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One Year Later: My Life After Volunteering

Last Sunset in Huaycán, 2013
Last Sunset in Huaycán [June 30, 2013]

It’s hard to believe that one year ago I was wrapping up my last day in Huaycán. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from all the goodbyes, goodbye parties, and cognitive dissonance arising from the fact that this place that had become so familiar and like home was no longer the place I lived. On July 1, 2013, as I said goodbye to my fellow volunteers and got into the taxi which was taking me to the bus station, I was speechless. My brain just could not process that I had left Huaycán for good; while I am sure I will be back to visit next time I’m in Peru, the reality is that I will only be passing through.

Last Day in Zone S, 2013

Goodbye in Zone S, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Zone S, 2013

Last Class with Zone S Kids, 2013
Last Day in Zone S [June 30, 2013]

Luckily, I had a 21-hour bus ride to Chile ahead of me, which gave me time to process and adjust to my new life as a backpacker. The decision to immediately start traveling helped me bypass the grief over leaving all those kids that I loved and a community that had welcomed me.  My trip was blessed by luck, love, and amazing companions. The nearly five months of travel showed me that I was completely connected to the flow of my life. There is nothing so empowering as living your dream.

Leaving Zone S, 2013
Leaving Zone S [June 30, 2013]

When I finally returned to the US, I knew I had changed.  Even still, reverse culture shock, the pressures of rejoining American society, and a brutal winter threatened the good habits and internal shifts I had developed in my time away.  However, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve recovered nicely and continue to grow into a better version of myself.  As I recently wrote to a friend, “we’re only human, we do get disappointed, we do react in ways we’re not proud of, but the path to [inner] peace is choosing to get back on it every time that happens.”

So here I am, one year after volunteering. What does my life look like?

  • I live in a city that I love in a centrally located apartment with minimal possessions. I got used to having so little in my year and a half away that I am slowly but surely reducing my possessions to only the essentials and things that bring me joy.
  • I have a job that I enjoy with supportive coworkers and managers and I have finally achieved my last formal educational goal for a while by finishing my TESOL certificate. I have wanted/needed to do that since 2009!
  • Inspired by people I met during my travels, I have some new business ideas that I am very excited about.  Details to come.
  • Health-wise, I decided to continue eating Peruvian-style – I generally eat eggs or avocado for breakfast and try to eat a larger lunch and a small dinner.  Now that it’s summer, I eat a ton of fruit, just like I did in Peru, except instead of mango and granadillas, I’m eating local berries.

Pan con Palta for Breakfast
Pan con Palta

Yoga Studio in Huaycán, 2013
My Yoga Studio in Huaycán

  • Activity-wise, I am proud to say that I have kept up my regular yoga practice.  As you see in the photo above, my “yoga studio” was my mat, my computer, and my Shiva Rea DVDs.  I still practice at home at least three times a week, and I am still so thankful that I was able to find refuge in yoga during my year volunteering.  My body still feels amazing.  I also go salsa dancing fairly regularly (and here I can actually dance bachata, which has yet to make it to Peru).  I wander the streets of Somerville and Cambridge about as often as I wandered through Miraflores and Barranco.  I really miss hiking, but hopefully I’ll be able to go again soon.
  • As far as “new” activities, biking around Easter Island and San Pedro de Atacama inspired me to reconnect with my long-neglected bike!  It helps that almost all of my friends here are serious bikers!  I have only been back on my bike for a week, but I’m obsessed.  Cambridge is much more friendly to biking than it was a few years ago, and I love exploring the back roads of my neighborhood and the bike paths around the area.
  • I am also super excited to report that I continue to read voraciously.  I read almost every night in Huaycán and it rekindled my love of reading.  Reading in the park is still one of my favorite weekend activities.  I am hoping to read 30 books this year!
  • In terms of travel, I have slowed down in order to replenish my funds!  I went to Winston-Salem, NC in May for my brother’s wedding, and I’m going to DC in September to celebrate a friend’s wedding.  I’m hoping to make it to NYC to visit my friends and their new babies sometime this summer.  I’m dreaming about a cross-country road trip or another overseas adventure, but for the moment, these are dreams and not yet plans.

As you can see, leaving everything behind for 1.5 years has only brought more joy into my life.  My friends and family have welcomed me back, and I continue to integrate the insight I gained from volunteering and traveling into my daily life.  I am a happier, healthier, and more grounded person because I chose to change my perspective and deeply experience Huaycán.  Was volunteering perfect?  No.  Was I a perfect volunteer?  Also no.  But did I do the best I could with the resources I had?  Absolutely.  At the end of the day, that’s all we can ask of ourselves or anyone else.

Last Sunset in Huaycán, 2013
The Sun Setting on My Time in Huaycán [June 30, 2013]

*One* Week Left in Huaycán!

Last Day with Zone Z, Group B!

Zone Z, Group B

Last Day with Zone Z, Group A!

Zone Z, Group A

Last Day with Zone Z, Group C!

Zone Z, Group C

One week from today, I’ll be on a 20 hour bus ride from Lima to Tacna, where I’ll then cross over the border into Arica, Chile. One week from today, I’ll say goodbye to Huaycán, which has been my home for the past year. But the goodbyes have already begun.

There is so much to say about what the end has been like, but there is so little time right now. But I can say this: the beginning of the end has been full of love. Today I said my first goodbyes to the three classes of Zone Z, as you see above. My departure brought a number of students who haven’t been attending back to class, because they wanted to say goodbye and wish me well. It means a lot because they mean a lot to me.

I’ll have a lot more goodbyes in the coming days, but also a lot of fun times planned. It’s going to be strange to finally leave. I’m lucky that I’m heading into a great adventure, because otherwise there would be a huge hole in my life that these kids have filled.

reflections on having only 30 days left in Huaycán

Posing with Zone S Kids and a Puppy!

Posing with the kids and a puppy in Zone S

It is June 1, which means I only have 30 days left of my volunteer commitment here in Huaycán.  I finish my position on June 30, and as of now the plan is to leave for Chile on a long distance bus on July 1. 30 days left – how did I get here?

In the last few weeks, I’ve had some restorative time in Lima with friends, spent salsa dancing, enjoying many high-quality pisco sours, and talking about the ups and downs of choosing to live the life of a volunteer and sharing space with so many roommates (slash coworkers).  I feel ready for this last month, like I am mentally preparing for it to be a hectic but good one, when everything I’ve learned in the past few months comes together and I have that volunteer experience most people imagine: loving and appreciating every moment.  Now that I’m at the end of my time, I see all the things I’ve managed to accomplish, learn, and do during the past year, and I feel like it was absolutely worth it, even the hard times, the struggles, the disappointments, and the personal challenges.

Posing with Adorable Briguete

Posing with my bebita (little baby), Briguete

Today, while I was coming back from the women’s English class I teach, I ran into one of our students from Zone S on the Zone Z combi and realized that this has kind of become my home, at least insofar as I can hardly walk around the main streets without running into someone I know somehow.  Then, as I was walking home a bit later, I ran into another student from Zone D with her family.  It will be strange to no longer randomly encounter these people whom I’ve gotten to know here.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the things I’m going to miss when I leave.  (Obviously, I could go on for days about the things I will not miss whatsoever, but we’ll save that for another day.)  In my neighborhood, I often walk past a house where someone is practicing the saxophone, and it’s such an unexpected but beautiful sound in these dusty streets.  I also see and hear kids playing freely in the streets and on the playground, laughing, feeling free in a way I haven’t seen American kids act since I was one.  And then there are all the puppies the kids bring to class all the time, and hanging out with the adorable younger siblings of our students, like the little girl in the photo above, whom I’ve watched grow up over the past 11 months.

Posing with Zone Z Boys

Posing with three of the sweetest boys ever in Zone Z

Of course, what will be hardest to leave behind are these wonderful kids whom I’ve had the privilege to get to know.  In February, talking with a friend, I reiterated a common thought of mine: there is no reason that I should have ever met these beautiful kids, except that I came here, to this place, and for that, I am so lucky, and my life is the coolest.  As you can see from these pictures, they have the most amazing little personalities, and we laugh all the time with each other, and share lots of affection.  I remember when I first arrived and I was a little scared of the idea of working with kids, and now I know it’s something I’m good at.  I can be kind and caring with them, but also strict when I need to be, and they listen to me.  My relationship with them definitely helps me help the other volunteers, too.

Posing with Zone Z Kids

Being silly with my kids in Zone Z

I think the hardest thing about leaving will be the fact that I won’t be able to share affection with these kids on a daily basis.  They are always so genuinely excited to see me and vice versa.  It’s Peruvian culture to kiss your teacher on the cheek, but usually we hug and I lift them up and spin them around, pinch their cheeks, pull on their ears, pat their backs, and just show them love.  It will be weird to not have that caring interaction anymore.

I also will really miss being able to see them grow in person.  Former volunteers always comment on Facebook pictures of the kids, watching them grow up from far away.  I’ve seen kids learn how to read, change their childish voices to something more mature, and turn into young ladies and gentlemen.  I’ve seen them go from good kids to troublemakers, from problem children to angels, from hard-working to lazy, and move from struggling to the top of their class.  I imagine this is similar to how schoolteachers feel at the end of the school year.

And it’s time to say goodbye.  Students do come in and our of our programs, so maybe I’ll never know what will happen to some of them, but as long as the work continues in Huaycán, I’ll be able to keep in touch with our kids.  If I decide to spend more time in Peru in the future, something I’d like to do, I’ll be able to come here and visit.  But I know that it won’t be the same, just as it wasn’t the same returning to visit Buenos Aires after living there.  I need to fully take in and appreciate this last month, which I’ve set up to be a successful one, because this feeling of what it’s like to live and work in Huaycán will soon end, and I’ll be on to another reality.  Things will change, I will change, the direction of my life will change, but for now, I’m just happy that I’ve been able to make it through to the end and experience so many moments like those captured in the photos above.

On another note, I am still working on the second half of my posts about my trip to Rapa Nui back in December, which means I am even further behind on writing about all the other moments I’ve experienced in 2013.  I’m going to take a page from one of my new favorite travel blogs and not force myself to always write in such chronological order, but rather share moments as I feel like it.  As I start traveling, I want to let myself feel free to write about the experiences as they happen or as I remember them, capturing bits and pieces of my time on the road.  I think this will help me update more often. 🙂

the countdown begins – NINE months in Peru, 80 days left!

Sunset in Huaycán
Sunset from our roof in Huaycán

The countdown has already begun – I’m finishing up my time volunteering and in just 80 days I’ll begin my backpacking journey around South America!  It seems a little silly to count every single day at this point, but there’s something reassuring about being able to state the number of days left in my volunteering commitment.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still going to be heartbroken saying goodbye to the kids in this community, but I’m ready to tie up loose ends and see what life post-Huaycán will look like.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been volunteering without pay, living from my hard-earned savings for over nine months now.  When I first arrived, I was a bit overwhelmed by the length of my commitment.  It was hard to imagine completing a full year, and for good reason: the two other volunteers who had started their year-long commitment at the same time as me are no longer here.  It’s a challenging commitment to fulfill because of so many factors — personal, professional, emotional, spiritual.  For me, I have known that I would complete my time because I had already saved money for years, moved out of my apartment, quit two jobs, packed up my life, and said goodbye to my friends and family to be here, and I needed to see it through, just to see how things would turn out on the other end.  On top of that, I wasn’t ready to leave and restart my life in the US (though I think it would have been interesting to backpack South America for a seriously extended length of time with the extra cash I’ve spent over the course of my volunteer year!).

As I write this, we’re almost halfway through the month of April, which means I only have about 2.5 months left.  I met with our director on Monday to talk about the major projects I’ll be finishing up in this time, and she said that June will practically be over before it begins, since we’ll be celebrating the nonprofit’s anniversary early in the month, and then I’ll be packing up and training my successor in the last two weeks.  Considering we’ve already gotten this far into April, I’m confident that the time will pass quickly, with interesting projects to keep me busy.  For some reason, March was challenging, perhaps because I didn’t do very much in an effort to save money for my Semana Santa trip to Huaraz (photos to come!).  I spent a lot of time reading, doing yoga, and wandering alongside the coast on the Malecón in Miraflores and Barranco, but mostly conserving my energy.

Reflecting back on my time spent in this volunteer position in Huaycán, I absolutely do not regret taking this time out of my career to explore a different avenue and strengthen and gain more skills.  When things are hard, I wonder what it would like to be traveling instead, but that would not have enabled me to discover how much I love working with kids and to feel comfortable in this community.  I don’t really think my Spanish has improved at all from my time here (it was mostly fluent to begin with), but I know that I don’t worry about my accent when speaking anymore, and that I’m finally able to roll my r’s (most of the time) and soften other American-sounding r’s when possible.  Most importantly, though, I think completing this volunteer commitment has made me a great resource on what to consider when choosing a program.  I’m still working on compiling those ideas, and want to share them here soon.

I also think being 31 while doing this volunteer position made it both easier and harder.  I think people who are older struggle to adapt to the volunteer house (which is very dorm-like) and to give up normal routines like cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, hobbies, and personal commitments.  Those of us used to big cities have found it a lot harder to adjust to not really wandering the streets and heading to a neighborhood café to relax.  But I think age and experience often leads to more patience with others, an ability to see joys and frustrations as part of a cycle that will change over time, and a willingness to learn from others.  In my case, anyway.  These are skills that have developed for me over the last few years, and they’ve served me well.  Living in Huaycán has tested these skills, but I always try to come back to a place of compassion, flexibility, and patience.  Some days this works better than others. 🙂

Even though I’ve been silent on the blog for the past month, I want to share my photos from Easter Island and Huaraz, my wanderings around Miraflores and Barranco, and other moments captured with the kids and around Huaycán.  I also hope to post some pictures of the delicious food I’ve been eating here, and talk about my yoga routine!  That way, when I get my backpacking journey underway on July 1, I’ll be able to keep up with my blog and share my travels. 🙂

reflections on EIGHT months in Peru and photos of the kids from December!

Today is March 1st, which means I’m two-thirds of the way through my one-year volunteer commitment. I have just four more months left in Huaycán, and I am certain that these four months will fly by. Though March has just begun, the end of the month brings Semana Santa and a five-day trip to Huaraz, so I think looking forward to another escape will make the time fly by.  We’ll be welcoming two new volunteers in the next week, so things are sure to be busy!

I am already starting to feel a little bit anxious about what the end of my time here will look like.  While I still will never feel like Huaycán is truly my home, I do feel at home when I am with our students.  Being part of the lives of these kids makes me feel connected to the community in a way I didn’t expect.  Knowing I will see these kids for English class or for library time and receiving affection and love from them makes each day that much brighter.  I know my heart is going to break when I have to say goodbye to them.  I also realize that I should not think about the end, and appreciate each moment while I am living it, so I’m just embracing my time while it is here.

End of Year Party in Zone R!

Banner hung by the students/staff in Zone R in December thanking us for our work!

That all said, I am excited about what is in store for me once I finish in June.  This past “weekend” (Wednesday and Thursday, since we work on the actual weekends) I spent many, many hours mapping out the backpacking trip I intend to make around Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and the rest of Peru.  I had thought I’d cut out Chile due to budgetary constraints, but then I realized that flying to Buenos Aires isn’t as cheap as I thought it would be.  Right now the plan is to take a 19-hour bus to Tacna on the Peru border, cross over to Arica, and then do a tour of northern Chile, including San Pedro de Atacama, a spot that landed on my must-visit list in 2002.  I’m pretty excited about these plans and about the prospect of visiting Chile again.  From Atacama, I’ll cross over to Salta, Argentina, my favorite city/region in the world (I’ve been three times already!).  I have an ambitious travel plan, but I’m so excited about all of it that it will be hard to narrow it down.  We’ll see how the plans develop in the next four months!

So what kind of reflections do I have after eight months here?  Things are easier than I expected them to be at this stage in the game.  I have been marveling at the fact that I am able to coexist with 9-12 people in the same house as if it were a completely normal thing.  I have enough space to do my work and to be a good role model in a leadership position, which means that my program is doing so much better.  I have to take a step back at times and just notice and appreciate how far things have come since I first arrived.  There is more to be done, and I will not be able to accomplish everything I thought I would, but I’ve done the best I could with what I was given.  For the next four months, my goals are to finish the projects I’ve started and leave a strong, clear framework for future English program managers. 🙂  And of course, appreciate every moment I have within this community!

I had a great opportunity to see what kind of community has sprung up around the organization in December, when we held a Tienda de Navidad (Christmas store) for the families we work with.  We invited the parents of each of our students to come pick out a gift for their kids.  I was in charge of making chocolatada, Peruvian-style hot chocolate, and running between the kids and their parents.  I also got to take pictures and give hugs to children from all the zones we work with.  It was overwhelming to be around so many kids I love at the same time, but in a good way!  Here are some of the best shots.

Scenes from Tienda de Navidad

Jefferson playing chess with his brother, Enderson

Scenes from Tienda de Navidad

Junior and Kevin, two more brothers!

Scenes from Tienda de Navidad

Briguete with her gift

Scenes from Tienda de Navidad

Me with a pot of chocolatada!

Scenes from Tienda de Navidad
Luis Angel looking adorable

Scenes from Tienda de Navidad
Gabriel enjoying panetón and chocolatada

Scenes from Tienda de Navidad

Scenes from Tienda de Navidad

Posing with Darwin and Joseph David, two adorable Zone S kids!

As you can see, these kids are the reasons I have made it through 8 months in Huaycán, and each moment I get with them is special. As I keep saying to people when talking about how lucky I feel, there is no reason that our paths would ever have crossed except because I decided to volunteer here. So each moment I get to spend with them is precious. I wouldn’t trade these moments for anything.

Next up: posts about and photos from my time on Rapa Nui (Easter Island/Isla de Pascua)!!

Planetario Nacional with Zone Z Kids!

After Thanksgiving, we had another fun activity planned: a field trip to the Planetario Nacional (National Planetarium) with the kids from Zone Z. I’d enjoyed our field trip to the Huachipa Zoo with the Zone S kids, but I really wanted to go on the field trip with Zone Z, since I had been teaching one of the classes since August and had spent a lot of time with the other two groups.

For this field trip, we picked up all of the kids on a rented micro/combi. Seeing all of the kids waiting excitedly outside our local for us to arrive was adorable, and as soon as we opened the door to collect them, they tried to rush on. The energy level of the group was high as we traveled for about an hour to Lima, and I spent some time hanging out with all of the kids and taking pictures.

Zone Z Field Trip to Planetario Nacional

The group right after getting on the bus in Huaycán to head to Lima!

Zone Z Field Trip to Planetario Nacional

Jefferson and Willy looking cute

Zone Z Field Trip to Planetario Nacional

Eduardo, Jean Frans, and Jhim being silly!

Zone Z Field Trip to Planetario Nacional

Posing with Lufe and Nayelli, two of my girls! <3 Zone Z Field Trip to Planetario Nacional

The group on the bus waiting to enter the Planetario Nacional!

Once we finally got to the planetarium, we headed inside to its theater where the kids got to enjoy plush seats and a video presentation about the universe projected onto the domed screen above our heads. They also really enjoyed washing their hands in the planetarium’s bathroom. 😉

Zone Z Field Trip to Planetario Nacional

Zone Z Field Trip to Planetario Nacional

The kids enjoying their comfy sets inside the planetarium, and enjoying the video!

Afterwards, there were a short break, so I took the opportunity to get a group shot of all of the kids outside in the sunshine. Then it was time to head inside for the 3-D presentation. We all got special 3-D glasses and our guide took us through a visual tour of the universe.

Zone Z Field Trip to Planetario Nacional

The whole group posing outside while waiting for the next activity!

Zone Z Field Trip to Planetario Nacional

The kids waiting in line to see the 3-D presentation

Zone Z Field Trip to Planetario Nacional

Wearing their 3-D glasses!

After the two presentations, we handed out snacks to the kids and they ran around playing a game of tag. Then we headed back to Huaycán. In the safety of our rented combi, I decided to snap a few pictures of Huaycán, especially the hectic intersection at Quince de Julio, where there are street vendors, mototaxis, and tons of buses and people.

Zone Z, Huaycan

Two of our students following our bus back down in Zone Z

Colors in Huaycán

Corner of the major intersection

Quince, Huaycán

All the activity on Quince de Julio, Huaycán’s main street

All in all, it was a lovely sunny day spent hanging out and learning with the Zone Z kids. I was really happy I got to spend some time with so many of them outside of the classroom and was able to enjoy their personalities even more! 🙂

Thanksgiving in Huaycán!

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.  I just love the focus on making good food, sharing a meal with family (or friends, such as when I lived in San Diego), and reflecting on all the good things life has offered you in the past year.  In a house almost entirely full of Americans, we were all a little sad to be celebrating far from home, so we decided to fill our day with special activities and sit down to a family dinner as a house.

The first activity we planned was more volunteering.  Sure, we spend the entire work week donating our time and energy, and Thursday is usually our day off, but in honor of Thanksgiving, we decided to give more back to the community that had been hosting us for many months.  Audrey, our women’s program manager, arranged a tree-planting and mural-painting morning with the mother of Eduardo, one of our most dedicated students.  We handed out the trees to some of their neighbors, and then got started on the mural, designed by our art education intern, Amanda.

Scenes from Thanksgiving Mural Painting in Zone Z

Scenes from Thanksgiving Mural Painting in Zone Z

Amanda putting the final touches on the mural with Ian, and preparing the palettes!

Scenes from Thanksgiving Mural Painting in Zone Z

Scenes from Thanksgiving Mural Painting in Zone Z

Eduardo hard at work at the mural before school, and my palette!

Scenes from Thanksgiving Mural Painting in Zone Z

Hard on work on my square of the mural – all my favorite colors!

Scenes from Thanksgiving Mural Painting in Zone Z

The completed mural! 🙂

After we finished the mural, we headed back to Eduardo’s house for a nice snack of ocopa prepared by Eduardo’s mother and some of her neighbors. Then we went back to our house to start making our own Thanksgiving dinner. We’d asked our cook to prepare some of our favorite dishes: ensalada rusa without beets (lots of green veggies!), yuca frita, more ocopa, and black beans.  I’d promised the volunteers that I’d make black bean burgers for Thanksgiving dinner, and I also made guacamole to dip the yucca in!

Black Bean Burgers for Thanksgiving Dinner!

Thanksgiving Dinner in Huaycan!

Just as we were all sitting down to dinner together, there was a knock at our door. It was the greatest surprise: four of the women we collaborate with in an afterschool program in Zone R brought us a card and a cake to celebrate our special holiday and to thank us for our hard work. It was incredibly touching that these women had remembered how important Thanksgiving was to Americans and helped us celebrate even more!

Thanksgiving Gift!

After dinner, we played Cranium together and shared a lot of laughs. Then we all split up to call home and I got to talk to my parents. All in all, it was a great way to celebrate, and we all appreciated the fact that we’d become a little family away from our own, coexisting and adapting to each other despite our differences.

Teaching Outdoors in Zone Z

One of the unfortunate realities about teaching in Huaycán is that you occasionally run into some safety issues.  For the most part, we can walk around comfortably in the upper zones (in the daylight, of course), knowing that the parents of our students as well as the women participating in our programs are looking out for us.  However, this is a community where people face hardships, and one of these is addiction to drugs.  Since our classroom is located near the entrance to the cemetery, which is located off the main road but with quite a bit of empty land nearby, sometimes people with vicios (vices) decide to hang out near our classroom.  Naturally, the kids recognize these characters, and they get spooked.  So on one such occasion in November we locked up the classroom and decided to hold class outside at one of the canchitas (sports fields) where there were cement tables with built-in chess boards.

Surprisingly, the kids were able to concentrate on learning their clothing vocabulary, and we got many of our goals accomplished.  It helped that about half the class was absent that day due to make-up classes because of a teacher’s strike in October.  It also gave me an opportunity to snap some pictures of my students showing off their lovely personalities! 🙂 Making the best out of a bad situation is what it’s all about!

Outdoor Classroom in Zone Z, Huaycan!
The kids in our outdoor classroom!

Lufe
Milena

Lufe working on her worksheet, Milena watching the boys be silly!

Adrian

Jefferson

Adrian making faces, Jefferson being adorable!

Willy

Lufe

Willy posing and looking well-behaved (don’t be fooled!) and Lufe smiling sweetly!

As you can see, these kids are adorable and it’s a treat to work with them, even if sometimes we have to find alternate classroom locations!

Kids' Soccer Tournament!

While many, many months have passed since our kids’ soccer tournament, it’s time for me to post the pictures!  Every few months, our organization hosts special events for our students, such as field trips, movie nights, game nights, and tournaments.  The first event I was able to attend was the soccer tournament in August.  Though soccer is not my favorite sport (I clearly did not grow up in Peru!), the tournament brought together lots of kids from three of the four different “zones” we work in.  It was so wonderful to see all these lovely kids competing against each other, and we even had an all-girls team this year!

Since we had so many parents and volunteers around the “canchita,” or cement soccer field where the tournament took place, I felt comfortable breaking out my DSLR for some shots of the kids.  I also handed over my point-and-shoot to the kids so they could document the festivities from their perspectives.  In some moments of serious trust, I let some of the girls handle my SLR to get some pictures as well.  I highly suggest letting kids take pictures, they have great eyes! 🙂

This event was the one that made me feel bonded with our students.  I really felt the love for all of our little competitors.  Enjoy the pictures of the action and see the beautiful faces of our kids!

Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament
Kennedy, Jhustin, and Luis, three buddies from Zone Z

Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament
Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament

Jhim and James, great friends; Eduardo, my former private tutoring student

Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament
Action shot!! – Zone D girls vs. Zone S, and Zone S vs. Zone Z

Scenes from LLI's Soccer TournamentScenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament

More action shots – Jhim running wild, Alvaro protecting the goal!

Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament
Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament

Views of the spectators from the goal!

Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament

Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament
Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament
Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament
Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament

Some of the shots captured by the kids!

Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament
The kids running around with my camera

Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament

Group shot! All the lovely kids together with the volunteers! 🙂

Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament
One of my favorite shots of Alvaro!

As you can see, the kids we work with are adorable and full of so much energy!  It was great to be able to capture so many shots of them…I love taking pictures of kids!

I’ll keep the photos coming as I catch up on my adventures!

back in Peru for the last six months!

It’s hard to believe that I’m more than halfway through my time in Peru at this point!  As mentioned in my last post, the end of the year flew by with Thanksgiving festivities, end-of-semester field trips, last classes, and activities, and two major trips to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and home to Boston/NH.  I’ll be recapping all of these things in the next few posts – yes, with pictures!

But for now I just want to capture how it feels to be back in Huaycán and back in Peru after an eight-day trip to Rapa Nui and two weeks in the US.  My trip to Rapa Nui was life- and perspective-changing – I really started to appreciate how lucky I am to have the opportunity to take a year (or more…) out of what seemed like “real life” back in the States and experience these amazing things.  Watching gorgeous sunset after sunset, spending solitary time hiking, biking, and wandering around ahus seeing moai, and meeting amazing people helped me to appreciate everything I’ve been experiencing over the last six months. I feel incredibly blessed that I’ve been able to spend time here, meet wonderful children, connect with adults in the community, and do something unique for a long period of time.  It’s not that I didn’t appreciate it before, but when you are in the day-to-day routine of a somewhat stressful life, it’s hard to step back and see what you are doing for what it really is. Not many people make this kind of leap, and I’m so proud of myself for doing it.

I’ve been back in Huaycán for 10 days now (I just shocked myself looking at that number…didn’t I just arrive?), and it was wonderful to reconnect with all of our students, especially the adorable children.  As it turns out, the director and I are the only familiar faces around here, and the rest of the volunteers are all new.  I’ve been impressed by their energy and their interest in seeing how they can make a difference – they’ve jumped right in, even when it’s hard, and gotten our programs running again.  I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow and change over the next few weeks and months (depending on the length of their stays!).

We have moved into our new house and are starting to get settled here. I like our new place a LOT better than the previous one – there are plenty of little nooks and crannies to get work done, relax a bit, and socialize, depending on your mood.  My favorite part is our roof – it makes doing laundry a lot easier, and I’ve been going up there most mornings for my yoga practice. I love it.  I got to choose my room, and though it is small, it gets good light, it’s away from the street noise, and there’s better storage for my limited possessions. 🙂  I also feel a little less exposed even though my security guard told me the community of course knows where we moved to – just that illusion of privacy is reassuring. 😉

I was also surprised by how I don’t feel quite as uneasy in Huaycán as I did in the last six months. Of course I am under no illusions that it is perfectly safe here, but I do not feel as uneasy as I did before. I am sure I will have some experiences that will remind me that we still live in a developing community with lots of issues, but I feel just enough more relaxed to appreciate it better here.  I’m hoping the new group of volunteers respects the image we’re trying to maintain in the community, but with time I think they’ll understand why it’s necessary to keep a low profile. I had a wonderful two-hour chat with one of our security guards who told me that as long as we continue to be a nonprofit helping kids, the community will look after us, and that they have a certain amount of pride that “even gringos” live here.  He also reminded me that new volunteers who are younger come here with a different expectation than I do after my travel/work/life experience, and that they’re going to want to explore the area in ways that might make me nervous.  I’ve decided I’m not going to focus on it, and redirect that energy back into the program I’m improving.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve really been able to embrace my responsibilities here. As a “veteran” of the organization, I’m helping people get settled, introducing them to our students and their roles, and explaining our expectations for their participation in the English program. I am still very busy attending classes, but my role is different than it had been in the last six months, and I am enjoying it while it lasts.  I’m starting to make progress on the list of things I’m here to improve, and hopefully I’ll make even more in the next few months.  Now I’m actually at the point where I need to set up some guidelines for the person taking over for me in a few short months, which is a great opportunity to see all I’ve accomplished (even though I will always feel that could have done more, because there’s always more to do!).

In any case, I’ll have a clearer sense of how everything will look as we get established in the next few months. I’m trying to see the big picture and learn the lessons about adjusting to a new group of volunteers that I experienced myself back when I arrived. I’ll just keep being myself, keep showing people what we’re doing and why, and hope for the best. 🙂

So here are some pictures of the lovely students I was so excited to come back to.

Zone S Field Trip to Zoologico Huachipa

Zone S kids just about to depart on their field trip in August!

Making and Flying Kites in Zone Z!
My Zone Z kids showing off the kites they made in September!

Zone Z Kids
Our adolescent group in Zone Z posing with their lovely personalities in December!

Zone Z Kids!
Posing with my students on the last day of class in December!

End of Year Party in Zone R!
Some of our students in Zone R!

Jefferson

Jenga with Alex
Jefferson and Alex, two of my favorites (though I love them all!)

More to come, with lots of pictures of the activities we’ve done during my time here! 🙂