Volunteer Name: Melinda Weiss
Project Location: Cusco, Peru
Volunteered at: Teaching English and Orphanage
1- How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country?
My ABV Coordinator was absolutely fantastic. She fulfilled everything I could ever want in a coordinator – she picked me up the first day, she took me sightseeing the next day, and hooked me up with the volunteer sites well. However, she also took it a step further. My coordinator also checked up on me fairly often, either by stopping by or by phone, asked me how my volunteer work was going, and even took me out to coffee sometimes. What really got me, though, was that she came on some weekend trips with other volunteers and I, so we had a tour guide with us, and also a great friend with which to share the experience. The most important thing that she did was introducing me to other volunteers, so I was able to share my experiences with other people, including herself. I have made fantastic friends here, and I credit my coordinator with that.
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
I was really surprised at how homesick I got. I was very very homesick the first week that I was here. I considered myself fairly independent, but I was still quite homesick. The homesickness began to recede after I met other volunteers here and began my volunteer work. Nevertheless, I am also surprised at how much I appreciate home after this experience.
3- What was most difficult to experience?
The homesickness was definitely the most difficult to experience here. I missed my family and my friends, but I also missed the culture of home, the food, and especially the heat and climate.
4- Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations)
Get to know your host family! I loved my host mother, and she made me feel very welcome – she immediately told me “mi casa es su casa,” and she kept true to that. We chatted over coffee and sometimes engaged in lively games of Chinese checkers. In addition, I became close with her cook and the cook’s son. I learned a lot of culture that way, and also became much more fluent in Spanish than I would have if I hadn’t become close with my family.
4.1-Other things volunteers should know:
a.- Bring adequate shampoo and makeup. It’s actually more expensive here.
b.- Eat the street snacks. I especially enjoyed the habas and picarrones.
c.- You probably will get sick – every volunteer I knew did. Bring some cold medicine and probably something for stomach problems.
d.- Cusco is pretty safe, but it is important to secure your things. I got my phone pickpocketed on the first weekend I was here. Make sure to keep your things secure, and you’ll be fine.
5- Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial):
I came here because I could not stand the thought of sitting still in a classroom in a different country by studying abroad. I love volunteering, and I thought if I volunteered in a classroom in Peru, it would give me good experience, as I’m studying to become an ESL teacher. I definitely did gain that experience – I noticed an improvement in my lesson planning, my classroom control, and especially my disciplining skills. In addition, I noticed myself speaking with better and better fluency. I was there to teach the kids, but I actually probably ended up learning a lot more from them. It was the same way at the orphanage – it was a learning experience. I taught the girls how to crochet a blanket, but they taught me much more.
6- How would you describe your accommodation, meals, security (e: host family, on-site, shared)
My accommodations worked out very well. I was welcomed into my home, my meals were superb, and I never felt unsafe. Again, I did get my phone pickpocketed, but a certain amount of common sense can definitely prevent that. If I ever had any questions at the volunteering sites, I knew who to go to, and they were always willing to help me out. Finally, as I became better friends with the other volunteers, their families welcomed me into their homes as well, and that was wonderful.
7- What was your favorite memory of this trip?
Once, another volunteer and I were walking through an artisanal market through in the Plaza de Armas. All of a sudden, a little girl ran up to us and hugged us. We realized it was one of the 1st graders that we taught at the school. Her mother came up to us and talked with us and told us that she appreciated us teaching her daughter, and I think it was at that moment that I realized we had some minute impact on the kids. It was wonderful to feel so welcomed by the kids, and also by the girls at the orphanage.
8.- How was the ABV USA support prior traveling?
The support was good. I called asking about the program, and I was very surprised at how many answers the support staff knew off the top of their heads. I also emailed them if I was unsure of anything, and they make sure to keep you on track.
9 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers