I voluntered for 2 weeks with UBELONG in Huaycan, Lima, Peru.
A typical day started around 9 or 10 am, with French private class with one or two adult students until noon. Then we had lunch all volunteers together, time to share our experiences, ideas, and more. During the afternoon, we had 2 to 3 classes, French but also sport, art or English. It was a good to be helping on other projects also. This gave us a larger image of people, to see them in different fields, and another chance to help them! At night we had a good time with other volunteers and students, for example we played soccer each Sunday night!
The most frustrating or challenging:
Peruvian schedules are very different than what we’re used to in France. One time we had a class at 1PM, but one of the students did not show up until 4PM. She apologized and said there had been traffic on the way. That is indeed the case, traffic in Lima is bad, but I think the culture is also more lax about timeliness. As long as you understand this and do not expect Peru to be like home, you adapt and accept that it’s part of the experience. In this particular case we just had a private lesson with the student. It went very well.
What I learn about myself:
I was reminded how incredible Peruvian culture is. It’s very welcoming and family oriented. The first Sunday I was there, the family next door invited us to their home. They were so pleasant and treated us as if we had been there forever. Family is at the heart of everything in Peru.
I also learned to be more patient and to take things more slowly. When I first arrived in Lima, I was at full speed. I had been coming from Paris where I was working, and it took a couple days to slow down and adapt to the local pace. I think this is common for most volunteers, especially when they’re coming directly from working.
I also was very pleased to have been able to make an impact on the students in so short a time. The students appreciated us being there, and I could tell they were interested in learning about France and the French language. Unlike the English project, the French project is much smaller so it was not as common for them to be able to sit in a French class. I hope the project can keep growing so other volunteers can build on it and have the students speak more French and learn more about France.
At the same time, I think the students impacted me even more than I impacted them. They have so little and face challenges we can’t even imagine. However, they continue being positive and there’s not the materialism that can exists in richer countries. It was inspiring to see their strength, and, as poor as the community was, I felt myself being more positive and hopeful.
UBELONG is a really good and professional organization. I highly recommend them. They are with you all the time: before, during and after your placement. They are very good advisers. And the project they choose to assist is the best choice in Lima, Huaycan is one of the poorest area of the city. You can feel they really need you, and you can do something very helpful for them.