absent teacher would either be behind in the curriculum or skip the topic and move onto new material.
The poor conditions of school buildings, lack of resources, and teacher absenteeism contributed to a poor learning environment for students.
The class subjects don’t develop critical thinking skills
Teachers dictated the classroom and expected students to memorize information, but students were not asked questions or academically stimulated in order to develop critical thinking skills. Teachers did not emphasize other skills such as conflict resolution, goal setting, achieving ambitions, and much-needed post-secondary education. Required classes did not fully discuss social issues within the pueblo, cities, or country of Peru itself.
I did have the chance to create a workshop for the graduating students. The workshops focused mostly on leadership in order to better prepare the students for life post-graduation. The workshops were intended to offer support and social development in different topics, skills, and interests to secondary students not discussed in classroom settings. Students responded positively to workshops. They were engaged and participated during discussion. When asked to share their thoughts on leadership and goal setting, they appeared surprised, as this was a new method of learning for them. They were eager to express their ideas and had a strong understanding of leadership. If given more time, it would have been interesting to hear more of their stories and learn more about each student.
Education is a fundamental right that everyone should receive.
Spending time in Tomepampa opened my eyes to the unequal access to quality education, particularly for indigenous populations. While I hope that I made some sort of impact on the students at Colegio Honofre Benavides, I returned from Peru forever changed. I miss the enthusiasm of the students, their warm smiles, and interacting with them. I left a piece of my heart in Tomepampa and I am beyond grateful the community welcomed me as an honorary Tomepampina.
Marissa is a 23 years old student from the US and decided to volunteer abroad in Peru in 2014. She worked as a Project Assistant for the NGO Volunteers Peru in Tomepampa. She just completed her Master’s degree in International Development in Denver and is looking forward to visiting her volunteer abroad program again.
You are interested and you want to apply for an Volunteers Peru Volunteer program? Click here for a teaching placement. Or click here to support the staff in a girls home. Apply now. Volunteers Peru is waiting for your application!