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!
In Belgium we regularly complain about the bubbles, mouth masks and other corona rules. Not unjustifiably, of course. It has been going on for six months now and everyone is more than fed up with it. We are not used to our freedom being compromised. But… things could be worse.
Peru has the longest lockdown in the world: on 28 August they decided to extend the state of emergency once again until 30 September 2020. The isolated life in which the population now finds itself has been going on for 28 weeks.
There have been eases compared to the first day, but especially on the economic level. On the other hand, all social matters are still closed. So, a nice drink in a pub or a good meal in a restaurant is not yet possible. Moreover, there is still a curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. as early as 8 p.m. in certain regions, such as Curahuasi.
When you swear on that mouth mask that you have to wear while shopping or when you are at work, remember this: in Peru everybody has to wear a mouth mask everywhere, except at home. By everyone they really mean everyone, because babies, toddlers, preschoolers and children have to wear a mouth mask as well.
Unfortunately, that is not all. Children are only allowed to go outside for half an hour a day, 500m from their home and only when accompanied by an adult. No parks, playgrounds, sports, hobbies, excursions,.. nothing. On Sundays everyone MUST stay inside. Even a walk is not allowed.
Although the schools in Belgium have just reopened, the school year in Peru only runs from March to December. This means that the corona crisis and associated lockdown has started when schools were only just starting up. Those who know Peru, know that a school year never starts on the first of March. Schools are still closed and that means that digital education has been in place for 6 months now. However, this is a problem for a large part of the population: only 40% of the houses in Peru and 3.7% of the houses in rural Peru have access to the internet (INEI).
The numbers on child abuse, child pregnancies, domestic violence,… are going up. Together with the COVID deaths of course. The consequences on all levels, emotional, physical and social, will be enormous.
Our team is doing everything that is possible and allowed at the moment and we are already looking forward to (the new) normal. As long as our doors can open again, we are satisfied and will make the best of it!
Would you like to become the godparent of one of these little cuties or the project in general? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help us help!
Feelings about the pandemic are very divided. Everyone experiences it in a different way and the consequences are different for everyone. Some are happy to be able to work from home, while for others it is quite a challenge to suddenly start working with children and without colleagues. One has more work and the other loses his job or sees his company go bankrupt. When we ask our employee Susy how she experiences this pandemic, she describes it as a nightmare from which she hopes to wake up every day.
Susy has been working on the project as a teacher for over five years. She has two adolescent sons, who unfortunately have not been able to finish their studies and are still looking for their way in life. Susy hasn’t had much luck in recent years in the field of health. Although it was never really anything very bad, these small disturbing events have made her very anxious. Also, the last few months she has been very scared. Afraid that something will happen to her and her sons will fall without her support. For four months she stayed in Cconoc, a 20-minute drive from Curahuasi, where she only had contact with the family. At the beginning of July, when home visits were allowed, she went back to work.
What do you like most about the job?
The interaction with the children and seeing their happy faces at the end of class, I think that’s great. Or listening to all their questions when you see them again, haha. That makes it all worth it.
What do you find hardest about the job?
I wouldn’t say it’s hard, but I find the distance from house to house quite exhausting. We visit 10 children a day and some of them live far, or live higher up in the village, which makes it a real climb.
What are you running into?
Because I have given the mothers a lot of confidence, they regularly tell me about their problems and ask me for advice. Sometimes I find that difficult. I try to give them answers to their complaints to increase their self-esteem, but I can’t really help them. I don’t like that feeling, because of course you want to make a difference for them.
What would you like to change on the project?
I wouldn’t change anything. Working with children is the best thing that has happened to me!
What is your favourite moment of your working day?
My favourite moment is when I’m getting ready to go to work, knowing that the children are waiting for me full of impatience and joy. That feeling that I can bring an ounce of happiness into their lives makes me very happy.
How are you coping with the pandemic?
To be honest, I’m having a pretty hard time with it. This pandemic is a disease that’s always present. Day after day. No matter how much I try to forget, it’s still crazy to see people with their mouth masks. It’s a trauma. It’s also very hard to worry about the families I visit every day. It’s like a nightmare from which one wants to wake up quickly.
Woohoo, summer has definitely started now! Although the rain of the past few days made us think differently, we can assure you that the sun will be shining in the coming week! Of course, we are very happy about that, because it means… time for cocktails! To make ourselves completely summer proof, we would like to share the recipe for the best cocktail ever: Pisco Sour!
Pisco Sour is a real Peruvian specialty. Today, however, there is a raging contest between Peruvians and Chileans about the origin of the drink. But most importantly; it’s a delicious cocktail you don’t want to miss! The name already reveals that it includes ‘pisco’, the liqueur that is used as the basis of this drink, and ‘sour’ that refers to the sour lemon juice in which the drink is mixed.
The recipe of the original Pisco Sour is very simple and easy to prepare. There are many variations but we made this recipe several times in Curahuasi and it is delicious!
For one cocktail pour 40 ml Pisco, 20 ml fresh lime juice, 20 ml liquid cane sugar, and the egg white of 1 egg into the blender. You add about 7 ice cubes and then mix everything! Just long enough so that the ice cream is crunched deliciously, but not too long because then you whip the egg too much. For the finishing touch, you can add another three drops of Amargo bitter to the drink.
Would you rather like to have something a little bit more special? Then don’t be sad… there are many variants of the famous classic Pisco Sour! Just think of the Mango Sour, Strawberry Sour, Gin Sour, Whiskey Sour, and even an Avocado Sour! What are we waiting for?!
On the 24th of June, there would have been a spectacular party in Peru. Sadly, COVID-19 threw a spanner in the works. On this day, the annual holiday Inti Raymi is usually celebrated, also called the ‘festival of the sun’. The Incas considered this to be the most important festival of the year. In the first place, one of their most worshipped gods, Inti, is worshipped. Besides, the feast is like ‘New Year’ for them because, from this day onwards, the light hours of the sun start to extend again.
The first Inti Raymi was already celebrated in 1412. During this time, the party lasted 9 days and was filled with colorful dances, processions, and animal sacrifices. They did this to thank Pachamama, the most important god for the indigenous people of the Andean region, and to guarantee a good harvest season.
Like many other Inca religious practices, the holiday was banned in 1536 by the Spanish settlers and their Catholic priests. Fortunately, this special day came back to the surface on June 24 in 1944, when a historical reconstruction of the holiday was organized. Since this day, an annual theatrical representation of Inti Raymi is performed in which various indigenous actors give the best of themselves. This attracts thousands of tourists every year.
For the poorer population, including the families with whom Oye LENA works, it is, unfortunately, more difficult to celebrate this beautiful feast as the many visitors do. When you want to visit the theatrical act at the historical location in Cuzco, the costs can be very high. An entrance ticket for the spectacle is therefore often too expensive for a large part of the people.
A day full of tradition
The ‘modern Inti Raymi’ still uses the traditional colorful costumes including the striking woven Aya Hama masks. Also, the celebrations with music and traditional dance steps are still present. The animal sacrifices, however, are no longer performed on this day.
The holiday ends with a bonfire and a procession where people, in the company of a fictitious Sun King and his wife, return to Cuzco. When they arrive there, the Sun King speaks to the people for the last time.
With regret in the heart, this holiday was canceled because of the coronavirus. Because an enormous number of people gather on this day, this would not be safe and following the measures taken to prevent further spread of the virus. One thing is certain: in 2021, it will be a fabulous edition!
Sara Defoor studied Pedagogical Sciences with a major in Special Education. In August 2015, she came to Oye LENA for the first time to do an internship of 6 months, after which she started working as a volunteer in 2016. Since February 2017, she is coordinator of the classes at Oye Lena and lives in Curahuasi with her Peruvian husband, Eddy Rios Delgado. In 2021, after 4 years, she will return permanently to Belgium. She will continue to support Oye LENA and of course visit the project again regularly. We put her to the test with some difficult questions… Curious?
What do you like most about the job?
“I like working with all the fantastic children and all the love you get from them. It gives you a lot of satisfaction when you know that you mean something to them and that you make a difference for them. Especially when the kids are at Oye LENA; you can really see that they are having fun and that they are learning and feeling good”.
What is the hardest part of the job?
“What I find the most difficult is the constant changing of volunteers. You have to adapt to a new group every few months. Then you have to explain everything all over again and start from scratch, which is a bit tricky sometimes. Besides, you often have to say goodbye to the people who have become your friends. The moment you have started to function as a team, you have to say goodbye again. That’s something I find very difficult myself.”
What’s your biggest blunder?
“I remember that the parents of the children of Oye LENA were at the project to play volleyball together. We were all on the sports field and I was also going to join, even though this is not my strongest asset. When I wanted to serve the ball, it already went wrong. The ball flew straight into the face of our student Belen, who suddenly stood in the middle of the field. Of course she immediately started crying, because she was very frightened. Luckily, there was nothing wrong in the end! This way, the ice broke immediately and it didn’t matter anymore to the parents that they didn’t play fantastic because I had already blundered anyway. Haha!
What else would you like to change on the project?
“More permanent staff to provide more consistency to the children would be very welcome. I think we all want this, but the search is difficult at the moment as there are not that many highly educated people living and wanting to live in Curahuasi. Professionals will always prefer to go to big cities like Cusco or Lima, where they can earn more money. So this will always be a bit of a challenge, unless we find someone with a big heart for the children, the job, and Curahuasi.
Besides that, we also need more classrooms. There are plans to make an extra classroom, so it would be very good if the necessary sponsorship will come. For the children with disabilities, for example, it would be better if they each have their own space to work in. Since it also rains more often than before due to climate change, you can’t sit outside so for this reason, an extra room would also be very nice”.
What’s your favorite moment of your workday?
“I enjoy it so much when I can play with the kids during the break. I think it’s great to see how they are having fun and how they can just be kids. I would recommend volunteering at Oye LENA to anyone!”
Why do you return to Belgium after all these years?
“After all these years of living in Curahausi, I notice that I have started to miss Belgium. Especially my friends and of course my family. Being together during important moments, but also after, for example, a difficult day. In Curahuasi, it is not easy to build lasting friendships. I have already made a lot of friends among the volunteers but they leave at some point and then I have to say goodbye again… Especially on holidays I have a hard time and I prefer to be with my family. Besides, you just have more possibilities in Belgium, life in a village in the Andes is more limited. It is a very difficult decision and I have doubted for a long time, but at the moment this is the right choice. But of course, I won’t let go of Oye LENA and we’ll see how I can continue to support the project from Belgium.
Last week was a very nice week for Oye LENA. Why? Since Monday, Sara and Cristhel are allowed to visit the children of the project to help them with doing homework and other activities. It was the Peruvian state that announced this corona relaxation at the beginning of last week. An update we were of course very happy about!
The lockdown and quarantine in Peru have had an impact on the education of 9.9 million Peruvian students. This because several classes were postponed or even suspended. The children of Oye LENA also felt the consequences of the breakthrough of COVID-19. Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel: the distance learning, which started in April, would soon be gradually replaced by face-to-face lessons. We keep our fingers crossed that this will soon be possible again.
In the meantime, it has been three months since we had to close our project temporarily. Yet we kept busy and did everything we could to keep providing the children with all kinds of materials. Paintings, craft materials, didactic games, and more. Although we were not allowed to guide them in making these assignments, we tried to do our part by providing them with the right supplies.
Besides the learning materials the children received from Oye LENA, they also receive weekly homework from their school. Of course, we encourage this because in this way they can continue to develop themselves and keep themselves busy during the lockdown. Thanks to these teaching materials, we avoid that they fall behind and they can get back to work immediately when the schools open again.
However, it is not always easy for children to do this homework on their own without any guidance from teachers. They often receive new learning materials which they then have to teach themselves. This is of course not obvious and very hard for them. The schools also expect the children to have access to platforms such as radio, television, and the internet. If you know that only 39% of households in the whole country have access to the internet and only 5% in rural areas, then you understand that this is often impossible for our children. Many of our parents have little or no education of their own and therefore find it difficult to help their children.
Fortunately, we received good news last week: since Monday, a teacher is allowed to visit the children to guide them. Whether the local schools will do this is not yet clear, but Sara and Cristhel immediately flew in. Last week they already visited the children who need our help the most: the pupils of the primary school get homework support and some pupils with disabilities get physiotherapy. When there is still time left, our workers also visit the toddlers to continue the playful learning.
We are very happy with this relaxation and hope that in this way, the step to the reopening of the project will get closer and closer!