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Tuesday, 01 July 2008

Volunteering in Cusco: Values, Principles, and Love - Page 2

Written by Douglas J. Klostermann
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The little round sign above the door told me I was at the right place: Aldea Yanapay – Otra Forma de Vivir. A voice approached from behind as I searched for the right buzzer.

“Are you here to volunteer?” It was as much an eager welcome as a question.

“I just came by to see the after-school program,” I started to respond, but it suddenly no longer seemed necessary to give a calculated, uncommitted answer. Her unfeigned enthusiasm was already convincing me that this would be worthwhile.

Once inside the school’s tiny courtyard, I was immediately put in charge of the hand and face washing process by the director, Yuri Barrio de Mendoza. He is a young Peruvian dreamer with the gift of turning lofty personal ideology into concrete reality. His dream began as a small alternative school in 2004 and it is now a flourishing after-school program that serves hundreds of disadvantaged kids in Cusco. De Mendoza also runs a successful café to help support the school and owns two homes to house the volunteers who arrive from Australia, Spain, Denmark, Israel, or Venezuela.

My first days at the school consisted of minimal instruction of my responsibilities. I also observed that there was little declared outright to the kids regarding the values and goals of Aldea Yanapay. Talks and lessons led by Yuri and by the volunteers on the principles were communicated primarily through example in a purposefully cultivated environment of compassion and personal responsibility. It became obvious quickly that this group of international travelers were the ideal volunteers to demonstrate these implicit values of respect, tolerance, non-machismo-ism, and peaceful communication. Within this unique community, I cautiously sought out my position and searched for an effective role.

Volunteering in Cusco: Values, Principles, and Love, Aldea Yanapay, Yanapay School, volunteer peruI was coaxed out from under my heavy blankets early each morning by an over-amplified singing nun and her equally emphatic guitar. Since the volunteer houses were momentarily full, I had found a cozy room for the month in a hostel run by the Dominicans. The hostel sits on the original site of the Inca sun temple. Next door was a whitewashed courtyard with a playground and morning assembly yard of a girls’ primary school. The students’ immaculate new uniforms and coordinating recreation outfits provided a revealing contrast to the repeatedly hemmed jumpers and frayed sweater cuffs of many of Aldea Yanapay’s students.

Yuri told me about a volunteer who arrived at the Yanapay School one day to offer his services. However, when he found the children clean and relatively well clothed, the visitor declared that they didn’t need his help. With lingering disappointment in his eyes but determination in his voice, Yuri exclaimed to me, “That part is easy. I wash their faces and I find them clothes.” His written project history, posted on the courtyard wall, expanded on his thought:

“What can you do with well-fed children with nice clothes, if behind all of that they have marks on their skin from abuse, if in their heart there is a rock from lack of motivation, from lack of love? The way I see it, what my country needs is not just relief from material hunger, but rather a compensation of the hunger that some people have forgotten about because it is free and invisible. It’s called values, principles, love.”

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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