My first project as a volunteer with Maximo Nivel was as a teacher’s assistant at the Jardín Cajonahuaylla (jardín is Spanish for garden, which is a way of saying pre-school in Peru). Approximately 130 children aged 3–5 years are enrolled, most of them from poor, disadvantaged backgrounds. The aim of the school is to provide a good education to children from low-income families. Having only five teachers makes the support of volunteers necessary. I was assigned to work with the five-year-olds. As a volunteer, I provided classroom assistance and individual attention to ensure a smoother and more productive day. My responsibilities included taking kids to the restroom, teaching them to wash their hands afterwards (this was very important as this can prevent them from getting parasites), assisting with hygiene stations, and preparing homework and worksheets. For consistency and to add a greater impact to the program, we made daily entries into the online volunteer journal, which helps the next volunteer pick up where we left off.
We had the chance to spend a whole day in the park with some of the children and their parents. The kids had made their own cometas (kites) and we helped get them off the ground and into the sky! It was a day filled with fun and it was heartwarming to see their happy faces. Unfortunately, the school couldn’t arrange for transportation to the park due to a lack of resources, so their parents had to bring them. And because most of the parents also didn’t have the means to provide for transportation, many kids missed out. It is in these moments that you realize how different their world is in comparison to ours. I never doubted as a child that I wouldn’t be able to make it to a school outing. We were taken to amusement parks, the beach, and to many other places. I didn’t miss even one, but it’s only now that I realize that I took something for granted that isn’t a reality for many other kids around the world. But one thing will always be the same: wherever they are in the world and whatever their background, kids will be kids. They adjust to whatever situation they are in, bringing sunshine and joy to the world. I loved being surrounded by that bunch of beautiful children. Their craving for hugs, attention, and love was huge. My time with them made me confront myself and some of my preconceptions, but it was very rewarding nonetheless. Those children stole my heart and made me grateful for all the beautiful things that life has to offer.