As a self-confessed nervous character, I wasn’t sure if going to a new continent was the right move for me after finishing my masters. I could barely locate Peru on the map, I had never heard of Arequipa, and I was only dimly aware of South America. I couldn’t tell you what impulse had driven me to apply for the internship at HOOP in the first place, but as the date of my flight drew closer, and I was frantically stockpiling medications and googling “How to avoid being kidnapped?”, I could just as happily have stayed home. Four months later, while I still occasionally worry about catching malaria, or being abducted, my experience at HOOP so far has made me glad I decided to get on the plane.
As the first psychology assistant at HOOP, I have been able to become totally involved, and feel that I am fully embedded in the team at HOOP. The school is now on it’s summer break, so I’ve been helping to plan next activities for the psychology department. Before Christmas I went to the school daily, delivering individual psychological interventions with mums and children, as well as supporting workshops for the mums alongside the rest of the psychology and social work team. Not being good enough for the community was something (another thing), that I was worried about before arriving, but I’ve been so supported not only by the psychology staff members, but also by the families themselves. Whether it’s a carefully translated Christmas card from a mum, or a group of three-year olds charging at me shrieking “cabellito”, every little gesture has done it’s part to make me feel welcome.
When I arrived at HOOP, I was not necessarily looking for a life-changing adventure. I hoped to gain some new work experiences, stay safe, and get back to Ireland in one piece. But living and working in a new continent makes it impossible to stay in your comfort zone. Everyday life in Arequipa is more adventurous than I ever would have imagined I’d be. The first time I travelled by combi (mini-bus), I felt like I was in a movie, and not one with a happy ending. I didn’t understand how to get off and ended up miles from my destination, after having patiently peered out the window looking for a bus stop for about half an hour. Luckily, a passing old lady took pity on me, and after explaining how dangerous the neighbourhood was for some time (not reassuring), she helped me get back to the city centre. Now I take a combi everywhere, and successfully get off without mishap. This mightn’t seem particularly adventurous to you, which should tell you something about how not adventurous I am.
Over the Christmas break, I travelled with some other volunteers and interns to the Amazon. Had you asked me in October if I would enjoy any part of this experience, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say no. From travelling down the river on a boat full of pigs, chickens, and mattresses, to staying in a jungle lodge full of wild dogs and mosquitos, every single part of this trip was so far outside my comfort zone. In Europe I would go out of my way to avoid taking any kind of bus journey, and here I was sitting on a 48-hour boat, surrounded by animals, perfectly happy (apart from the smell).
The moral of the story is that even if the thought of travelling halfway across the world to volunteer with HOOP makes you feel sweaty and nervous, I would recommend the experience. I still have two months to go in Peru, and I’m already sad thinking about the moment when I have to leave. As it turns out, this is a place where anyone can be an adventurer.
Written by Saoirse Fergus, Psychology assistant