The clanging on the metal door rang hard through the air, the knocking sound reverberated across the playground and presumably through the streets of a small bread making town outside of Cusco. Little feet in worn shoes charged across the grass towards the door, taking turns letting in friends and then quickly returning to whatever game they were invested in, marbles, soccer, watering the garden or playing in the sand.
It seemed to be a repetitive task each afternoon, children in matching school uniforms spilling in after classes, the large rusty metal door as quickly as it closed would swing swiftly open, welcoming in dozens of kids each day.
The program at Picaflor House was anything short of inspirational. What began as a small after school group has turned into a full capacity operation. The non profit is a haven for local children for after school to play, learn English, do homework and they have now added a lunch option. The area around the school suffers from some severe poverty, a lot of kids may only receive potentially one proper meal a day so having additional healthy food options is a great extension of the already thriving program. Little ones lining up by the outdoor sink with toothbrushes in hand, Picaflor is clearly working hard to instill positive routines. Picaflor seems to act as a second home for these children so it’s nice to see them creating positive habits like healthy eating and good hygiene.
“Hola Teacher!” or “Teacher, Teacher,” little voices would yell in excitement as the children began entering the playground of Picaflor House each day we were there. There are several other longer term volunteers and our group came in for a photography based project for a select number of interested students. We had the chance to bring donated camera equipment for the school and then use those cameras in a tutorial with two children per TGL participant. This was ideal because although spending time with the school as a whole was wonderful, it gave us the chance to get to know a smaller group better with more one on one time.
Peru is synonymous with natural wonders and I think it’s a safe bet that most travelers have Machu Picchu somewhere on their “bucket list”. I thought a lot about how to lead with sharing my Peru stories, and at first thought telling of our time in Machu Picchu would have been a no brainer. On further reflection about my trip however, it was the experiences we had at the school that have made a more lasting impression. I could have easily planned a solo trip to hike the Inca Trail, stop over in a few cities and be done but it wouldn’t have felt as complete without getting to spend more time in a community, getting to know the people there and leaving with a greater understanding of the region, it’s culture and the phenomenal people we had met. We spend a lot of our time planning trips around what we can see, eat or share on social media but I think experiential travel gives you the best take away, an enriching experience. These are the vacations that enhance the time you have when you are there and impact the memories you have from the time you were away.
Volunteering in Peru: The Trip
I went on a photography tour with The Giving Lens, an organization that connects photographers with local NGO organizations to incorporate a way to give back locally in addition to sight seeing and photography. TGL creates a program where you are volunteering in Peru and still be on vacation which in my opinion is the ideal situation. Having an opportunity to get to see the typical tourist areas while taking the time to give back to the local community only enriches memories of your trip and give you a more realistic picture of where you are visiting.
One of the more fun afternoons was our unexpected rainy games day. With short instruction the children immediately all lined up in organized groups, they cheered each other on with their own little chants, and not surprisingly, my group seemed to be the loudest. The kids weren’t overly competitive but there was a healthy dose of rivalry between the classmates. The weather hadn’t cooperated for the hike we had planned so we spent the afternoon participating in relay races.
Genuine happiness is palpable here and that is truly powerful. It’s hard sometimes coming from a first world country to a developing one so you have to set some of those preconceived notions aside and really get to know the locals and the culture to have a unbiased view about where you are visiting.
At the end of our week with the kids they put on a short but sweet performance for us and we lined up for hugs good bye as they left for the day. It made an impression seeing everyone say goodbye individually. The long line of students all with hugs or waves farewell really showed how many children you had interacted with over our time at Picaflor. It was emotional for some of us to see just how many kids we had interacted with over the week and more importantly what a bond the kids have with each other as well as the long term volunteers and staff.
Curious about a more purpose driven travel? Check out trips with The Giving Lens where you can improve your photography while giving back locally when you visit. Wanting to volunteer in Peru? Read more about the Picaflor House and go give back to your global community.