Saying ‘Goodbye’ – Ella Smyth reflecting on her time with ‘Volunteers Peru’

Packing your bags and saying 'Goodbye' is never easy. It makes you think about the time you spent in a place, the things you did, the people you shared your time and life with. If it is our actions that define who we are, we are reminiscing our memories, pondering questions about the past. Having her eyes set on the future, Ella shares some of these thoughts today.

I arrived in Arequipa to start work at Volunteers Peru in early January 2013. I had a connection to Marita, the founder, through a friend and I had spent a few months volunteering in Arequipa with a different organization, so I didn’t quite go into it blind. But almost.

Reflecting on my time at Volunteers Peru

I knew that Volunteers Peru was a very small and new organization and that it would be my job to really get it off the ground. Marita had done the legal groundwork and made the connections to the partner projects, but from there it was up to me to make it happen.

From there, it was up to me to make it happen

For the first few weeks I spent time getting systems and paperwork together and getting our name out there on various volunteering websites. I also spent many happy mornings with the girls at the Casa Hogar Torre Fuerte, one of our projects, building a good relationship with them and the staff. It was summer holidays for the girls, so we got to have playtime every day which was great and lovely to get to really know them. My friend Eva arrived at the beginning of that first month to take up the voluntary position of Project Coordinator. Together we started to solidify our processes.

Getting it started

In April we went to Tomepampa, the location of our second project, Honofre Benavides school. Tomepampa was to become just about my favorite place in the world. It is a tiny village in the spectacular Cotahuasi Canyon. We did classroom support, got to know the children and had a thoroughly wonderful time.

Having spent time getting to know both projects we were able to look at the needs of the children in both locations and look at ways that Volunteers Peru could help to fill the gaps. At the school we agreed that volunteers would support the English teacher and at the Casa Hogar volunteers would spend time with the girls and help with homework where necessary. We had had a few walk-ins, but our first planned and pre-booked volunteers arrived in June and they got to work.

Over that first summer we had a lot of great volunteers through and were able to see what worked and what didn’t, and then make appropriate adjustments. In the lead up to Christmas we took a significant step forwards and received our official registration as an NGO. We also held some very successful fundraisers and were really carving out a place for ourselves amongst the other small volunteer NGOs operating in Arequipa.

I had originally signed up to be in Peru for a year but I decided to come back after Christmas for a few months more to make sure that everything was really up and running as it should be and would be sustainable.

Having now left, I can look back and know that that goal was reached. Everything got bigger and better in our second year of work. There were more volunteers, we started new fundraising initiatives, we continued to streamline our processes and we started the NGO’s registration to be able to work with international funds.

Just as I was preparing to leave we had two really exciting things happen. The first was successfully applying for support from the NGO Goodwill Globetrotting who came to install a sewing workshop for training at the Casa Hogar. The second was confirmation of a school exchange between Honofre Benavides school in Tomepampa and New Eccles Hall school in England.

 

Leaving with a smile of pride and a hint of bittersweet melancholy

I look back on my time at Volunteers Peru with so much affection and pride. With a very small team and limited resources we built an organization that helps to support disadvantaged and marginalized children. We are genuinely part of the community. All of
our volunteers have a great experience and we worked very hard to ensure ethical processes so that the children feel that they are valued and supported, rather than a nice photo opportunity in somebody’s holiday.

I think that having a local manager such as Marita is absolutely vital to make sure that everything is culturally appropriate, and without her we would have failed miserably! I miss Peru every day – the Casa Hogar girls, the Tomepampa students, my amazing colleagues and friends Eva and Marita, all of our volunteers and supporters are always in my thoughts. I know that they will continue to move forwards and progress, and I feel happy and proud to have played my part in that.


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