(Submitted by Elissa Bell–6/6/2022)
I am in Cusco, Peru, volunteering at a teen mother shelter, Casa Mantay. The shelter houses young mothers and their children due to situations of violence in their families. It provides a safe place for them to learn how to care for themselves and their children properly. Casa Mantay is a busy place for all the children, mothers, staff, and volunteers. I help take care and monitor the young children ages 0-3 years old in the mornings. During this time, the mothers, other volunteers, and I play with the kids, feed them and make sure they’re clean before taking a nap at midday. The mornings are usually chaotic because the kids are very energetic. Once they are napping, I can either go home for the day or stay until the evening. If I choose to wait until the evening, I eat lunch at the house, help the mothers with their homework, or work on creative projects such as making posters for the shelter.
There is an after-school program for primary school kids in the late afternoon. These kids aged 7-11 also used to live at the house with their mothers when they were young children too. I work with the teacher in the after-school program and help the kids with their homework, teach them English, and play outside. The evenings are much more relaxed as the older kids are better behaved and listen very well. I volunteer about 30-40 hours a week from Monday to Friday. Volunteering takes up most of my time, but I enjoy where I work and the people I connect with. In my free time, I like to hike with friends and explore the city center. I’ve also been trying to read more books.
At first, I had a lot of trouble understanding Spanish, which I was not expecting. It was often difficult to understand what the mothers were saying because they would sometimes mumble or speak Spanish slang, which I had never heard before. I took many years of Spanish in high school and speak Portuguese, so I thought coming to Peru would be a smooth transition. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to the dialect and speed, but this also helped my speaking skills by constantly listening and learning conversational Spanish. I am much better now than when I first got here three weeks ago with my listening and speaking skills.
I can either take the bus or a taxi to get to work, but the bus is much cheaper. I was intimidated by taking the bus at first because I was scared I would get on the wrong one or miss my stop. Thankfully the seasoned volunteers I live with helped me understand the transportation system. I am now very confident in going to work and other parts of Cusco. I felt very welcomed into Casa Mantay, making the transition into a new culture very easy. I love kids, so I feel right at home with my work here.