Volunteering in Peru

Posted by Jeff Riley on 11 September 2013

We recently introduced you to Otra Cosa, a UK NGO that is active in Peru. A returning volunteer Tal Gurevich has written about her experiences which underline how both volunteers and communities in the developing world can gain from such programmes. Here is Tal's blog post

"Two years ago I ran a stall at the university Volunteering Fair for a charity that I’ve previously volunteered with, Development in Action. Intrigued by the colourful photographs of Peru and the invitation to ‘improve your Spanish’ displayed on the neighbouring board, I struck up a conversation with the woman running the stall. Juany Murphy, as it turned out, is a good friend of my university Spanish teacher and the director of Otra Cosa Network (OCN), an NGO based in the north of Peru. Having listened to her enthusiastic description on the one hand of the country, its people and the food, and on the other of the diversity and reach of the NGO’s projects, I decided to volunteer at OCN at the next available opportunity.

The opportunity presented in the summer of 2013 when I found myself between jobs and with a month to spare before starting a new job in September. When it came to the choice of project, having previously worked with a women’s empowerment group in India, studied aspects of gender and development as part of my degree and recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s inspirational book ‘Lean In’, I knew I wanted to work with OCN’s HELP Women project, a new program recently set up to empower the women living in the local shanty town.I was fortunate to work on the project with a fellow volunteer from the US who is not only very passionate about women’s rights but is also fluent in Spanish, which was crucial to enable us to build meaningful and trusting relationships with the women in the community. We firstly began to familiarize ourselves with the group, their needs and wants through both more formal group discussions and informal chats, on some occasions bonding over mouth-watering cake recipe books and Enrique Iglesias songs. Our approach was to be there for the community’s women as a resource to help them realize whatever it is that they wanted. Several women said they wanted more information on family planning so we organized a workshop run by an obstetrician from the local clinic. The session promoted lively debate and gave the women a safe space to talk about a subject that is still considered taboo; Peru is a Catholic country where abortion is largely illegal. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learnt through the project is the importance of being open. Whether openness is shown through discussing methods of contraception, sharing family photos, past personal tragedies or hopes for the future, this openness is essential to building confidence and meaningful relationships. By being open, very direct and honest, I feel that we were able to gain the trust of some of the women in the community and they ours, and it is only by doing that that we were able to start truly being a useful resource for them as opposed to just other ‘gringas’, or foreigners.

Peru is developing rapidly and it was an exciting place to call home for a month. Archaeological sites like the el Brujo complex and la Huaca de La Luna y Sol are being excavated right, left and centre, and they are definitely worth seeing, complementing the undeniable beauty of the much more tourist-orientated south of the Sacred Valley and Machupicchu. In Huanchaco, the tranquil beachside town where OCN is based, there are plenty of surfing and sandboarding schools, restaurants serving amazing ceviche and pisco cocktails, and the beach, a place from which to watch gorgeous sunsets, and my personal favourite, salsa to the music of the guitar, accompanied by the sound of the crashing waves around the bonfire at night."

Topics: Working abroad, international development

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