An eventful week in Arequipa saw Mother´s Day on Sunday and a school excursion to the zoo on Saturday. In the weeks leading up to Mother´s Day, companies put up billboards and advertisements loudly reminding us of all we owe our mothers and to show our love by buying their cell phones. Children even received a day off from school. Commercialism aside, Mother´s Day is an extremely important holiday here in Arequipa.
In Flora Tristán, mothers raise their children nearly single-handedly. Most of the fathers of our students are miners and leave home to work for weeks at a time. When they come home they can be found on corners and in front of their houses, drinking. The mothers are left to cook, clean, impart moral guidance, and generally raise the children on their own. Some even have jobs outside of their many activities in the home. Many of the mothers of the students in Butterfly class, ages 3-6, take courses while their children are with HOOP. They take personal finance, health, and English to try to improve the lives of their families.
Because of their immense responsibilities, the mothers are greatly respected as pillars of the community. They are kind, caring, and tough as nails.
At the zoo excursion, one of the mothers brought me and another volunteer lunch. A kind gesture to be sure, but it is made all the more thoughtful when she has five children at the zoo with us who need to be fed as well. Even more touching were the extra plates she made for two other volunteers who came by just to say hello.
The kindness is balanced by their tough love. The approach to child rearing in Flora Tristán can seem cold to us Westerners at times. Jodi, a volunteer with the Butterfly class, told me about a time when one of her students tripped and fell in class. As he was crying, Jodi scooped him up and brought him over to the group of mothers that wait nearby. She hesitated as she approached, since none of them seemed to react to the bawling toddler. She let the child walk to his mother, who put a hand on his head and quieted the crying. Jodi was amazed at this reaction: when confronted with an upset child, even when we know they are not hurt, our first reaction is to comfort. This mother, and most of the mothers of Flora Tristán, toughen their kids up from a young age.
The mothers of this community are challenged with the near-impossible task of raising large families by themselves and they succeed with a gentle smile on their faces. We are proud to work alongside them, and they deserve all the credit they get.
Written by HOOP Peru Volunteer Lead Teacher David Accame
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