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Saturday, 05 July 2008

Consider a Working Holiday in Peru

Written by Mary Julkowski
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Consider a Working Holiday in Peru, volunteer, non-profit organization, Peru’s Challenge, taught English and Art classes, volunteer peru, volunteer abroad, PumamarcaCusco was considered by the Ancient Incas to be the navel of the world, and served as the capital of their empire. With Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and recently named one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, nearby the tourism industry is booming. Thanks to a citywide ban on all foreign, corporate restaurant and retail chains (such as McDonald’s and Starbucks), visitors are encouraged to eat and shop from locally run businesses. Tourists can appreciate the fact that they are making an impact on the local economy and enjoy spending time in a city that, without the standard signs of globalization, feels a bit off the beaten path.

While a growing tourism industry is a welcomed sign of change for Peru, the prosperity is not well distributed and many Peruvians live in extreme poverty. In Cusco the underemployment rate is 74% and the average life expectancy is only 41 years. Chronic malnutrition for Peru’s children stands at 20%, but is estimated to be 43% in Cusco’s provincial region. There is only one doctor for every 1,300 people in Peru, mostly in urban areas, restricting healthcare for Peru’s rural communities. About half of all Peruvians live on less than $2 per day.

Although these statistics sound severe, they in no way define the Peruvians’ spirit or their future. Pumamarca, a rural village 40 minutes from the centre of Cusco, is a great example of how a community has worked hard together to change their present situation and learn how to create a future with more opportunities for their children.

Consider a Working Holiday in Peru, volunteer, non-profit organization, Peru’s Challenge, taught English and Art classes, volunteer peru, volunteer abroad, PumamarcaI spent two months this summer working as a volunteer for the non-profit organization Peru’s Challenge. Started in 2003 by Australian Jane Gavel and Peruvian Selvy Ugaz, the organization works at providing education, health care and a safe environment for children living in extreme poverty. They choose communities to work with that agree to put in as much time and effort as Peru’s Challenge does, and are also willing to learn new things to keep improving their lives.

Peru’s Challenge uses sustainable development methods with both their donated resources and their volunteer workers. They establish educational and health development programs, teach the community members how to run these programs independently, and network within Cusco to help maintain resources for the community. Peru’s Challenge has helped build an elementary school for 140 students and is currently organizing a medial clinic for Pumamarca.

Consider a Working Holiday in Peru, volunteer, non-profit organization, Peru’s Challenge, taught English and Art classes, volunteer peru, volunteer abroad, PumamarcaAs a volunteer with Peru’s Challenge I taught English and Art classes, helped with construction projects and became very interested in the mothers’ workshop group. Talleres, the Spanish word for “workshop,” is held three times a week for women and is a place for them to learn new skills, make friends, build community spirit and help supplement their family’s income. Pumamarca is primarily a farming community, thus often leaving any family’s income at the mercy of weather or other factors out of their control. At talleres, the women learn how to knit, crochet, paint, weave, and make jewelry and greeting cards that are sold at bi-monthly exhibitions. They love developing new products with the volunteers and are rightly very proud of the things they make.


Consider a Working Holiday in Peru, volunteer, non-profit organization, Peru’s Challenge, taught English and Art classes, volunteer peru, volunteer abroad, PumamarcaI decided to help with a website project for the talleres group on which they can sell their items online, with the goal of the group eventually conducting its business independently of Peru’s Challenge. As part of developing the website, I interviewed several of the women about their desire to get involved. I received the same answer from every woman I talked to: their family incomes were unstable, and they wished to help their family financially. They hope that their children will have the opportunity to go to high school and university, opportunities none of them had while growing up.

The children in Pumamarca are really the heart of Peru’s Challenge and were my biggest inspiration. They literally greet the volunteers with hugs and kisses every day, are extremely curious about what the volunteers are doing and try to get involved and learn as much as they can. They are also the hardest working children I’ve ever encountered in my life. During my first day of volunteer work, I had to take a short break from digging holes, where we were to plant flowers, because I hadn’t yet acclimatized to doing hard labor at an altitude of 4000 meters. A young boy came up to me, asked me why I wasn’t working, and then took my shovel and did my job for me! Everyone in Pumamarca has witnessed and experienced the improvements being made, and they really understand just how much hard work is an essential component of success.

Peru really is one of the most special places a traveler can choose to visit. Peru’s Challenge offers a very comprehensive experience by including tours to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, bi-weekly Spanish lessons, comfortable accommodation and a support system that makes volunteering with them a unique and satisfying travel experience. Volunteering with Peru’s Challenge is the most rewarding kind of working holiday that exists in today’s travel world.

©Mary Julkowski

I would be happy to provide more information, answer questions or receive comments at maryjulkowski [at] gmail.com. More information about Peru’s Challenge can be found at www.peruschallenge.com

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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