I arrived a week late due to my ill-timed bout Covid, disorientated but swept up by my kind hosts Alejandro and his two sons Aldo and Daniel to the region of Villa Maria in Lima. I spent five weeks in a world so different from my own. Five weeks of generosity from my hosts, forging new friendships and riding culture shock. A wealth of experience which has never left me.
My first two weeks were spent with Aldo, refurbishing and modernising almost 20 mature, donated computers. We sorted them into two categories “working” and “non-working”, disassembled each working computer and analysed the components. In many cases, it was simply a matter of replacing a broken screen by removing unbroken screens from otherwise unserviceable computers. I am no natural engineer but following Aldo’s patient assistance, with the aid of photographs and over the period of my stay, I learnt about the inner workings of a computer. After two weeks, we had repaired 15 computers but the process slowed down as we ran out of spare components and had to visit the Tech market in Lima where anything can be fixed, bought or sold.
I had anticipated I would fare better with the challenges of the classroom but teaching English to 20 or so 3-4 years olds was extraordinarily difficult. Some of them explained that their classmates didn’t even speak Spanish yet and a few were “mute.” I was inspired by the highly talented teachers who could keep so many young children focused when my pupils were giggling (probably at me) and squirming, whilst I tried to teach them English numbers.
No one rested during the national one-week holiday “Fiestas patrias.” The teachers used this week to repair the school or choreograph the numerous national dances that the students performed in celebration of Peru’s independence. Children continued to pour into the school (even at weekends) for rehearsals. Speakers and music equipment had to be repaired. Parents prepared national dishes from the Peruvian regions, Cierra, Selva and Costa and the children danced in front of the school in intricate traditional regional costumes. Proceeds were used to sponsor another child at the school.
Many of the devoted teachers continued to run projects over the holiday period, sporting events provided by Lucho (the clown) from 6pm till 8pm, daily theatre rehearsals for a musical performance of the Wizard of Oz which echoed around the school. The multitude of children on a daily basis took its toll on the fabric of the building so we built and painted a new internal drywall to ensure the play areas were safe and splinter-free. The energy and loyalty of the teachers was so impressive.
After the festival, Alejandro led a” party roadshow” across the regions of Villa Maria, to bring together communities of children using sweets to incentivise participation in games and increase awareness of Quest Overseas. From the parties, networks were created to help distribute clothing, nappies, blankets, cradles and crutches to those in need. In Villa Maria, those most in need lived highest up the mountain, affected by the inflated cost of living and extreme winter cold. We visited many of these isolated homes, distributing clothes and blankets for young families.
I am so grateful for my experience with the teachers and children at the school at Villa Maria. I was inspired by the commitment of the teachers in a challenging environment with such limited resources. The school forges support networks across the community with the tireless support of its teachers and sponsors at La Vida.