Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones is from Douglasville Georgia and currently teaches High School Students with Disabilities in her local school system. She has received her Educational Specialist Degree in Special Education from the University of West Georgia. She volunteered with Maximo Nivel in an orphanage for children with special needs from Nov 23, 2013- Nov 28, 2013. Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and 5 year old daughter, participating in marathons and triathlons, traveling, and volunteering.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Maxmo Nivel in Peru?

Sarah with one of the orphans that most touched her heart

Sarah: I decided to volunteer abroad using Maximo Nivel because I found a large organization on the internet that selects volunteers to participate in projects worldwide. This organization partners with Maximo Nivel.

I seleceted the location of Peru because the experience allowed me to use my talents and experiences with working with individuals with disabilities as well as visit a place that I have always wanted to explore (Machu Picchu).

Was it difficult to navigate around language barriers?

Sarah: I speak Spanish so it was not too difficult for me to navigate Peru. My friend who traveled with me did not speak Spanish and had a difficult time when she was on her own (which wasn’t too often). The staff at Maximo Nivel are bilingual and were able to help in any confusing situation.

The staff at Maximo Nivel even visited the orphanage with us on the first day to introduce us to the house mothers and children. Maximo Nivel staff was able to explain to us (in English) about the orphanage and our daily responsibilities. This was very helpful.

What was the best moment of the entire trip?

The children playing outside in the courtyard

Sarah: There were several wonderful moments throughout the entire trip but the two that stand out the most to me are building relationships with children in a special needs orphanage and visiting Machu Picchu. Both of these moments were “ah ha” experiences but in different ways.

Volunteering at the orphanage opened my eyes to the economy or rural Peru and how children with disabilities are viewed. Children with disabilities in Peru are viewed as a disgrace to the family. These children are often abused, neglected, and left to wonder the streets.

The orphanage helps to identify these children and provide them with a loving and caring environment. The conditions of the orphanage may not prove to be up to the standards of the United States but the love that these children receive from their caregivers is unconditional.

The other stand out moment was visiting Machu Picchu. The ruins were breathtaking and magnificent. I stood in wonder and awe imagining the Incan Indians forming the grand structure piece by piece.

How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, etc)

The children taking a walk outside the orphanage

Sarah: I currently teach high school students with disabilities and I have been a special educator for 10 years. Although I am around individuals with disabilities on a daily basis, this experience opened my eyes to a whole new perspective that other countries might have when accepting children with exceptionalities.

This experience also showed me how truly blessed we are in the United States. The 28 children in the orphanage in Peru shared two bathrooms, took cold showers, were provided with small portions of food, and used the restroom in buckets. The children displayed a great deal of “fight or flight” and “nature vs. nurture” behaviors. The way the children acted made me very appreciative of all of the resources provided to special populations in the US.

As a result of this experience, I hope to establish a non-profit organization in the States and send money/care packages to the children in Peru. I have already set up a Christmas fund for the children and have collected $1,400 US dollars to send to the children to purchase clothing, coats, food, and presents.