Volunteering just as HOOP kicks off

I’m kind of proud to say “I was there at
the very beginning”; when HOOP started, I saw all the hard work that Priya,
Julia, Teresa, Li and Carmen had put into this incredible project and how
determined they were to set up something sustainable that could really help the
Flora Tristan community and I was so proud to be a part of that, so much so I
really didn’t want to leave, unfortunately a flight and job commitments forced
me to!

I first arrived in Arequipa after 3 and a
half months of travelling all over the South American continent slightly
exhausted and in real need of food that wasn’t Bolivian; there is only so much
overcooked trout a person can eat. It was such a relief to be in a real house
again and to be able to unpack my bag for the first time in months (only a few
dead bugs in there).

I was told I was going to be teaching class
four, the tinies who loved to sing and play. Perfect for me as singing and
playing are right up my street! I had no idea really what to expect. Used to
the gringo haunts of well known traveller routes and the comparative wealth of
the southern countries (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay etc) it was a shock when I
got on the tiniest bus in the world packed full of smells, skirts and sweaty
men. After ten minutes of standing in a bus that no one over 5’5 could fit in I
asked Julia how much further there was to go “oh about 40 minutes from here”
was the response. I guess that’s when I realised how far from the city the
communities spread and I could start to gauge what the situation was like at
Flora Tristan.

When we eventually arrived at the school,
more shock, I don’t know how I’d imagined it but it seemed both the same and
different. It’s hard to explain. What I do know is that through the time I
worked there I learnt to love the school itself. Its colourful walls and pretty
pictures, the pictures the class drew that we stuck up on the walls. Both the
children and I were proud of our work and it was lovely to see it there every
day; evidence of the fun we’d had and the things we learnt.

Class four was the perfect class for me.
When I first arrived there would be different students every day, arriving at
different times and ranging in size from 20 plus students a day to five or
eight. By the end of my time teaching we’d achieved a certain level of
regularity, students arrived (more or less) on time and we even got to move to
a bigger classroom so we could all fit in.

When I started discipline was a big issue;
when you have teachers coming and going it’s difficult to establish fixed rules
and a respectful relationship between pupils and teachers. It’s one of the
things HOOP is really working on and I think they are taking huge steps in the
right direction! We worked hard on our classroom rules and gradually the class
became used to me and my ways! I know that attendance, discipline, recruiting for  long term volunteers, working with professional teachers, and implementing strong evaluation methods are all solid objectives for HOOP in making the school better and better. 

During my time at HOOP Teresa and Veronica
along with Teresa’s cousin worked really hard on updating and renewing the
curriculum so it was age specific and more relevant to the children. The new
curriculum for class four is brilliant and so much fun. With the prospect of
Dinosaurs and Pirates lesson planning is more fun than a chore. We also
re-evaluated our classes and moved our best students up a level; this meant the
classes were much easier to teach (mainly for me I think as I now had a much
more manageable class size!).

I won’t ever forget my lovely class and
their bright smiles; sneaky ways of making me give them the nice pencils to
colour in with and their incredible interest in some of the oddest things. (I
was frequently asked if it snowed in “my country”).  There will always be bad days, days when you
can’t control the class or when someone is misbehaving and distracting others
but they are always overshadowed by those bright days, when you all stand up
and sing “I’m being eaten by a Boa Constrictor” at the top of your lungs,
complete with actions and a sea of bodies on the floor pretending to be eaten
by a giant snake.

I loved my time at HOOP so much I stayed
until I physically had to leave (even if it meant 80 hours solid bus travel and
a few flights to get to my flight home on time!). The HOOPers were brilliant
and we had many a fun time in our favourite haunts (Wild Rover, Déjà Vu…).
There were some great meals together (Teresa’s family’s Strudel was amazing) and
many a youtube session of appallingly great songs from the 90’s as well as some
of our reggaeton favourites.  And I have
to mention Mister Fish because all HOOPers must visit at least once – after
Flora Tristan School it’s the best place ever! If you ever feel like you want to travel to
Peru/South America and want to work for something real, that aims to help and
develop an impoverished community I can do nothing better than recommend HOOP.
I was there when it started and I know their goals and how committed they are.
The HOOP team have given so much to getting this organisation going and going
in the right direction. I also know how hard it is to find an organisation you
can trust and you can most definitely trust HOOP. Its run from Arequipa by a
team that are there present and aware of everything going on, a team who are
dedicated to their project; it’s incredible and I am so happy and proud to have
been and continue to be a part of it.

HOOP out!
Lucy James 

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