For the last month we’ve been helping out at a community project in Huancayo way up in the Andes of Central Peru. I’m not sure how much I have helped the children but I’ve learned a lot.
Huancayo is the fifth largest city in Peru but with it’s rugged location and a troubled past it has been effectively cut off from the cosmopolitan capital and government money for many years. It’s not a pretty city. It’s filled with half finished, haphazard brick box housing, congested with billowing traffic and surrounded by bleak, alcohol-fuelled corporate mining towns that scar the mountains for ore.
Understandably it’s not high up on many tourist itineraries.
Whilst there is a fancy modern mall complete with Starbucks and KFC it sits within a much larger traditional market where stony faced leather skinned women in fedoras and triangular woollen skirts come to buy and sell their potatoes, chickens and maize. Life for most people here is tough. And for children even more so.
Makikita Quykuway provides a safe space for some of the poorest children in the area to learn, play and get basic support. All of them are living with extreme poverty and many are orphans or affected by parental neglect, substance abuse or violence. Often children have to work on the streets or care for siblings meaning they miss school or don’t get any chance to simply be kids.
And yet despite all this, as it so often is with little people, they bounce around full of laughs, curiosity and kindness.
Arriving to class I’m swarmed by scruffy little people giving hugs and kisses and “hola professor”s. As a typical lazy Englishman I can’t speak Spanish and so the rest of the day is spent with sign language, charades and the kids being very patient. We draw monsters, we make things, they teach me how to skip and I try to teach them the importance of washing their hands – however on this day the school has no water and so the kids wanting to show they’ve learned go to puddles in the yard to wash their hands. It shows initiative I guess.
I’m very aware that volunteering for such a short time and parachuting in in this way doesn’t really benefit the children or the community much. It does more to assuage my guilt of spending thousands of pounds galavanting around the world than it does to solve any problems here. But me and the kids do have fun. And that may be something of value for all of us.
For what it’s worth here’s a few things I’ve learnt in my brief time here
Poor is poor the world over
The language and geography may change but poverty is pretty consistent the world over. The same cycle of deprivation, brutality and lack of opportunity happens everywhere and not just in the ‘developing’ countries but in the UK too. This is especially true for the girls. They’re the ones mostly taken out of school to keep house or sold cheap in other ways.
But alongside the poverty everywhere is also boundless grit, heroic achievements and passion that you see daily. Like Juliana who set up the Makikita project. Helping raise her siblings, fighting for an education and then spending her life helping others in her community to do the same.
Rural is different
I’ve spent most of my life in or near cities and so I don’t really appreciate what it is to really live in the countryside. For the kids here it can be quite different. Inspired by the most excellent March of the Robots project in Leeds we were designing robots that could help us or our communities with problems we have. Whilst a couple of boys designed policemen bots the girls designed one to help with sowing maize, scaring off birds and growing vegetables. I’m not sure kids in Armley would come up with maize bots.
Schools in Peru need more Lego
Where I can I help the kids with their homework. But even when I can understand what they have to do it’s deathly dull and mostly involves repeating lines or copying from textbooks. I don’t think modern project based learning and design thinking has had much impact on the public schools in Peru. When I showed some kids how to make a simple llama figure from Lego at first they just copied me and then sat waiting for the next instruction. Instead of simply giving them more to copy like the textbooks do I just left them alone with more Lego. Given a bit of space and some creative elements they went freestyle and were making houses, cars and flying llamas before long. I’m not sure flying Lego llamas will get them a job just yet but hopefully it helped them break out of the book learning for a little bit.
Here are just some of the marvellous machines the kids from Huancayo have been making from paper cups tin foil and lots of imagination 🙂
…and a llama