My week volunteering in Cusco is coming to an end and what an experience it has been. After arriving on Saturday to my home stay (Edy and his family) I went for a walk around the city with my roommate Holly, a volunteer nurse, who had also arrived that morning. By the time Monday morning rolled around I was feeling a little rough from an upset stomach (altitude or food related it’s hard to tell). So when I was told I was working on a night project and would have to negotiate a taxi home each night at 9pm I was a little bit nervous considering my lack of Spanish. The staff at Maximo Nivel encouraged me to see how it went the first night and to speak to them if I had concerns.
Qosqo Maki is a teaching English project that has been created, staffed and funded by Maximo. During the day it is a community centre, at night it is a shelter for street children. Luckily Angel, the Maximo Nivel staff member, was kind enough to walk me to a taxi spot each night and tell the driver where I needed to go leaving me to only have to deal with saying left, right, straight and stop here in Spanish as we approached my destination.
The first night teaching was tricky as you might expect, not helped by the fact we were told to prepare a basic and intermediate lesson when in fact what they needed was an intermediate and advanced lesson. Needless to say the advanced students weren’t please and quickly swarmed round us after class requesting an advanced lesson the following night. A particularly grumpy man with excellent English earned himself the nickname Mr Tour Guide and he became my challenge to win over!
I decided to take on the challenge of the advanced class and the following night we looked at conditionals. I felt there was still some reluctance from the students and it was difficult to win them round and get them engaged. The ice definitely broke when I finished the lesson with colour idioms and all of a sudden everyone seemed relaxed and engaged. Even Mr Tour Guide was happy and that made my day.
The two nights that followed were a learning curve for me and them but I definitely made progress. By Thursday night Mr Tour Guide was using new vocabulary to say “I can rely on you to teach me English ” which was most certainly the high point of the week. There were lots of funny moments like when my students repeatedly read out millions during some reading comprehension even though the text said million and I was pleased that I had already learned they say millions in Spanish and I really understood the error. I was also fascinated that the word for Jellyfish in Spanish is Medusa!
When visiting the Machu Picchu museum in Cusco I was talking to a local artist selling souvenirs. He explained that he was selling Inca whistles and containers carved from dried squash. As we continued to chat it turned out he had learnt English at Qosko Maki, I thought this was fantastic and proof the system is working well, how wonderful that I could play a small part in this project.