We have had some wonderful volunteers come to work with us at Picaflor House. Here are some of their stories. If you would like to volunteer at Picaflor House, please visit out parent charity’s page here.
“Sitting there observing the children against a panoramic backdrop of mountains and a sun setting on the Oropesa town, I was bursting at the seams with mixed feelings…”
The refrains of Marianne Faithfull’s As Tears Go By kept reverberating in my mind as I sat and watched the children from Picaflor House play in the makeshift volleyball court.
It was my last day serving as a volunteer for the Picaflor House Community Project and I was nostalgically ruminating not only the three weeks that have flown by so quickly but also reflecting on the line from the song: It is the evening of the day, I sit and watch the children play, doing things I used to do, they think are new, I sit and watch as tears go by.…..
Indeed, sitting there observing the children against a panaromic backdrop of mountains and a sun setting on the Oropesa town, I was bursting at the seams with mixed feelings – happy to have made the acquaintance of these Oropesan kids and thereby, reliving many of my own childhood days. Yet, through it all, I was also saddened by the fact that our childhood could not be any more different!
Their playing without a care in the world could mask a thousand and one thoughts, unbeknownst to volunteers like I. As such, I will never understand, outside the confines of Picaflor House, the heavy responsibility they have to shoulder at home at a tender young age, the adult roles they have to assume prematurely and the heavy burdens they have to bear just to survive from one day to the next.
Yet, I seek refuge in their momentary display of exuberance when chasing a ball, skipping a rope, monkeying away at the bars and oscillating high at the swings. I even secretly relished the fervour they expended to fight (yes, physically fight) for what they deemed was theirs and the non-inhibition of casting away acculturated behavior that we in the developed world would frown upon……like a boy fingering the remnants of crumbs of a birthday cake on a soiled basin and then putting the spoils delightfully into his mouth! I saw what living in the moment means – truly living for that few hours away from a harsh reality that volunteers would never have purview to, let alone really understand!
Prior to my initiation into the volunteer work, I have grandeur thoughts of changing the kids with whatever privilege was accorded to me growing up in the developed world. Armed with lesson plans that could jolt the interest of the most passive of kids (or so I thought!), I had to abandon ship many times and cast these plans out the window to keep the lessons afloat. In that short span of time, I became a proponent of Julius Caesar’s Vini, Vidi, Vici albeit with a twist at the end: I came, I saw and I accepted what I could not conquer.
I accept the way that the kids are…..that their set of reality is different from mine and it’s okay. They will never be subjected to the same set of rules and behavior that I am accustomed to in the classrooms of the developed world and ironically, I, who am quite the disciplinarian at heart, think it is okay! They will never be schooled in the same way that many students from the developed world who went through the portals of established education institutions did but again, I have learnt to graciously accept that it’s okay.
The bottom line is that my volunteer experience has taught me to truly embrace the children and their reality as they are. And to sum up my reflections with another line from the same Marianne Faithfull’s song: My riches can’t buy everything, I want to hear the children sing…., I believe that volunteering my time and money cannot buy the children a different reality but the good intentions that come along with volunteer work, will, I hope, beckon the children to come into the fold of a loving environment that encourages them to continue singing a tune they are accustomed to and then, gently easing them to better themselves on their own accord, in their own time and in a reality that they are familiar with.
If this review has inspired you to want to help the children of Picaflor House be the best that they can be, why not apply to volunteer by visiting our parent charity’s (Globalteer) website.
You will love Globalteer’s project at Picaflor House. It was a life changing experience for me…I only wish I could have stayed for longer.
Karen Speedy, a primary school teacher from Western Australia spent six weeks volunteering at Globalteer’s Peru Community Project – Picaflor House – from January to March 2014, as part of a three month trip to South America. Before going into all the details of her time with us in Cusco, Globalteer, we have rather cheekily borrowed this lovely status update from her Facebook page:
“I’m very sad to say that my biggest adventure yet has come to an end. In the past 3 months I have travelled to Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced what I have…trekking up a volcano in Chile, the amazing Iguazu falls, muddy trekking through the Amazon, hiking the Inka trail, diving the Galapagos and, what I enjoyed the most, volunteer teaching at Picaflor House Community Project in Peru.”
Anyway, here is how Karen summed up her volunteer placement and what made it so special.
“As soon as I walked in on my first day I was struck by the bright colours and the inviting ambience of the place. The staff and students made me feel incredibly welcome. As a qualified teacher I was given the responsibility of planning for, and teaching many English and art classes, and also the freedom to choose activities according to my strengths and interests. I really felt like a valued member of the Picaflor team.
“The students have wonderful energy and enthusiasm for learning. It was really encouraging to see the improvements in their English during the short time I was there. The project is very well organised and the staff are respected by the students.
“I thoroughly enjoyed living in Cusco, there is so much to keep you busy. The hostel was well located in a quiet street with friendly, helpful staff. I took Spanish lessons in the mornings and volunteered in the afternoons. On the weekends I was able to take trips out to the Amazon and the Sacred Valley. It’s also a great base for hiking the Inka trail and Machu Picchu.
“If you are considering volunteering with children in Peru, you will love Globalteer’s project at Picaflor House. It was a life changing experience for me and helped me develop an understanding and respect for Andean culture and history. I only wish I could have stayed for longer.”
We wish Karen could have stayed longer too! To read more about volunteering through Globalteer at Picaflor House, visit our Volunteer Peru Community Project page.
The children are energetic, enthusiastic and happy…their energy will electrify anyone!
Choi Kuen Lai, Singapore
Singaporean volunteer Choi Kuen Lai had participated in fundraising ventures for charitable projects in Singapore, Cambodia and the Philippines but had never done any hands-on volunteering before she decided to volunteer with Globalteer at Picaflor House in Oropesa near Cusco, Peru.
Here she explains what prompted her to give up her time to help the children of Oropesa with their education.
“Education for children is compulsory in Singapore where I come from, and I have benefitted from our meritocratic system. The education that my siblings and I have received has opened up many career opportunities to us. My illiterate parents encouraged us to pursue further education if we wished to. They never would have suggested that we leave school prematurely to help in the family’s finances. But sadly this is not the case for many children in developing countries.
“I am therefore a firm believer in education for children, as literacy will increase their chances to have a better future – It is with this belief that I chose to volunteer at Picaflor House”.
Experience not essential…
“I had very little experience working with children before I arrived at Picaflor House – my only real experience with children has been time spent with my 11 nieces and nephews.
“Whilst some experience of children helps, it is not essential and one certainly does not need a lot of experience working with children in order to volunteer at an after-school centre like Picaflor House.
“The children, although not having a lot materially, are energetic, enthusiastic and happy. I was touched by their enthusiasm to learn as well as their happiness at play. The children’s energy will electrify anyone! I would say that children connect easily with volunteers who extend friendship, care and concern to them.”
In at the deep end
“One day, I was asked if I could teach the three English classes for the afternoon as the teacher was sick. I said yes and took myself to task! I have never taught in a classroom before and I was to teach three groups of active and eager Spanish speaking kids, when I only have very basic Spanish like ‘hola’ and ‘como estás?’
“But once I had broken the ice with the kids and they were happy to let me be their teacher! They were most cooperative and participated earnestly in class. I was exhausted by the end of the three hours but it was a most rewarding experience for me.
“Another day I was given the task of watching over the children in the playground.
It was a rather nerve-racking afternoon watching over kids who have a different concept of danger than mine. But it was through these play hours that I experienced immense joy. I allow myself to indulge in life’s simple pleasures that often elude those of us caught up in the hustle and bustle of big city living.
“I would certainly recommend volunteering with Globalteer at Picaflor House to my friends. I was impressed with the number of children that turned up every day even though attendance at Picaflor House is voluntary. This tells me that Picaflor House is achieving its objectives of providing a safe haven for underprivileged children, offering them learning opportunities and at the same time allowing them to play and to have a childhood.”
Being part of the team
“I am most grateful towards the staff at Picaflor House. I felt like I was part of the team from the word ‘go’. They included me in the classrooms and in the playground from day one. I assisted in English, Art and Dance classes during my three weeks of service there. They were very friendly, very helpful and always open to my ideas. A big ‘thank you’ to all of you!
“If you sign up on your own for the volunteer experience, please wear an “independent hat”. If you feel uncomfortable with that you might be better off signing up and volunteering with a friend or friends.
“But most importantly, choose to volunteer at Picaflor House only if you like working with children and if you enjoy the chaos of highly charged kids. You will be rewarded with their generous show of gratitude.”
If, like Choi, you would like to help us extend the privilege of education to the children of Oropesa village, please visit Globalteer’s home page to find how to become a volunteer. Or if you have already made up your mind, please fill in a volunteer application form now!
“If you’re on the fence and not quite sure then take my advice and go for it. It was the best thing I’ve ever done”
Paul Oakley, UK
27 year-old Paul Oakley from South Wales admits that after a few tough years he took a look at his life and decided he didn’t like the way it was heading. Having always wanted to travel, but also wanting to give something back to the countries that he visited, he scoured the web and decided to go to Peru and Argentina. After more internet searching he applied to Picaflor house because it “looked like a fantastic project” that suited what he wanted – plus it was close to Machu Picchu which was on his ‘to do list’.
Before heading for South America, Paul had no volunteering experience but that didn’t put him off, and he volunteered in Argentina before coming to Picaflor House near Cusco in the Peruvian Andes. This is what he had to say about his experience.
“The only experience I had of working with children before I went to Picaflor House
was the experience I gained in Argentina and just being around my friends and all their children. If you like children then you will be fine. The children have so much to give and providing you have the right attitude then it will all come with time.
The people at Picaflor House
“I made some wonderful friends that I’m still in contact with, the children never failed to make me smile even when I missed home – and Peru is a beautiful country with such lovely people. Diane was amazing, I had a few problems during my stay and she sorted them quickly for me. Eliza was also very helpful, preparing lessons and assisting in the lessons amongst other things.
“Nelida (Picaflor House Manager) was great, always smiling and helping me with my Spanish. Generally the other volunteers were like-minded people who I made friends with and remain in contact with. Obviously there are occasionally exceptions to the rule but diplomacy goes a long way.
“I would definitely recommend Globalteer to anyone. They were professional and supportive throughout. Their staff are lovely and really helped me out. I also like the fact that a lot of the money goes towards the project. You can see where your money goes and how much the kids appreciate it.
“If you’re on the fence and not quite sure then take my advice and go for it. It was the best thing I’ve ever done. I met amazing people and had a great time and I felt I made a difference to the children’s lives. Please tell my story to as many people as you can and get more volunteers to the projects!”
If you’d like to “go for it” and help Paul’s wish come true, then visit Picaflor House’s parent organization Globalteer page and apply today!
“I would recommend volunteering with Globalteer at Picaflor House, especially if it is the first time of taking part in a voluntary experience on your own”
Christine McAllen, UK
Deciding to volunteer at Globalteer’s Picaflor House near Cusco in Peru was not a snap decision for English woman Christine McAllen. She first came across the Globalteer website in 2010, at a time when she was searching for meaning and direction in her life following the loss of her husband. She made a mental note of the work Globalteer was doing with the children at Picaflor House and later that year took a 16 day tour to Peru.
Visiting Cusco made her realise that it would be a safe place to visit on her own if she should decide to come back as a volunteer. In 2011 she made contact with the then Project Manager for South America, and later the volunteer co-ordinator which finally made her feel confident enough to take the plunge.
No spanish? No problem
Whilst Christine had a lot of volunteering experience under her belt already and had worked quite extensively with children, she is convinced that anyone who likes being around children and is willing to do whatever is needed to help Picaflor House will be well suited to volunteering with Globalteer’s project. What’s more, she doesn’t think that having no knowledge of Spanish should hold anyone back either. Here is what else she had to say about her volunteering experience.
“I had a good experience working with the staff at Picaflor and met many volunteers from around the globe – Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, South Korea, England and Wales. It was great to get to know these people and to find out more of where they lived. We shared meals together in the evening and also took part in quizzes to raise money for Picaflor House. There were also opportunities to visit markets and take part in tours with some of the volunteers.
The Picaflor Olympics
“The week of the Olympics, which sadly was also my last week – we spent the whole week making flags, medals and hats in preparation for Picaflor’s Olympic event on the Friday. It was a great day with three teams made up of the children and volunteers – Peru, England and Canada competing in various events during the course of the afternoon. The Peruvian team won, followed by England and then the Canada team. This was followed by the distribution of medals to all the children and the hats they made and a celebration with cake and soft drinks – a great afternoon was had by all!
“Another good day was when we shared our photos of our families and of where we lived with the children. We then asked them to draw pictures of their own families; this was a great exercise, learning about them and their families.
A personal recommendation
“I would recommend volunteering with Globalteer at Picaflor House, especially if it is the first time of taking part in a voluntary experience on your own – you are well supported by Picaflor staff – with written information about Cusco plus a tour on your arrival which includes a bus journey to Oropesa where the project is based.
The hostel meets all your basic needs, the staff there are very helpful and supportive it is only a 15 minute walk to the town centre. You can also arrange Spanish Lessons from the hostel if you so wish. I am not Spanish speaking but this did not interfere with my experience at the project, you soon pick up words and small phrases and the children are keen to help you if necessary.
“I liked what was being done for the children of Oropesa and the plans that Globalteer had for the project. I follow Picaflor House on Facebook, it is great to see what the other volunteers are doing with the children and to see the children themselves.
“Through my experience with Globalteer I gained a lot of confidence, I am now living in Cusco for three months and immersing myself in the Spanish Language for a month before I experience working with another project, I plan to visit Picaflor House on several occasions while I am here.”
Read about Christine’s fund raising efforts for Picaflor House on Globalteer’s fund-raising hall of fame page, or find out more about volunteering here.
“It had its challenges but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
Kiri Backhouse, Australia
Kiri Backhouse was just 18 when she volunteered at Globalteer’s Peru Children’s Project at Picaflor House for two months in 2011. Inspired by her godparents’ tales of South America and Cusco, and encouraged by her godmother’s accounts of volunteering with Globalteer in Cambodia, the decision to volunteer with the children at Picaflor was an easy one for Kiri:
“I just love the energy, playfulness and curiosity of children. They need to know everything right in that moment and I love the never ending questions. And of course…children are the future and knowledge is power so anything that I could do to possibly brighten a child’s future…who wouldn’t want to do that?”
Having done some voluntary work with disabled kids back home in Australia, and helped out with children’s sports during a school trip to East Timor she had an idea of what was in store for her when she embarked on her trip to Peru. Here she recounts her experience.
“I’m not sure what I was expecting, I had seen lots of photos of Cusco and the real thing did not disappoint. I had already spent several days in Chile before arriving in Peru, so I was already over most of my culture shock. I had chosen Globalteer as it was much cheaper than other companies that offered basically the same thing and for me as a student on a gap year that was really important. I also had a very high recommendation about the company from my godmother who had volunteered with Globalteer in Cambodia.
“The journey for me was quite hard as I was alone and spent 4 days in Santiago (Chile) before travelling to Peru. I was in culture shock and I experienced some anxiety in such a big strange place completely alone.”
But once Kiri was in Oropesa things soon slotted into place.
“The bus to the project was fine, the first day Annie took us and then the next couple of days Denise (one of the other volunteers) showed me around Cusco and how to get to the bus stop etc. There were always volunteers there that you could organise something with in the morning and travel in together so there was never any issue. I knew absolutely no Spanish when I arrived but I had no problems with communication – you would be surprised at how much you can get across with hand signals and a couple of words.
“The best part about the volunteer accommodation was being in the same place as all the other volunteers that meant there was always someone around if you needed them. The wi-fi was also great because I could Skype with family and it didn’t feel like you were completely at the end of the world.”
Highs and lows
“I had so many highlights. Meeting such amazing people from all over the world who you know will be lifelong friends. There were too many highlights with the kids to count. One day we took them to a wildlife rescue centre, another day we got a TV and watched The Lion King in Spanish!
“There were also a lot of challenges, probably the biggest for me was not having my family around as a support unit when I got sick, had my wallet stolen, also when my Auntie passed away and I wasn’t at home to support my family. Skype was great and I had a phone for emergencies. The best thing that helped me through were all the other volunteers, whether it was giving me crackers when I couldn’t eat dinner or coming with me to the tourist police or even just there for a good hug, the other volunteers helped me through so much.
“I think the best impact we had with working with the children was just being there. Giving them a reliable safe-house where they could learn and play with their friends after school. Also that there were constantly new volunteers with different strengths from different places – that made the kids really curious about the world around them.”
The final farewell
“Leaving felt strange because I had lived there for 2 months. It was really hard to have to say goodbye, especially to the children. It had its challenges but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Thank you so much for the great experience and special thanks to Annie because she was a fantastic project manager and has done so much amazing work for Picaflor House!”
Kiri is eager to do more volunteering as soon as she can, and has even started discussing a reunion with some of her fellow volunteers at Globalteer’s Children’s Project in Cambodia.
“Of course I love volunteering so I will definitely do it again…soon.”