I found Tinkuy Peru while searching the internet for a volunteer opportunity. One of the reasons I chose it was because it did not go through a third party volunteer organization, so avoiding the higher fees and the chance that my services wouldn’t be needed. Accommodation was with the Peruvian family who run the school, and it had very good reviews from its volunteers over the years. Tino and Mari are artisans. They both weave and paint, although Tino is primarily a weaver (he is recognised as a master weaver and has won the Peruvian Medal for his work), whilst Mari is first and foremost a painter. Several years ago Tino was sponsored by National Geographic to teach Peruvian weaving to schools in the United States. It was on this trip that he had the idea of opening the school and since then he has focused most of his time and money on the school. Tino and Mari do not have a lot of money, but they have big hearts and a strong feeling of social responsibility.
The school is in a poor part of a poor city. Huancayo is in the central highlands of Peru and was badly affected by the Sendero Luminoso terrorist group. Even to this day the effects of those days are still felt. The parents of many of the children at the school were traumatized by seeing their own parents murdered, which has affected how they relate to their own children. Many people fled to the city, sometimes whole villages, under the threat of terrorism.
The children come from very poor families, where it is usual to find large families with lots of children living in 1 or 2 rooms. The children are expected to work when they get home, as most families in this area on the edge of the city will have sheep, a cow, a pig and chickens, as well as a vegetable patch. Most of the teenagers at the school will also work – the boys will usually work on a building site. This is the second school for the children. They go to the government school in the morning or afternoon, and to Tinkuy Peru for the other half of the day, where they have lessons in English, Spanish and Maths, as well as homework help. The school consists of tiny mud brick classrooms and a good sized playground. The latter is very important as the children don’t have much space to play at home. Children can attend from the first year of primary school through high school, although once children get to about 15 or 16 they usually stop coming as their parents expect them to work. Tino often goes to talk to families when children stop coming to find out what the problem is and try to persuade parents that their children need this tuition. On the other hand some children will bring along kindergarten age siblings when there is nobody at home to look after them. The school doesn’t like this but it’s hard to send a 4 year old back to an empty house!
As it turned out, in the low season I was the only volunteer, so I had the volunteer apartment to myself and was very busy teaching the children and doing activities with them. On my first day I was overwhelmed by the affection and welcome of the children. There are 3 full time teachers and the children have a great relationship with them and love coming to school. It’s hard to believe of such kind and loving children, but they commonly don’t get much affection at all at home. The teachers are very kind and patient, and it is plain that the children feel very safe and cared for at the school. They mix together very well across the different ages and the school is like a big, happy family. I was worried that the children would find it hard to get used to me being there for a month and then disappear. But they are used to volunteers coming and going. They learn to appreciate the time and effort of the volunteers coming from all over the world to work there, and derive a sense of their own value from the care and effort of the volunteers and the school.
I did some fundraising for the school before leaving Australia and thanks to the generosity of friends, family and my hiking group, the school was very grateful to receive enough funds to do some much needed repairs to the toilet block and school grounds and buildings. One of the first things to get fixed was the swings.
My daily routine consisted of getting the bus to school in the morning, walking back home at lunchtime and back to school for the 3-6pm session. Peru has a 2 1/2 hour lunch break and makes up for it with a longer day. Most of the big shops open about 10 or 11 am and close about 9 or 10pm. In between school times I was taking weaving lessons from Tino and managed to weave a 3 metre long table runner and a cushion cover.
It wasn’t difficult teaching the children and, as one of them said, I taught them English and they taught me Spanish. The most difficult class for me was the young primary school age, as they were as excitable and restless as puppies. However, I soon found my magic wand – stickers. One day I remembered I had brought them and after each writing task I gave them a sticker. Within no time their heads were down and the classroom was silent. The quick ones would ask me to put the next task on the board and the slow ones refused my offer to go and have a break as they wanted to finish and earn their sticker! The older high school class was a good bunch, even though sometimes they could be too cool for school. My best class was the middle school age as they were the most keen to learn and still open and naive. One day I took them to a local museum run by an old man who had collected the most amazing carnival masks from all the villages and towns of the region. It was a fascinating history and cultural lesson, which this class just lapped up.
Previous volunteers, many of whom were university students, had painted the buildings and playground walls with beautiful murals and inspiring slogans. I decided to try my hand at some little mosaic motifs on the concrete paths, thinking this would be easy. After lugging heavy ceramic bathroom tiles and concrete to school (they don’t have arts and crafts mosaic shops in Huancayo!), I started the first mosaic, a butterfly, with the primary school class. We first had to hammer the tiles into small pieces while covering them with a protective sheet. I learned by heart that day how to say, be careful, don’t touch, mind your fingers, that is dangerous and wait your turn. It was exhausting, but fun. Thankfully the other classes were much more helpful and my stress levels went down significantly. The children all loved the mosaics and I was glad to leave them something to remember, as I grew very fond of them all and will miss them very much.