A Day in the Life of a Villa Maria Volunteer
By Tilly Danby and Zoe Kayton
Ten alarm clocks sound at 6.15 am and the team awakens with the good intention of going for a jog. On a usual day about half us will actually leave the cosy confines of our beds and head out with Pato in the lead. After the usual breakfast of scrambled eggs and bread, by 8.30 we are out the door and on our way to the first community of the day. Sometimes we go by foot, other days using public transportation or our own personal car as provided by the mayor (on the rare days our driver remembers to show up on time).
Upon our arrival at the local ‘cancha’ we shout and cheer through a megaphone that the gringos have arrived. At the communities that know us well groups of children come running, whereas at the new communities the children need a little bit more coaxing. However, at the sight of our colourful hula hoops, skipping ropes and the opportunity to show us up at football it doesn’t take long. What can only be described as 2 hours of intense games and playing begins. We all agree that the most rewarding part of all of this is seeing the kids smiling and giggling. It is amazing to see the difference between an empty abandoned cancha when we arrive to one that is absolutely filled with joy and life. It’s also cute how well the children get to know us, and are not shy about calling out our names when they see us out and about, or running up and holding our hands.
All this fun begins again at a new community after our lunch break. The children from this community have the opportunity to follow us down to the swimming pool where we pay for their entrance. The kids get so excited by this and most afternoons we will have a long trail of jumping children of all ages following us down the hill, making us feel a bit like the Pied Piper.
Describing the swimming pool is difficult because it is one of those things which you can only understand once you have experienced it. Most of the kids don’t have the opportunity to use the swimming pool often because it’s either too far away or too expensive, so when we pass through those gates their faces light up and they are off (which is a nicer way of saying they go crazy). The next hour is basically a test of our survival skills. We will have kids climbing all over us, pulling us down, jumping on us, requesting to be thrown or spun or picked up. We will not see each other for the next hour, only piles of children, until the whistle blows and we drag ourselves out of the water exhausted and spent. The majority of the kids can’t swim and always appreciate a few pointers. Unfortunately the pool is too crowded to properly teach them but their desire to learn is admirable and the fun they have makes us nearly drowning a lot easier to handle.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays we hold outdoor cinema nights. We set up a giant screen and projector in one of the communities and wait for the local children (and often dogs) to show up so we can start reliving our childhood and watching a cartoon of some sort. Despicable Me 2 is the most popular so far. Until we get to go to bed this is probably the most relaxing part of our day. But the night isn’t over yet.
After a speedy packing up after the movie we hurry back to the school where Lucho and the dancers are waiting for us. For around an hour each night we practice and learn our individual dance routines in preparation for the weekly Domingo Familiares.
The weekends are just as busy as the weekdays, with a themed fair each Saturday morning. So far for these fairs we have dressed up for the themes of pirates, superheroes and most recently Disney characters. We have obstacle courses, giant jenga, tug of war, face painting and many more activities. Each Sunday we hold a show in the town square, with the aim of bringing people of different barrios together. We each swallow our pride and our dignity and perform in the style (and the clothing) of a famous artist. The intensity has increased since the first week as there is now a live elimination each Sunday. There are now only 7 of us left so the pressure is on!
After another extremely busy week we are looking forward to our day off in Miraflores, Lima tomorrow. Last week’s day off was one of the most eye-opening experiences yet. After 2 weeks of living in close quarters and basic conditions, our hostel seemed enormous and extravagant with its wood floors and tiny swimming pool. We genuinely screamed when we saw that they were two (flushing!) toilets and working showers to share between us seven girls alone. When Rowan took us into the part of town with all the restaurants and cafés we jumped around like the kids at the swimming pool. He and Pete then took us out for dinner. The Americans among us were amazed at how a simple dinner at Chilli’s felt like the best food we have ever had. Unfortunately we all got far too excited and ate far too much.
Despite how much we enjoy our days off we are all extremely saddened by the fact that we are more than halfway through our volunteering phase. Before we know it we will be leaving this amazing and fascinating place. We have come to know the kids really well just as they have come to know us and we have become so accustomed to life in Villa Maria. So we are going to enjoy the time we have left and make the next week and a half they best that can be 🙂