10 February – 10 March
Or House and Home
We spent a wonderful month volunteering at a children’s home in Arequipa, Peru. Casa Hogar cares for up to 21 abused and abandoned babies and children at any one time. It is run by local volunteers (who get bed and board but are not paid) – called “Tias” or aunties – and relies entirely on donations as it does not receive any government funding. At the time we were volunteering it was home to 9 children under 4, and a further 6 older kids up to 12.
Volunteers work in shifts – either 7am to 12 or 1 to 6pm, playing with the children, helping with feeding and nappy changing as needed, and completing domestic chores such as peeling vegetables, sweeping and mopping floors, and laundry – and you can imagine how much washing is created by 15 children.
We travelled to Casa Hogar by bus each day, walking into central Arequipa, standing on a street corner with a great view of El Misti on a clear day, and flagging down the appropriate bus. The buses were the size of a small transit van, with about 15 seats and more space for standing – which is actually more like crouching, even for us shorties! 20 minutes later we would shout “Baja” as we approached our bus stop, and walk another few minutes to the orphanage.
Stuart spent a lot of time helping the lovely Tia Sonia in the kitchen, where she prepared all meals from scratch. Meals nearly always have fresh vegetables, potatoes, pasta or rice and often fish or meat. Stu enjoyed learning some useful Spanish words and teaching Sonia the English equivalents, with only a couple of minor mishaps through instructions being lost in translation! Hannah had a good joke with Sonia when she (hannah) briefly forgot the word for cake in Spanish and could only remember the French – and told Sonia, tongue-in-cheek, that she liked baking “gateaux”. Given that “gato” is Spanish for cat, you can imagine the hilarity that ensued! Hannah also enjoyed chatting with Sonia about the difficult balance between discipline and love, and helping kids who’ve had a hard start in life to learn to make healthy choices.
Given our lack of fluency in Spanish we spent most of our time with the littlest kids, who loved songs, dances (the hokey-cokey became a firm favourite), peek-a-boo, and silly animal voices, as well as improvised puppets made out of discarded socks, and percussion instruments made out of ripped dustbin liners and nappy bags. At one point there were 5 kiddies miaowing like kittens and crawling round on all fours as their imaginations expanded on Hans cat impression. They especially liked being turned upside down, and being spun around like an aeroplane. We also introduced a couple of games to the older children, including the cereal box game (where you pick up an ever shrinking cereal box up off the floor with only your teeth, and only your feet can touch the floor) and “Hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades” (where you move to the next chair when your card is called). With so many children it was inevitable there would be birthday parties, and we watched more games like musical chairs, with jelly and cake served up to excited kids. One of the littlest ones would search the room for leftover jelly and, if not stopped first, would polish everything off. Pińatas were always hung as a birthday treat for the evening.
Hannah also spent some time helping the on site teacher, Yessenia, with stimulation time for younger kids, and Stu also engineered a trip to the local park for footie and ’round the pole’ with the older kids.
One of the Tias was a hairdresser, and Han also took the opportunity for a haircut, once all the necessary implements had been located (combs etc had been scattered by inquisitive children)!
We were lucky to join the children on two outings while we were there. First, we took a minibus to the countryside. We had a bit of a trek with all the children plus lunch, drinks, games etc when the bus couldn’t navigate the steep and narrow lanes to our final destination but after two barefoot river crossings we were rewarded with a delicious rice and chicken lunch under the trees. Wandering down to the riverside, one of our colleagues was advised by the one of the Tias not to get the children wet. When he returned 10 minutes later he was met with the sight of almost all the children stripped to nappies or underwear splashing about in the shallow water! Han spent much of the day with one little girl, C, whose delighted but cautious reactions revealed the novelty of the whole experience.
Our second big trip was with all of the younger children to the beach (the older children had just returned to school and another beach outing for them was planned at a later date). We got taxis to the local bus station and then took a 2 hour bus ride to Mollendo. The sea was choppy so the kids enjoyed exploring water and sand in two hired paddling pools. You can imagine we were fighting a losing battle in trying to keep sand out of the lunches, despite repeated washing and dryings of hands. Some of the children enjoyed seeing sandcastles magically appear from buckets, others helped in digging a hole big enough to stand inside, and others loved just pouring water. None liked the cold showers afterwards! We shared Hannah’s homemade chocolate carrot cake on the bus home, and everyone fell asleep, except for one of the twins, sitting with Hannah and another volunteer, who squirmed for half an hour and seemed to have a major sugar rush from all the cake!
The beach was our last day at the orphanage and it was with great sadness that we got the children ready for bed and said goodbye to the dedicated, hard-working Tias.
As Casa Hogar relies on donations we wanted to provide some educational toys and Han spent a fun and guilt-free afternoon shopping with another volunteer, Natalie and Yessenia the teacher. Another volunteer who sadly wasn’t well enough to come gave a donation. With the pot of donations Han helped with selecting and bartering for wooden puzzles, musical instruments, toy doctors kit and puppets in the local market, as well as simple items like thread and beads and washing line and pegs – the children love helping hanging washing and the latter items have apparently already proved a hit!
A day or two later we took a taxi with Mel, the volunteer coordinator, to see the new building which is currently under construction in a village in the countryside outside Arequipa, with roof views of the volcanoes. The current home is not really big enough for the Casa Hogar family, with 5 babies in one small room, the play area sharing space with the washing line and water tower, and no safe garden space. One of the Tias who is an architect has designed a new, bigger, 3 story building, and construction of the first and second floors has begun. The building will host up to 30 children. Unfortunately the charity has run out of money and needs to raise more before construction can be completed and the children can enjoy more space, in a better designed environment. We are planning some fundraising ourselves this summer.