There are truly no words for what an experience like mine can do for a person. Before I started taking volunteer trips, to me, it was all about helping those who can’t help themselves and leaving my mark on the world. But I never truly realised how much changing someone else’s life would change my own.
Travelling to Peru with Challenges Abroad Australia was a very last-minute decision but their team made it so easy for me to join and catch up on anything I had missed. I was studying Government and International Relations, with a second major in Spanish, so it was the perfect opportunity for me.
The project commenced in the Sacred Valley near the city of Cusco, where the group worked within two different schools. Our first weekend together as a team was great. As part of our induction, we went on a day hike together and it brought out great teamwork qualities. We had some who were not physically prepared as they had only just arrived in the country and had not climatized yet. But it showed how supportive everyone was of each other.
Day one of teaching left me speechless as I had no idea of just how much work Challenges Abroad AU and The FutureSense Foundation had put into the groundwork of the project. It highlighted their commitment to long-lasting, sustainable development. Essentially, for the two weeks, we were teaching English, educating the children on health and safety, as well as fun activities in the schoolyard. I was fortunate enough to teach grade 4, grade 3, and little four-year old’s within the kindergarten school. At first, it was a challenge because personally, I had never taught an entire class of students. What I found most difficult was keeping the children’s focus, but as a team, we supported each other and created some great lesson plans.
With the help of both Challenges Abroad AU and FutureSense we conducted lesson plans prior to classes and if we didn’t have the necessary material for the exercise, we made time to create it. After a couple of lessons with our classes, it was so rewarding to see the children working hard and improving themselves. They would get so excited over the games we played. But what was probably most important to the project was coming together at the end of the day to discuss what worked with the students, what didn’t and what needed to be improved. Our notes then went into a report which analysed how the project was tracking and the learning development of the students.
But in between all the classes, we got to paint a mural on part of the school to leave our mark. My group chose to paint the alphabet, each letter with an item to represent it. The children loved coming up to ask what we were doing or just to sit with us. There was one young boy who would come up to me and read his book to show how much he had been improving. Others wanted to join in and said: “Quiero pintar” which means I would like to paint. It was so great to see these children valuing their education and wanting to be there learning.
You really do create a bond with these kids, and while there is a language barrier for those who don’t speak Spanish, the encounter is priceless. They can put the biggest smile on your face and while they may not have a lot they give so much. They give you their hand, their attention, they make you drawings and bracelets. I think the hardest thing about it is you wish you could give them so much more. But honestly, by being there and teaching them what you can, you are participating in global change and fulfilling Challenges Abroad’s mission to ignite compassion and create global citizens; and I have never felt more passionate about anything in my life.
It is trips like these that makes you realise what you have and what is truly essential to you. Do you really need this item, or do you just want it? I think university students, like myself, can gain so much from a volunteer experience. I think it is vital to get out of the classroom or off the couch from the lecture capture you missed and see the world. Challenges Abroad offer a range of invaluable programs that will allow you to make a difference in this world but also make one within yourself. You have nothing to lose, take the first step and enquire today!