HOOP was everything that I could have possibly hoped for, and more.

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I truly believe that the majority of us living in this world, really want to make a difference in the lives of others. We want to help someone that we see during our daily routine who is struggling. We hear on the news about the mass amounts of suffering that happen in our world, and we want to help. We want to leave the world a better place than the place we found when we came into it. For many of us, we are able to do this at various levels for various periods of time, but our own lives tend to get in the way. However, when I came to Arequipa for my two months to work with HOOP, I found people here in this organization that have made improving the lives of others the focus of their entire life. Through these amazing people and through the children of Flora Tristan, I would come to gain an education that was truly once in a lifetime.

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Hello, my name is Robert Brehm, and I am currently a graduate student at the University of Texas-Austin. I am here studying Global Policy, specifically NGO’s, and hope to study Latin America at the graduate level as well during my time here. Before I began my time in graduate school, I wanted to live in South America and work first-hand with a locally ran NGO’s to gain real-world experience in the field, practice my Spanish and get a feeling for what life in these countries is really like.

“Voluntourism”, as it is sometimes called, can be a tricky endeavor. I had heard horror stories of organizations that are essentially fake and just hoping for money or even just another vacation for tourists from other countries so that they can go home feeling like they did something good. I spent hours upon hours researching NGO’s all across South America looking for the perfect one, somewhere that I hoped was making sustainable changes in their community and had a clear purpose, so that I could learn how to one day do this myself. In the end, I chose one organization in Bolivia and HOOP in Arequipa, Peru. I made this choice because HOOP was very transparent about how they operate, they were always responsive to any questions that I had and they had a proven track-record of excellent testimony from previous volunteers.

HOOP was everything that I could have possibly hoped for, and more. From the first day I spent in Arequipa, the staff and other volunteers seamlessly incorporated me into what felt like a family even from the very start. Before the work itself even began, I knew that I had made the right choice, as the orientation and training were smooth. I have to admit that I was quite nervous about teaching as I had never really done it before, but thanks to the Volunteer Coordinator, Jennifer, and the Academic Coordinator, Beth, I felt totally prepared for the challenge by the time my first day came around.

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I did my best over the two months to help my students learn English. Some days I think I had great lesson plans, and other days, my inexperience as an instructor really showed. Through all of this, my fellow volunteers and the staff members were always ready and willing to help me if I ever got stuck on how I should formulate a plan for that day. I was also very fortunate to have a couple Peruvian volunteers assist me with my class sessions and making sure that things went as smoothly as they could. I never felt that I had to do this on my own, and the teamwork atmosphere was nothing short of amazing.

Nothing made a greater impact on me more than my Koalas though. These fantastic children that show up every day to learn English of their own volition. We had our fun and we had our challenges. We had times of uncontrollable laughter and times of serious academic growth. As I said, I tried my best to teach them English, but I can’t imagine it was anything compared to what these children taught me about life. Their daily enthusiasm for learning, futbol and life in general despite the difficulties that they have faced in their young lives is something that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. I thought I had come to Peru to learn about NGO’s. Maybe to learn Spanish. Instead, most of all, I learned how to have a positive attitude, a growth mindset (thanks again, Beth) and the belief that anything can be overcome with the right determination and the right people around you.

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Arequipa will always be somewhere that I will consider a home, even though I only spent two months of my life there. The food, the combi rides, the karaoke, the breath-taking views of Misti and the greatest band of all time, Jennifer and the HOOPsters. Of course, most of all, the people. It is impossible to spend time in Peru and not become immediately attached to the wonderful people that make this country the beautiful and rich place that it is. I hope that I was able to make some sort of difference in the small time I spent here, because Peru has made such a profound change in me. To anybody who is reading this right now, and trying to decide if this is something that they should do, or if Arequipa is a place that they should go, all I can say is, please do it. Help HOOP, and let Peru change you.

To everyone that I worked with during my time in Arequipa, I will miss you and I hope we cross paths again someday, but remember — cancha NEVER finish.

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