4 weeks ago I arrived in Lima. Here is the overall assessment thus far.
The volunteer aspect is certainly much different than I expected, but not necessarily better or worse. Initially I assumed I would be at the same place everyday working and playing with kids in the orphanage. The orphanage, Hogar de Cristo, has its three communities (kids, elderly, and disabled), all of which are essentially orphans. They either have no families, were abandoned by them (often the case with the extremely disabled), or their family lives elsewhere and never visits them. My goal was to bring some type of joy to the people of the orphanage, and in the end I guess age or mental capabilities don’t matter, everyone needs to be loved. As of now there are two concrete projects at Hogar: preparing/planting a garden and redoing the gameroom for the kids. Members of the disabled community often help with the garden and kids sometimes join in on the painting .
Three days are spent at Hogar, and the other two are at a kindergarten in Pachacutec. This town is an hour bus ride from Lima and houses some of the poorer people in Lima. It was basically a big beach on a hill, but the government let people move there some years ago and it is now covered with shacks. Helping the teachers can at times be frustrating because their isn’t much organization in the classroom, but we get to interact with the kids and play around before they leave.
Another unexpected part of the experience was the amount of time actually working. I was prepared to be someplace all day and return home in late afternoon. Each day, however, we arrive between 9 and 10 am and usually leave around 1pm to eat lunch at home by 2pm. On top of the short hours was the initial quarantine, along with bus strikes/protests (4 days of strikes, 2 of which I was too sick to work anyway) that left us unable to travel to either of the volunteer locations. It was probably a mistake to assume certain things about an experience like this, so I instead shifted my outlook to just enjoying the work that I am able to do.
There is a turnover about every 2 weeks of new volunteers, with most staying from 1 to 2 months, though some shorter. I have met some great people, mostly college-aged, and we all hangout in the evening and go out in Lima on the weekends. Recently, we went to a park with some fountains in Central Lima. It was basically an hour and a half of taking awesome pictures.
Last Thursday me and a few others went with Chelsea, another volunteer, to the airport. We bought some beers to calm her nerves (the formality of airports stresses her out), and I thought McDonald’s would really complete my American meal.
I spilled about half my coke onto my crotch, just to complete the classy-ness of it all.
P.S. – Check out how cute this old lady is from Hogar de Cristo!