The mission of Manos Unidas International (MUI) is to build disability inclusive communities across the Americas through innovative education, technology and advocacy tools. Ayllu was specifically designed to create broad systematic change to the learning outcomes and community participation of children with developmental disabilities across Spanish speaking communities. Ayllu aims to improve access to evidence-based information, training and advocacy tools for families and educators working with developmentally disabled children through a virtual education platform.
Morgan led Ayllu’s first pilot with educators at Oye LENA. She worked with our teachers who interacted with students who have developmental disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Each week, our teachers used Ayllu’s virtual education platform to complete a new module that taught best strategies for working with children with developmental disabilities. These modules included an educational video, real world examples of the strategies being implemented, pre/post exams and a homework assignment to try the strategy in the classroom with their students. Our teachers have learned how to create visual schedules, plan activities, foster productive learning environments, among many others. It has been great to see the impact this education platform has had on our teachers and students and we cannot wait to see what the future brings for Ayllu.
When asked about her time at Oye LENA, Morgan said “Working at Oye LENA has been an incredible experience. All the teachers are so passionate about creating incredible learning environments for their students and are committed to the success of each and every child at the school. The special children, in particular, are given incredible support and opportunities to learn. The individual attention each special child receives is truly a gift. I have learned so much from everyone at Oye LENA. Both the teachers and students have been so welcoming that Oye LENA now feels like a second home. I cannot wait to return again and to see what the future has in store for Oye Lena and the amazing people that make the school a community.”If you are interested in learning more about Ayllu check out https://www.aylluglobal.com/!
In Oye LENA my day consists of two parts. In the morning I support the children with disabilities. In the afternoon, I teach the elementary school children. I help them with math and communication. And recently, I also started giving ‘sex education’ lessons to our primary and secondary school children.
What does it mean for you to work at Oye LENA?
I find it very enriching that Oye LENA promotes inclusion, both among students and staff. It is a great experience because I have found a place where I can learn, discover and develop the skills I possess.
I also notice that our children with disabilities have succeeded in developing empathy and resilience. Two important values for adapting to life. They have learned to accept themselves as they are. They are happy at Oye LENA.
What do you find most difficult about your job?
There are times when it is difficult to communicate with our children with a disability. Though, it’s something I’m overcoming little by little. Every child has a special story and in order to help them, it is essential that we understand them. An additional challenge is that not all children attend consistently. Due to (family) circumstances they are sometimes absent for a while and this can disrupt or limit their further development.
What is your favourite moment of the day?
A wonderful moment is when the children smile. Those smiles motivate me as a teacher to give myself 100 percent, over and over again. They teach me patience and empathy and make me realize that, despite the difficulties, life is full of happiness.
In the first years, it was only possible for the elementary school children to come to Oye LENA on Fridays for a game afternoon. They were also welcomed during birthday parties for presents and lots of goodies.
In 2016, we decided to change this and made sure that it was poSsible for them to join us for all kinds of activities during the vacations as well. At the end of 2017, when we noticed that some 5th grade students still could not read well, we decided that we had to do more! From then on, they came twice a week for homework support. Fridays were kept for fun activities. In November 2020, we were surprised by how much they were lagging behind because of the strict (8-month) quarantine and adjusted our operation so that there was room for all students every day.
OWN (OYE LENA) METHOD “learning to read”
The students who started their first year of education during the Corona year (school year runs from March to December) were not yet able to read words or solve sums to 5 at the end of the school year. To catch up, we immediately started intensive classes to teach them to read and count. In the absence of solid material, both in Peru and online, Sara and Stefanie worked together on a method to learn to read quickly and enjoyable. This became a great success because the group of the first grade can now read and count well. Meanwhile, a second corona school year started and so there was a new group of ‘first graders’ who are also well advanced in their reading education and who continue to work enthusiastically.
NEW workshops & sports activities
With the new teachers we decided that, in addition to the extra attention to mathematics and language, we can offer even more. This in the form of workshops. Every Friday we offer a number of workshops: First Aid, cooking/baking, knitting/crocheting, making natural products, safe internet, etc. Since recently, we also offer soccer training twice a week and volleyball training. The soccer training is given by Cristhel’s brother, Jorge. He comes to Oye LENA every Tuesday and Thursday to train our gang.
In the course of this summer we welcomed 4 new managers at Oye LENA: Jacqueline, Kaat, Charlotte and Sharon (from left to right). They all have one thing in common, a big heart for children. They also have their own unique talents. Read on to find out more.
MEET CHARLOTTE D’HALEWIN.
“I am mom to a beautiful almost 7-year-old daughter, Ella. I am grateful for the family I grew up in and in life I follow my heart. By training I am a psychologist and for over 10 years I have owned my own business. For the last 5 years I have supported business leaders to be motivational leaders. So that they, in turn, could create a workplace that people were happy to get out of bed for. Since the beginning of July I have been in Curahuasi and will stay until the end of May 2022.
Charlotte, how did you end up working at Oye LENA? I had just returned from Spain, where I stayed for 6 months, and saw a vacancy for a volunteer manager for an educational project in Peru. I immediately knew that this was the next step for me.
What is your function within this organization? Initially, I am responsible for the team of volunteers. My role is to make sure that they are well taken care of, that they feel good about being here and that they contribute in a meaningful way to the project. In addition, I am also responsible for expanding the awareness of Oye LENA and attracting new sponsors and partners. And for now, I am also teaching English to some of our children here.
You have been staying here for a few months now, what moment do you look back on with a smile? My heart fills with warmth when I think back of the many hugs I have received from the children here. Then you feel the gratitude and know that you are doing something beautiful and important.
READ HERE WHO JACQUELINE CROUGHS IS
“I am Jacqueline and I am from the Netherlands. I am married to Léon and together we have three, by now grown-up, children. This year, for the first time, I became the (proud) grandmother of a beautiful granddaughter. Since I was 20 years old I have been working in education, mainly with children between 4 and 10 years old. I will stay here at the project until May or June 2022. Then I will be working here for 9 to 10 months.”
What made you choose to volunteer at Oye LENA? About 1.5 years ago I saw an ad on Facebook asking for private classes for two children of the founders (Stefanie and Gilder) in the morning and help on the project in the afternoon. The chance to live in Peru for a longer period of time and get to know the customs of the country. Learning to speak the Spanish language, which I had been trying to master for some time. All this combined with working with underprivileged children made the picture complete for me. At that time Corona put a stop to it, but fortunately postponement did not turn into cancellation.
Within the organization you have your own responsibility, can you tell us a bit more about that? My biggest responsibility here is to give good lessons to the three Belgian children (Stefanie & Gilder’s children together with Charlotte’s daughter) so that when they return to Belgium they can join their group again. In the afternoon I help to organize the activities for the toddlers.
What is the highlight of your day? The highlight of my day is always when I, even if it is only one child, have been able to make them happy and/or have helped them in their development! To see the smile of a child, when he or she discovers that “something” has succeeded, discovers that he or she can do something….. that is wonderful!
ANOTHER COORDINATOR AT OYE LENA IS KAATTHYS
I am Kaat Thys, 22 years old and I come from Kalmthout. In my spare time I’ve always danced and was in the yought movement . This is where my love for children comes from. I found my passion during my education Orthopedagogy; the passion of working with young people with a mental disability. (Orthopedagogy refers to the science of education, the purpose of which is to support people in need of guidance.) My final internship I spent at Oye LENA. Because of the pandemic I had to finish it early and this felt like an unfinished story.
So you stayed at Oye LENA before, what made you return to Curahuasi? I think it is a wonderful project and feel that my presence here can be a real added value. This is for Oye LENA itself, as well as for the children. Especially with the experience that I have gained in the field, I decided to return!
What are your tasks within Oye LENA? I am responsible for the children with special needs. From children with Down’s syndrome, autism to children with multiple disabilities,…I also offer support to the other teachers and ensure that the administration is maintained. In the afternoon I give lessons to the smallest toddlers, including sports and individual counseling.
What do you, while working with the children, get the most satisfaction from? This pleasure I get mostly from working with the special students. The bond we build with them is indescribable. When they have acheived a new goal or had a fun day, my day can’t go wrong. Also when they trust you and therefore dare to push their limits, I am very happy.
SHARON JOINED THE TEAM AS THE LAST COORDINATOR
You love to travel. Did your love for travelling bring you to Oye LENA? I am 25 years old now and in the past years I have had the opportunity to discover many countries such as Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Argentina, Brazil and now Peru. I love to travel, but I love even more to step out of my comfort zone. In my opinion, you can travel anywhere. You just have to be open to contact with the locals, the customs and culture with then, the risk of falling hopelessly in love with the country and the resilience of the people there. In addition, you also learn a lot about yourself on such trips. In Brazil I learned that being part of and contributing to the growth of children is the most beautiful thing there is. By training I am a criminologist and I believe that education is the strongest weapon for change there is. It is this curiosity about the local culture and my passion for education that drove me to get involved in Oye LENA.
What will you be responsible for in the organization over the next 10 months? Within Oye LENA, I will be the person responsible for the elementary school children for 10 months. Here the focus will be on giving English lessons for the beginners and more advanced students. In addition, we will also work on a course that the people in charge and volunteers after me can use with plenty of tips & tricks. In addition, I will also help develop the workshops around sexual education, first aid, self-confidence, etc.
What are you looking forward to the most now that you are here? In the past I have been working at a great project in Brazil. Here at Oye LENA I expect to expand my knowledge of “starting projects and keeping them running” even further. All this in order to hopefully start a project myself in the future. Of my time in Peru I mainly expect to see the children grow, because that is the most beautiful thing. Discovering the diversity and beauty of the local culture, and with a new experience richer, I’m ready for the next adventure.
Every year we are looking for 4 new coordinators.
Would you like to replace us? Starting in March, we would like to welcome you. Send an email to email@example.com for more information.
In September 2016, you did your internship at Oye LENA. You worked on a project where we were doing co-teaching with teachers in two mountain villages outside of Curahuasi. It took some time to figure things out, but the result was fantastic. Till Corona, this project continued.
In 2019, I was forced to stay in Belgium for a year and the organization of the project fell mostly on your shoulders. I realized more than ever what you meant for me. What you meant for Oye LENA. Unfortunately, the pressure of the project became sometimes a lot for you to bear. The problems of our students and their families are huge. Domestic violence, child abuse, child neglect, poverty and its consequences are our daily reality. This weighs on us and too often we forget ourselves in the process of helping others.
You then made a difficult, but wise decision. You felt it was time to return to Belgium, ready for a new phase in your life. Still supporting Oye LENA, but now from Belgium, surrounded by your loved ones. That you would wait for me to return was the best gift you could ever give me and Oye LENA. However, fate decided differently, because even before I could return safe and sound, a new obstacle came our way: corona. What was that? Something unknown, unpredictable and uncontrollable. From one day to the next, all the volunteers left and you were the only one left who wasn’t Peruvian.
You felt abandoned, alone and again I stood on the other side of the world watching helplessly. All I could do was encourage you and help you as much as possible. Once AGAIN I was so glad that you had stayed. And you did that wonderfully. Many projects in the world had been stopped, but not Oye LENA and that was only possible because of you.
From day one, you, along with some staff members who also had the courage to work in these bizarre times, went to distribute food packages. But for our families, you were much more than just the one who delivered the food. You were the person they could go to in a world full of panic. After a few months, home visits were allowed and you went for that too with great dedication. Maybe even too much dedication. You had the feeling that it was never enough and you passed yourself by. You were livid about the rules that were imposed (including that children were not allowed outside for a WHOLE DAY) and you knew that Oye LENA was the only bright spot in their day.
In November 2020, after a year and a half, I was finally able to return to Peru and just then we were allowed to teach again at the project. The ideal timing. This time I was the one with more energy, but that didn’t matter. We were both so relieved to see those happy faces again every day ! The municipality did not make it easy for us and our schedule really changed every week. But each time we sat together to make it happen.
Many new staff members started and stopped, and Peruvian volunteers came and went, but we had each other and could turn to each other. Together we – sometimes literally – yelled at the Peruvian education system and then boldly developed our own reading method. Again, we were complementary and I am SO PROUD of what we accomplished together and no one will ever take that away from us.
Sara, you have given your all for the children and families of Oye LENA and you have grown into a wonderful orthopedagogue, a wonderful friend and a wonderful woman. I am sure you will achieve many great things in your life, but for now take some time for yourself and enjoy your family and friends.
When physiotherapist Cesar moved to Curahuasi in April to work at Oye LENA, he left his girlfriend Lorena Lazo behind in Cusco. It soon became clear that this back and forth commute was not an easy one, so Lorena went looking for a job as a dentist in Curahuasi. Unfortunately, she returned from her search empty-handed. During a visit to Oye LENA it immediately clicked with Stefanie and it quickly became clear that Lorena, in addition to her degree in orthodontics, has many other talents. She is very good with children, she has a sister, Ximena, with Down’s syndrome and experience with children with disabilities, art is her passion, she is very committed to nature, she even has her own mini-company of ecological (plastic-free) products and strives together with Cesar in Cusco for the implementation of bicycle paths and wants, like the whole team, to make the world a little better. A few weeks later she became part of our team and now gives creative art lessons to all target groups (preschool, elementary school & children with disabilities). An asset to the team!
Lorena, how did you end up at Oye LENA?
I realized that routine gets boring to me quickly. I have many skills and would like to be able to use them all. Here I get the chance to further discover myself and my life path. When I knew the mission of Oye LENA I was immediately sold. The theme of inclusion and the way education is approached really appeals to me. It shows that learning and development can be both meaningful and FUN. The care for the environment and the people and the beautiful place where we can work every day. Being part of this project is a dream come true for me. I also believe that any child or adult who gets the chance to be here will experience it that way.
What does it mean to you to work at Oye LENA?
It is nice to know that here we are guiding children on their path to adulthood. Adults with a beautiful life mission who believe in their dreams. People who know that the most important thing in life is to be happy. My wish is that I can teach them to have fun and have empathy for all living beings. That they may experience much love in their lives and decide for themselves who they want to be.
What do you find most difficult about the job?
From time to time it’s complicated trying to get the kids together to do an activity, especially in the playground when we do sports, but I know that it’s part of growing up being curious and wanting to do many things, that this way they are also learning, and they are happy when they do it.
What is your favorite time of your working day?
I love the hours I do art with the older kids, it’s nice to see how children have so much creativity and can express it in different ways, like on paper, cardboard or plasticine. Exploring with different materials, they know they can create incredible things. That healthy competition they generate for wanting to get something unique is beautiful to appreciate, you learn a lot from that.
Since April, a Peruvian physiotherapist, Cesar Juarez Fernandez Baca, from Cusco has been working at Oye LENA. He will take over the physiotherapy and sports classes at Oye LENA for one year. Hopefully the lovely smiles of our kids will convince him to stay longer. 😉
Cesar, what does your job at Oye LENA entail?
My work at Oye LENA consists of giving physiotherapy to the children with disabilities. Sessions to improve and maintain physical skills. Also, my job is to help the other children, preschoolers & elementary school children, to play sports in a safe and fun way. Because of my experience as a lifeguard, I soon got an additional task: supervisor for health and safety at work.
The nice thing is that soccer and cycling are my passions and I can practice both with the children here at the project. In addition, I would like to start a vegetable garden, because I also have some knowledge of that and the love of nature I would like to pass on to the children.
Why did you start at Oye LENA?
I chose Oye LENA because I have always believed that education is the basis of good health. This education project does not depend on the state to develop its activities and that gives us a lot of freedom. Here I get the opportunity to share my knowledge, not only practical, but also theoretical, with children who otherwise might never have access to it. What I love at Oye LENA is the great commitment of the team to improve the quality of what we do and the way we do it, every time again.
What makes you most happy in your work?
I really enjoy working with people with disabilities. We help children at Oye LENA who don’t have the same opportunities as others in the city and I love that. This is where I get my motivation and joy from every day. Together with the team I hope to contribute to the personal development of all the children here.
Cristhel has been working as a teacher at the project for 2,5 years. Before the pandemic, she worked in the morning with the children with disabilities and in the afternoon with the older kids. At the start of the pandemic, when we had to close the project, her tasks were adjusted. She did the shopping and made food packages, but she also developed didactic material for the children to work with at home.
In a later phase, home visits were added. In the full sun, on the ground, on the sidewalk, everywhere she helped the children with their homework. Since November she continues this work, but in the shadow of our ‘casita’. Our oldest students return to the project in two groups: one part in the morning and one part in the afternoon. Unfortunately, they receive homework from school that is often above their level. Cristhel has her hands full helping them and boosting their self-confidence. Despite the grief that the pandemic has caused, also in her family, she continues to work in good faith.
What do you like most about the job?
I really like that we always work outside, in contact with nature. Working with children fascinates me and has taught me a lot in recent years.
What do you find hardest about the job?
The hardest part is gaining the trust of each child. You have to approach each child in a different way. They are each so different.
What are you running into?
What worries me the most are the children’s problems at home. We can guide them, but we cannot take away their problems.
What would you like to change on the project?
It would be great to reach even more families. Many families in Curahuasi could use the help Oye LENA gives to the children.
What is your favorite moment of your working day?
My favorite moment is, when we are “relaxing” during playtime and children come up to me to talk. I love that they have the confidence to talk to me about any subject.
How are you coping with the pandemic?
I think we are all trying to deal with this pandemic as best we can. It was difficult at first, but I have become calmer. I realize now that this will last much longer than we originally thought. I don’t believe that everything will go back to “normal” as before. I think it is best to adapt to the situations we have to live in.
Aah, I am frustrated again! It is the end of March and so the school year has started. Because starting on the official 1 March, like we start on 1 September, is not something we (read: the national schools) do.
The past school year, from March to December, in Peru they only taught digital lessons. As I already mentioned, a farce. Children from the first year could not read a word in November and most of the others had gone backwards.
From November, we all worked very hard to make up for the damage and we saw our pupils making progress and growing. What a happy feeling this gave me. Our ‘first graders’ learned to read… with a method that Sara and I developed together. A lot of work, but what a satisfaction. WONDERFUL.
But so, I’m frustrated. Why is that? Because the school year has started again and because it is digital again and because few teachers in Curahuasi take this seriously. Four of the five new ‘first graders’ who have to learn to read this school year are in a class together at a national school and got a workbook from their teacher of about 70 pages. Assignment: hand it in completed by June. WHAT! That is her contribution to the education of her pupils? Giving a workbook and correcting it after 3 months?
And what kind of work bundle?! I had already seen it in a bookshop in town for 4 Euros. I leafed through it and thought: ‘Oh no, what a bad bundle, we can’t do anything with it’. My kids now have to make the same bundle for their teacher.
Language: each worksheet one new letter with exercises that are far too difficult. Ah yes, because after one worksheet the letter is known, isn’t it? Maths: A few acceptable worksheets, but after 10 worksheets the first sums start; immediately to 20 and WITH the ‘bridge over ten’. Hello, ever heard of automating sums to 10? Writing: First page: copying the letter ‘a’. Good. Second page: copying long sentences. HUH? Where did the other letters go to?
UGH. My students were already frustrated on day one. SO WE ARE NOT GOING TO DO THAT. We’re going to teach these boys and girls to read, write and count in a nice way and in June we’ll bring in that stupid bundle filled in. Even if I have to fill it in myself. By the way, this was very common last year, to have parents, or older brothers and sisters, cousins and friends do your homework. You just have to hand it in, don’t you? Where is the motivation?
It actually started yesterday evening. At 18h we got a phone call. The father of Wilfredo (14y), Alberto (12y), Jhon (8y), Rodrigo (6y) and Jhordy (3y) tested positive for corona. Alberto did not come to the project that day, because he had a headache. Oh no! What if Alberto also has corona? Or one of his brothers? Each of our teachers has worked with one of them. In small groups, with a mouth mask and outside. But still.
I call a doctor at Diospi hospital. We can go to the hospital the next day, Friday, at 7.30 a.m. to have our staff and the 5 boys tested. Thank goodness! It is quiet in the hospital, because the quarantine rules prevent the patients, who normally travel here from all over the country for treatment, from getting there.
Of the thirteen tests that were taken, (fortunately only) two were positive. Of the two eldest sons, Wilfredo and Alberto. This hits hard. Alberto held strong for a long time, but after a while the tears came. He is scared. On Peruvian television they do a lot of scare tactics. It is terrible not to be able to give him a hug. My mother’s heart breaks.
I talk to the mother; I tell her she cannot go to work even though her test was negative. The whole family has to go into quarantine together. Now the mother also starts to cry. They have no money and she doesn’t know how she will get food for the next few days. My heart breaks again. We promise we won’t let them down.
Then we have the dad come for a check-up, because he has a headache, muscle aches, diarrhoea and he has to vomit. Their strong dad looks very weak. Fortunately, he can continue his treatment at home. We buy some more medicine to keep all the complaints under control and then we leave for home. All teachers will be tested again on Monday, just to be sure.
Even though this is, strictly speaking, not the objective of our project, at times like these we do not hesitate to support our families where necessary and where we can! We keep our fingers crossed for a speedy recovery for Alberto, Wilfredo and his dad!
Diospi Suyana has been supporting the project for years, with every emergency, we can go to them and they take care of the biggest costs. Also this time again. All tests were paid for by them. We are very grateful for this much needed support!