Volunteering in Ollantaytambo has been an absolutely amazing experience. I was a little bit nervous to start out with, but after walking into the house and meeting everyone, I felt right at home. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I would be sharing the house with a duck and a cat. The house was beautiful with a lovely garden in the middle and lots of common space to hang out. The town itself was stunning. We were surrounded by mountains and every day when I walked out and saw the view I could not believe how beautiful it was.
My first week, I started meeting all the kids. They were all so friendly and fun to work with. Miguel Angel has cerebral palsy and autism, but is always happy, no matter what situation he is in. Sometimes, I would come to his house and find him alone and covered in dirt or his own feces. Though this was extremely heartbreaking to see, my spirits were always lifted by Miguel Angel’s amazing attitude. His laugh is contagious. I started bringing him to the park to play and even had the chance to take him to the pool. He loved it and was splashing around and having a great time.
Going to Huilloc was always an interesting experience. This is a small village that we go to twice a week to visit two boys with autism. The people who live here are so friendly and even once offered me a cup of Chicha (corn beer) while I waited for the bus home. Whenever we could not find the boys, someone from the village would run around helping us search. Working with Benjamin and Nelson was a blast. They are not able to communicate well, but we have noticed significant improvement throughout the last few months. They seem more attentive and are starting to make more sounds and actions. Luis Alberto is another individual with autism, though less severe. He works really, really hard and loves learning. We have been doing some reading, writing, math, and English. It is also great working with him because I can practice my Spanish.
I have formed a special connection with a boy from our town. Leonel is deaf and we have been working with him to teach him how to write and do basic mathematics. We also work with his two younger brothers, Thiago and Alexis, to help them learn how to write. I visited them twice a week and worked mostly with Leonel. He teaches me sign language and in turn I teach him some multiplication. He can get frustrated at times when I cannot figure out the right answers but he manages to push through with some convincing. If he works hard then we end the session with a game. He loves this matching card game and absolutely crushes me. We even sometimes go to the local soccer field to play around a bit. This has made me realize how out of shape I am. Leonel is an excellent soccer player and gave me a good challenge.
My biggest challenge through this experience has been communicating. I knew very little Spanish before arriving. It was hard working with the older kids and talking to the parents. Even living in the house was hard sometimes because most of the other volunteers spoke better Spanish than me. Though this was challenging it was a great way for me to learn. By listening to my housemate talk I gradually picked up more and more words. I felt a little guilty at times because I would often speak English to them, but they were very helpful in teaching me and translating when I didn’t understand.
That brings me to the other volunteers. They were all amazing. It was a pleasure to meet them and I hope to see them again soon. They were all so friendly and great to hang out with. They were also extremely hard working and caring. They really wanted to make a difference in the kids’ lives and went out of their way to help out. I was also very impressed with their Spanish abilities and hope that someday I will be as good as them. Every weekend we planned a trip together, whether that be hiking through the mountains, exploring some ruins or shopping in the markets. The staff (Mayra and Jessica) were also great. Their number one priority was making sure I was healthy and comfortable. When I was sick they made sure I got some medicine and rest. During the Coronavirus quarantine, they made sure we were up to date on news and that we felt safe. Overall, these last three months have been an unforgettable experience that I will cherish forever.