Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Volunteers that come into organizations that work with poor communities, like Flora Tristán, will always have preconceptions. They may be positive, like the desire to fix perceived problems and change the world, or they may be negative, like taking pity on a community because of their economic status.

When faced with new cultural and socioeconomic realities, these preconceptions unconsciously guide our understanding of the communities we are trying to help. We understand the situation within our own framework of judgements or ambitions, and this blinds us to the true nature of the world.

When I began my first experience as a teacher with HOOP, I saw my class as a group of students. I gave lessons about English to a group of students and they learned as a group of students. As my understanding of them as individuals grows, so too does my understanding of Flora Tristán – it is no longer just a dusty town with underprivileged families. It is a beautiful community, full of curious minds and kind hearts. Preconceptions of the developing world prevent outsiders from seeing the individual greatness that thrives within this world.

Ruth playing with the local wildlife

No matter where you go, children have similar traits: curious, social, energetic and unsure about the world but eager to learn. I see my students do things that I remember from my own childhood, 4,000 miles and a decade apart. This week in class, one of my students, Gianpier, drew a heart on the table with the names of another student and a volunteer inside: “Jharol + Elizabeth”. I had to scold him for writing on the table, but I couldn’t help but smile on the inside.

Gianpier and Joel David exploring my phone

On another day, two girls were fascinated by a beetle they found on the ground before class. We had a fun lesson about beetles – what they eat, their diversity, whether or not they could eat a dog – but I walked away with a striking realization: as I was teaching them about them biology, I was also being taught the Spanish words for beetle, plants, dead things, and more.

My own preconceptions as a college-educated teacher from the United States blinded me from realizing how much these children have to offer. Although it is slightly cliché, they teach me just as much as I teach them.

Simple, everyday events like these remind me that these children are individuals with their own interests, motivations and experiences. As I learn more and more about the realities of the so-called “developing world”, my preconceptions are being revealed as misconceptions.


Written by HOOP Peru Volunteer Lead Teacher David Accame

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