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Tuesday, 01 July 2008

Volunteering in Cusco: Values, Principles, and Love - Page 3

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.

Volunteering in Cusco: Values, Principles, and Love, Aldea Yanapay, Yanapay School, volunteer peruAs the kids at Aldea Yanapay learned about Buddhism in the daily world culture lessons, I gradually learned to let go of my conscious role of volunteer in order to become a better one. The tools I needed to do this work were not the ones I had anticipated and prepared for in the months leading to my trip. In reality, there was little I could have done to prepare. Knowledge of teaching theory and practice, or research into Third World social conditions were not nearly as important as compassion and generous, unbiased attention.

In the various classrooms of the Yanapay School, I played Uno and assisted with the puzzles the kids obsessively assembled. I listened to them read the mishaps of Sapo y Sepo – Frog and Toad and corrected them from leaping past the commas and the periods. I watched as they constructed a papier-mâché volcano and the ill-fated town at its base. I found I couldn’t explain even basic mathematical concepts in Spanish, but I could still steer them toward the right answers.

One day in my final week at Aldea Yanapay, I arrived early and found three of the girls waiting across the street. I joined them on the dusty cobblestone sidewalk and we broke open a coconut, which they shared as passing cars exhaled their exhaust into our faces. Defending myself from a group tickle attack, I grabbed the smallest girl and flipped her upside down, inducing giggles from her and the others. At some point the looming doubts about what I could offer had simply stopped, without me even noticing. I understood that providing a lap to sit on through a movie, or a hand to hold one end of a jump rope might be a greater contribution than I could fully understand.

I was beginning to learn for myself una otra forma de vivir – another way of living.

© Douglas J. Klostermann

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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