Teacher Misha at HOOP school, Arequipa

My return to HOOP: How have things changed?

We have been lucky to have Misha Zala from the UK volunteering with us not once, but twice! A lot has happened at HOOP since she first volunteered in April 2015. So we asked for her perspective on how things have changed since her first time round.

Jumping off the combi in Flora Tristan through a cloud of dust, I was seriously excited to see the children. I wondered how similar or different our little school would be, whether my old children would remember me and I was filled with anticipation.

Last year, I had an amazing time volunteering with HOOP. I wasn’t ready to leave after just two and a half months, but I wasn’t able to stay longer. So, I began plotting my return! It turns out I’m still head over heels for HOOP. Five weeks in, I’ve settled back into HOOP life. But nine months on, from the perspective of a repeat volunteer, how much have we grown and changed?

Back in April 2015, HOOP was in a transition period. We had just moved all our classes to the school we are now renting – but there was an awful lot of work to do before classes started!

We had to move all our resources from a dusty storage shed, organise the student enrollment, paint the school… the paint splatters still decorate my walking boots! It was difficult at times, as we didn’t have enough volunteers at the beginning, so we had to be flexible. On the first day of school, I remember teaching my Koala class surrounded by cardboard boxes and stray dogs!

Painting the English School in Arequipa, Peru
Philipp, Oliver, Misha, Amina and Silvia painting the school in April 2015

Fast forward to now and our school might seem pretty similar… we still have 115 incredible children. We still have countless coloured pencils and a lack of paper plates for crafts! We still have our six classes, plus Manatee too! And now we’ve got so many volunteers it’s hard to squeeze us around one table for a meeting!

But it’s clear that our children are making excellent progress in English. It’s so rewarding to see the progress made by children I taught last year, and it’s been lovely getting to know new children too. I’m so impressed with how much our children like practising their English both inside and outside the classroom – us volunteers are escorted to the bus every evening by several older boys who love chatting to us!

Of the most exciting ways HOOP has developed is through our social work and psychological programmes with the mothers. Last year our social worker Silvia and I arrived in the same week, and it’s clear that the work her team has done in that year is truly wonderful. I am amazed at how confident our mums are, how much they trust each other and how well they are working together.

The mothers are fully involved in HOOP, they receive regular workshops, and they help with school events. For our Festival de Sabores our mums made delicious traditional food in groups for everyone to taste – something I couldn’t have imagined them doing one year ago!

HOOP food festival Arequipa
Karol, Misha and Mike at the HOOP ‘Festival de Sabores’

I’m also really pleased with how the art class I started has continued to become a popular and well-run program with a proper curriculum. The rotating six-week Saturday club has also been a great success, from creative writing to hands-on science experiments. It’s great to use the skills of our interns and staff to broaden the horizons of our children through extracurricular activities.

We are a school and we’ll never lose sight of that, but the bigger HOOP grows, the more we’re able to do within the community outside of teaching English. The magnetic pull of HOOP is one that’s hard to resist, and I’ve got first hand experience of it- twice!

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