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General Teaching Projects in Peru by Katherine Shirtcliffe

Peru - My Story

Before jetting-off to Peru I was anxious and nervous, but I needn't have been as I loved Peru and I wouldn't have changed my time there for the world.

Pics by: Katherine Shirtcliffe

I lived in the small town Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley of Peru. The valley is steeped in history and culture and the locals are proud of their Inca heritage. Everyone is warm and welcoming and life appears to be laid back and carefree. Celebrations in the valley combine the Spanish and Inca traditions, which provide many excuses for partying. Seeing how happy everyone is almost convinces you that people in the valley have no problems, it is only when speaking to them that you realise how much they want the help of volunteers. Volunteers help to teach the local children English, offering them a chance of a better future.

For my placement I assisted in a kindergarten school. Because I didn't speak Spanish I was worried about how I was going to communicate with the children, but their enthusiasm, interest and persistence to get to know me made me ditch my fears and gave me the confidence I needed to interact with them. Knowing just a few key Spanish words and phrases can go a long way and what you can't say can be overcome by actions, games and songs.

Learning to Speak Spanish was the biggest challenge, yet it was one that I thrived upon. In school I was always bad at languages, but living in an environment where I needed to learn another language in order to be able to communicate and driven by the frustration of not being able to say what I wanted encouraged me to learn the lingo.

Pics by: Katherine Shirtcliffe

The Sacred Valley is a bizarre mix of the developed and the developing world, growing rapidly in the age of mass communication. While some locals wear traditional dress (which often consisted of big puffy skirts, long socks, a top hat and their hair platted in pig-tails) others are dressed just like you and me. While one man walks his donkey or cow along the roadside another can be found listening to Eminem on the radio. The family I lived with had tar palling for the dining room roof, a tinned roof for the kitchen, the bathroom was at the bottom of the garden and all clothes were washed by hand. However, they had three TVs, a DVD player, a stereo system and a beautiful garden with a small swimming pool. Like I said it was a bizarre mix, yet one I quite liked.

I'm not going to lie, the showers and toilets aren't the best and it's no five star accommodation, but they're just little things, which are nothing in comparison to what you get in return. And more to the point how much fun would it be if it were some package holiday? Projects Abroad is about getting your hands dirty, getting involved and experiencing something different from the norm.

Pics by: Katherine Shirtcliffe

Being able to wake up and stare out at the Andes each morning was just an incredible sight and it gave me a thirst to explore. And what is great about Peru is that if you want to take-off into the mountains for a weekend you can. A chance for adventure and discovery is right there on your doorstep. One weekend you can be thick in the hustle and bustle of city life, learning to salsa while standing on the tables and bar tops and the next you can feel like you're a million miles away from it all.

I have a lot I could tell you about my time in Peru; horseback riding around the ruins, the four-day hike to Machu Picchu - including the nights entertainment of dancing with the porters as they sang in Spanish and Quechua. One time in particular that stands out is when a couple of volunteers and I got lost in the mountains. After wading through streams and climbing through the thick growth we soon realised that we had taken a wrong turn. We tried to retrace our steps but the light was fading fast. Luckily, we bumped into two local children who lived in the mountains. They were extremely excited to see us and were more than willing to come to our rescue. They led us through the mountains to where they camped and offered us a spot to pitch our tents. One of the boys cast a little net into a nearby river and caught a fish for us to eat. I was overwhelmed by their hospitality and at how eager they were to help us.

I loved the language, the people and their attitude towards life. It was an amazing experience in which I had many adventures that I long to relive.

Katherine Shirtcliffe

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