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Volunteering In Peru: The Ins And Outs

Traveling and volunteering in Peru have always been close to the heart of many IVHQers, and just last month I was the lucky IVHQ Crew member to visit our volunteer program in Lima! As a long-standing IVHQ Crew member, I’ve been fortunate to have visited 8 of our volunteer locations – just one of the ways IVHQ ensures we're offering exceptional service and safe and reliable volunteer opportunities abroad. My latest visits were to our volunteer programs in South America and while I’ve visited South America before, I am a first time traveler to Peru so I was excited to see our volunteer projects in Lima and experience Peruvian culture for myself!

I spent 5 days with our local team in Lima, and in that time skimmed the surface of what is a fantastic program and location! I met our volunteers (we had around 25 there at the time) and got to know the local team who greet the volunteers when they first arrive, who orient them through the volunteer projects and Lima’s sprawling districts, and who are available 24/7 to assist volunteers throughout their stay. They’re a great bunch of people and we definitely had a laugh in the short time I was there - from hanging out with the volunteers at the Cerro San Cristobal overlooking the whole of Lima, to exploring the depths of the catacombs underneath the central plaza, I experienced Lima as an insider, as a local, and not just as a tourist.

Lookout over Lima on an IVHQ volunteer program

The day I arrived in Lima was “Family Day”, which takes place every Sunday and in which the busiest street in each district (suburb) is shut down for the day,to make way for free yoga classes, children’s activities, face-painting, fair-ground rides, pop-up volleyball and 5-a-side football courts, human-sized chess games and free bicycle hire. If you’re looking to stay fit while volunteering, Lima’s a good place to be, if not for the awesome running paths along the cliffs of Miraflores and the coast of La Punta (two districts nearby to the volunteer accommodation) and for the surf spots along Lima’s coastline, but for the free yoga sessions every Sunday on family day – everyone needs a little relaxation, no matter where they’re living or what they’re doing! Family Day is aimed at locals, so it’s also a great way to experience the culture and get to know the local community on the weekend (if you’re not already planning to visit Machu Picchu, that is).

The following day I enjoyed the program orientation with the new volunteers where we learnt about the history of the program (our team in Lima have been hosting volunteers and arranging volunteer projects since 2007), the cultural differences and local customs, got to grips with the local area and public transport, and found out more about the 3 ongoing projects throughout the year; Teaching English, Special Needs/Childcare and Medical. Over the next 3 days I went with the volunteers to their projects, to learn more about the work our volunteers are doing on the ground. While there may only be 3 project types in Lima, don’t let that fool you as there’s a ton to help with in each of them, as even my short visit confirmed!

On the Special Needs/Childcare project alone you could be implementing games and activities to educate and stimulate children with special needs, helping with different therapies (language therapy, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and occupational therapy), designing and building new wheelchairs from old scraps, making splints and casts, establishing a home-grown garden, and every so often helping construct new buildings, renovate old ones and paint fun murals to encourage the children to play outside. Centes generally have good facilities, as they are funded and supported by Lima’s central government, however they still lack the staff to give individual attention and play-time for the children, so that’s where our volunteers come in! Volunteers can work with babies, young children and teenagers, and in some special needs centers there are also great opportunities to work with adults, particularly around the different therapies.

There’s an equal need in the Teaching English project, with a clamour from the community to have more English classes available! At the moment we work with schools and language institutes to provide English classes to primary children, teenagers and adults wanting to develop and improve their English and better their job prospects. English classes range from basic grammar and vocabulary, right through to advanced conversations about every topic under the sun so no matter what your teaching experience, your fluent knowledge of English will be hugely appreciated in Lima and you’ll have guidance from our local team throughout to help you teach the curriculum and boost your confidence. In each of our visits to the project over the past few years, we’ve seen huge development in the facilities and standards of education for these centers, and it’s a real testament to the contribution and perseverance of our volunteers and staff – well done!

Volunteer in Peru - Medical Campaign in Lima

As for the Medical project, this has to be one of the most effective mobile healthcare systems I’ve seen - on this project, Medical volunteers and volunteer nurses work alongside local medical professionals, traveling with the “Clinibus” campaign each day to a different district in Lima (there are 43). Clinibuses are coaches that have been converted into fully functioning medical centers, and while the consultation rooms are small (you could say cosy?), they get the job done. There are 3 buses in the fleet at the moment, and each one caters to 3 different medical areas, such as Pediatrics, Optology, Cardiology, Gynaecology, Internal Medicine, a Pharmacy, and so on. There are also pop-up tents where every patient gets their height, weight and blood pressure measured before they can go through to consultation. Think about a hospital on wheels, and you’re half-way there to getting a picture of the comprehensive service that these guys provide. They’re pretty clever about it too, as the Clinibuses always set up in a big open space, in conjunction with that community’s market day – there’s music, sometimes a trampoline for the kids, fresh fruit and meat for your weekly shop and even the odd salesman so you can get the latest cooking appliances – all while you’re waiting for your consultation!

Volunteering in Peru - Medical Campaign

On an average day, the Clinibuses cater to around 300 patients. You can imagine this makes for a busy day and often the staff have to “close the gates” to more patients as there aren’t enough doctors, nurses or volunteers to see them. We had 2 volunteers on the project while I was visiting, and even though it was only their 2nd day volunteering in Lima (one was in 3rd year of Medical school, and another was a Registered Nurse), they were assisting the team with vitals, basic health checks and pre-consultation screenings, and our Registered Nurse was also helping in the Cardiology unit to help consult on an EKG scan. Their assistance already helped the team meet around 40-60 more patients that day than they could have had they not been there, so volunteers are always welcomed on this project!

To get involved, you need to be training in either Medical or Nursing school (any stage/year) or be a qualified/registered doctor or nurse. [Some other qualifications are also accepted, so if you’re not sure get in touch (americas-enquiry@volunteerhq.org) and we’ll let you know based on your personal set of skills and training]. With so many specialties under the Clinibus umbrella, there’s no shortage of work to do, so if you think you have the training, and want to have a hands-on experience and a real insight into the different communities in Peru, this is a great project to be part of! To volunteer, you’ll need to meet the requirements above, and I’d also say you need to be able to make small-talk in Spanish, as you’re dealing directly with the community: most of whom won’t know any English. If you’ve got less Spanish skills, I’d recommend you brush up well before you arrive and be aware that your tasks and responsibilities will be determined not only by your skills and training, but also by your Spanish ability. On this project, you’ll also need to bring your own supply of latex gloves (note to all other volunteers in Lima – these make a great donation!) and you have to wear scrubs (any colour). If you have your own stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, bring them for your own use, as they don’t always have spares available (some local nurses still use the 2-finger method).

Volunteering in Peru - Bus Ride in Lima

So, you may have guessed that I got pretty excited about our Lima volunteer program and there’s a ton to get involved with, both in your volunteer work and in your free time. I mentioned earlier some of the Lima-based activities, but you’ll of course be wanting to visit Machu Picchu during your stay as well (I know I did!). The classic question for any person interested in volunteering in Peru is “How do I get to Machu Picchu?” Lima is a fantastic place to have as a base while volunteering (it’s probably the cheapest place in Peru!) and taking advantage of the rich history, culture and beautiful sights of Peru! A visit to Machu Picchu is easy to arrange for a long-weekend or at the end of your stay, and once you’re in Peru, and our local teams have great recommendations for how to get there and who to go with. From Lima, it’s a short flight (around US$100 each way, or return if you get a sale-special) or a 20 hour bus ride (around US$60 each way, and very comfortable – they give you an eye mask, blanket and meals just like you’d get on a flight).

Volunteering in Lima - Machu Picchu

Overall, traveling to Peru and visiting our volunteer program in Lima proved to me how every helping hand counts, no matter how small the contribution may be, and it was clear that the communities we work with in Lima are hugely grateful to our IVHQ volunteers, and respect and treasure the time each volunteer has given, and continues to give!

If you’re interested to learn more about volunteering in Peru, email americas-enquiry@volunteerhq.org to chat with our Latin America Enquiries team and we'll be happy to help with any questions and assist with your planning!

As the locals say in Peru, Hasta Luego!

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IVHQ's Katie BrayneAbout Katie Brayne

Originally from the UK, Katie has been living in New Zealand since 2009 and arrived at IVHQ in 2011. Katie helps groups of all sizes and backgrounds, and university students from all over the world, to volunteer abroad with IVHQ. She also liaises directly with universities and study abroad offices, helping to develop internship, study abroad and service-learning opportunities for students volunteering with IVHQ. Katie loves to get outdoors and travel (around New Zealand and overseas), and has traveled to over 30 countries to date. Surfing, mountain biking, reading, friends and dancing are her favourite pastimes.

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