Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Can You Do When You Can't Do Enough?

So there we were, in Copacobana just about Christmas time, recovering from a bout of festive food poisoning, when we checked our emails and discovered that we had been asked to step up to the role of Directors and Volunteer Co-ordinators for the Bruce Organisation. Not just volunteers, then, but actually running the joint. Something to do with the previous director having an urgent situation in the States to return to, and no-one else on the horizon to take over.

We took it on the chin, as you'd expect of us by now, and rocked up to Cusco on the 28th, half expecting some kind of introductory note or some such, but only being handed a key to let ourselves into the centre, to find shelves of manuals, cupboards of resources, and not much else. No clues, certainly, but we buckled down, read manuals, dug through resources, and organised meetings with various important local contacts. The teachers, for example, and the social worker, and the owner of the Bruce Centre office-cum-controller of the staff wages. And, slowly but surely (well, not that slowly, we didn't have much time) things fell into place.

Maybe you're wondering what this Bruce Organisation thing is (its all on the link...). If so, in a nutshell of indeterminate size, its basically 13 schools throughout South America, most of them in Peru, that try and take the poorest children in the towns in which they operate and give them sufficient schooling to enable them to be accepted into the national school system. It then continues to offer support to the kids for the next 2 years, ensuring they get a good inital grounding, and hopefully giving them and their parents the motivation to continue to study. Initially, the challenge is getting the kids into school, as their parents often keep them out to work, due to their often extreme level of poverty. Some of the programmes have been extended to include offering a basic business education to the parents, allowing them to maximise their earning potential, thus reducing the families need to have the youngest members out working.

Right now in Cusco, we have 2 schools running in two of the local barrios (poorer areas of the town), with a total of 38 children aged 6 to only-just-turned-8 enrolled, and possibly a few more to come. Every day, between 9am and noon, the kids arrive, wash their hands with soap (not something they often get to do by the looks of things), have a breakfast roll and drink provided by Bruce Peru, then brush their teeth (again, not a common activity for most of them). They then have classes in Maths or Spanish (I'd say English, but its not, its Spanish, but basically its reading and writing) until 11ish, have a bit of play and come back in to finish off until 12, when they head home with a piece of fruit (2 if there is enough and they helped tidy up). And that's it. We are running a summer school programme right now in Cusco, trying to get our kids to first grade level in time for the March intake, and for some of them its the first time they have held a pencil, even if they are able to count to 10.

These kids would bring a tear to the eye of the toughest of characters. They turn up in their poorly fitting hand-me-downs, only not bare-footed due to the under- or over-sized shoes/sandals they have, grubby faces, shy smiles, and by the end of the session they are animated, laughing, happy and excited, and keen to come back tomorrow. Many of their home lives are overshadowed by neglect and possibly other forms of abuse as well, so the positive attention they get for 3 hours a day could be the only affection they get that day. Same goes for the food they are given. The way some of them attack their bread roll with a smear of jam or mashed banana, you'd think they hadn't eaten since the last school breakfast. This is particularly apparent on Monday mornings...

The biggest frustration right now for me is my failing in the language. The kids chatter away and I miss the key words due to gaps in my vocabulary, which they find very funny, and then annoying as the stupid gringo just doesn't get it! Still, for the most part, they are patient and understanding and teach me words in Spanish, as I teach them numbers or colours in English when we have a break.

And so what then? The kids go home and we have an afternoon to kill. Its back to the centre for promotions and fund raising ideas, and while we are here we are concentrating on establishing low cost, high reward systems, hopefully involving local businesses, that can be continued by anyone that comes after us. We have re-established relations with a bar or two that had dropped off the radar for pub quizzes, we are trying to launch an affiliates voucher system that has business owners donating a portion of their bills to BP, and we are trying to link up with the local Fire Service to assist in mutual fund raising activities into the future. Basically, we have to spend as much time as possible raising money just to cover costs for renting classrooms, paying teachers, buying school stationery, paying for the kids breakfasts, etc.

The classrooms are virtually windowless concrete bunkers under someone's house, rented to BP for the princely sum of S/60 a month (about 12 quid), which is, incidentally, what the teachers and social worker are paid. The breakfasts cost S/3.50 a week per child. That's about 70p. And we struggle to raise the money to meet these costs. So far, the lowest cost / hightest reward activity has been bucket shaking in the main Plaza, an activity we were amazed to find had never been tried before, despite the fact it allows us to talk to many people about the work BP does, which also assists in the recruitment of volunteers. I'm proud to say it was my idea, although Richard is better at it than me! I always said he could sell ice to eskimoes (pardon me, Innuits), and now it turns out he can fleece tourists too! Between new year's eve and the following friday, we rasied nearly S/800 just from this activity, and when you add in the nearly S/500 we have made from the two pub quizzes so far organised, we are just about on top of things.

Of course, if anyone out there would like to help by donating cash or stationery (colouring pencils, colouring books, jigsaws, games etc), you can either email me and ask for an address to post stuff, donate on the Bruce Peru site (see the link), or if you want to help Cusco kids specifically and directly, you can transfer your donation to my account and I will instantly withdraw it and use in for our kids. I realise this last option requires a certain amount of trust between us, but I think that after spending the best part of 5 months on the road together, you should know me to be honest and reliable, and a man of my word. Not to mention that no-one could spend a week with these kids and then rip them off. Its just not possible. Its all on you to help if you can, or spread the word if you can't. I'm doing what I can from this end.

Sorry for the lecture-y post, next time will be more tourist orientated. In the mean time, I have some photos I will try and load up tonight, after which I dare you to do nothing. I dare you.

I'm off to our first Real McCoy Quiz now, so wish me luck. I'm reading the questions....

1 comment:

ed said...

Fantastic stuff, Steve. Your teaching expertise, sense of fun and kind nature must make you a top recruit! I'll certainly be sending you guys some help. Crack on! Ed