As I am welcomed into the home of Señora Maria Teresa to complete the yearly social work survey, sounds and smells assault me. A dog barking in one corner of the courtyard, a chicken wandering, and little Josue running around with a small kitten yelling “Teacher, Teacher, Teacher”. Working with HOOP Peru as the social work intern dropped me in the center of the community, Flora Tristán, and with the HOOP participants: mothers and children living in poverty and suffering from a range of injustices (familial violence, lack of healthcare, etc.). The opportunity to live and work in Arequipa, Peru for 7 months was invaluable for both my personal and professional development.
Whether it is eating and chatting with the Venezuelan immigrant owner of my favorite restaurant or trying to board the “combi” while the driver is yelling “suba, suba” on my way to work each morning, Peru is simultaneously challenging and beautiful. My extended time in Peru has allowed me to not only understand the culture but to become immersed. Through that immersion, I have begun to understand the Peruvian people: their customs, triumphs, prides, challenges, and injustices. After four months in Arequipa and working with HOOP I decided to extend my time two more months because of how happy and fulfilled I was feeling. I have established a routine with bachata dance classes on Tuesdays and tacos on Wednesdays, and am a regular at the arepa stand near my house, but the city is always presenting something new and interesting. With my fellow HOOPsters, I have taken to exploring the city and surrounding area. The first week that I arrived, I visited Salinas a couple of hours outside of the city and the weekend adventures only escalated from there. Descending into Colca Canyon, playing volleyball and eating ceviche on the beach in Mollendo, and hiking to Rainbow Mountain while chewing coco leaves are only some of the weekend adventures that I was lucky enough to embark on each weekend that wasn’t spent soaking up Arequipa.
While I looked forward to the weekends of exploring, my weekdays working with HOOP are what sustained me. I am currently making home visits to administer a social work survey and using the outcomes to plan future individual and group interventions. Each time I enter the homes of one of the mothers, I am struck with first how kind and welcoming they are and by how excited the kids are to see a HOOPster in a blue vest after a summer without the after school program. The moms offer fruit and tea while the kids sit on my lap or run around collecting their toys to show off to me. The social survey requires the social work interns and social worker to ask very personal questions about their health, socioeconomic status, relationship with their partner, potential histories of violence or traumatic experiences. These experiences are difficult to recount but most moms speak openly both because of their need for support, but also because of their trust in HOOP. This trust is built throughout the year with social skills games played during the mom’s workshops, dancing with the kids during the Canción Criolla/Halloween celebration, and the daily efforts the HOOPsters and participants put forth.
Each day at 2:30 teachers, social workers, and psychologist all pile onto the combi at 2:30 pm and about 30 minutes later a mass of bright blue HOOPsters can be seen making their way to the school in Flora Tristan. These HOOPsters make up a group of genuine, intelligent, energetic, and compassionate people that have become a new family for me. HOOP attracts people from all over the world that have decided to dedicate their time to others, and this passion creates a playful and committed environment in the office and the school. Whether it’s a teacher running around the schoolyard with a giggling kid attached to their back, a psychologist providing a safe space for the mothers in a classroom, or a social work intern chatting with the moms while they knit in the second hour, the HOOP after school program is always challenging, inspirational, and encouraging.
Written by Erin Hennessy, Social work assistant