I am on a cramped bus (Kombi) with my head tilted down. I am a big guy, not really tall, but that’s the only way I can fit. The kombi is stopping every other corner after the short but loud announcement, “sube, sube” or “baja, baja” from the man in charge. He is “sort of” keeping the order by accommodating the passengers. He is really only trying to make “more room” so more people can fit in. I am on my way to Flora Tristan, a small town located in the outskirts of Arequipa, surrounded by locals. Most of them are returning from work, or are coming home from school. With me are a handful of volunteers working for HOOP Peru.
About 25 minutes later we descend unto a dirt road, at my right are basic or poorly constructed houses, followed by a clear view of the Misty, a snow capped volcano which is one the many tourist attractions Arequipa has to offer, to my left more shaggy houses and the road that will take us to the “big school”.
I am also here volunteering, I was lucky enough to be selected by Photographers Without Borders and my assignment was to document Hoop’s activities in order to produce photography that will help raise awareness of their various projects. Their mission statement reads as follows: “HOOP Peru is fully committed to breaking the cycle of poverty by empowering the Flora Tristan families through enhancing their education” in short, they run educational programs for families. They focus mostly on English classes.
As we walk the 5 or 6 blocks that separate the school from the bus stop I glance at a group of kids playing on the street. As soon as they see us they start running toward us. They begin to shout “teacher, teacher, teacher!”. Moments later I am being hugged by a joyful child with a smile so intense that it’s difficult to describe with words. I know this moment will be with me forever. To them, I am now an official teacher. (As they call every volunteer or visitor to the school regardless of what they are doing there) and this first encounter set the mood for the week I was to share with them.
So much love is needed, because so much love is given in Flora Tristan; I have seen it, I have felt it. The volunteer “teachers” love the kids and the love is returned. This warm welcome repeats itself every day.
The program runs every day in 2 locations separated a few blocks by each other, classes are between 3:30 and 4:30 PM, they are now offering homework help as well that starts at 4:30. But the best way to understand the activities is from their own words.
Helping Overcome Obstacles Peru (HOOP) is an NGO located in Arequipa, Peru that works with the underprivileged people in the community of Flora Tristan. Flora Tristan is a shanty town located on the outskirts of Peru’s second largest city composed of dirt roads, poorly constructed shacks and a lack of basic amenities, such as running water.
HOOP Peru is fully committed to breaking the cycle of poverty by empowering the Flora Tristan families through enhancing their education. Our current priorities are developing the Flora Tristan community, and ensuring strategic educational programs where people of all ages can advance their education, health, self-confidence and better their quality of life.
Over the last 6-7 years, we have worked hard to establish a crucial long lasting relationship with the people in the community and today this is our strength. We have earned the trust of the people which means our project has really started to take off as we are having an increasing number of families that need our help. The demand of families that need our help also leads to increased need for support and volunteers.
HOOP has a small office in central Arequipa with three staff members that run the whole project. At the moment, we are really expanding our global presence and looking for increased support and volunteers locally and internationally. We have a great opportunity to expand our project into neighboring communities around Flora Tristan such as Chachani and Pedro Diaz.
The pioneer program at HOOP Peru our English program runs each weekday at HOOP Flora Tristan School. Our English classes have been running in some capacity since 2007. This program was the main reason that we started our work in the Flora Tristan community and continues to be the strength of the HOOP Peru program.
English is a very important skill for the community to learn as tourism is a strong driver of Arequipa’s economy. This means that English is considered important for employment and further advances education such as University. In Peru, a student with more advanced English skills has the opportunity to get into m high more advanced high-schools and Universities that help them obtain higher paying jobs. This makes English a very important tool to improve a family’s socio-economic status.
The homework help program was implemented in order support our children with their education after school. The high demand program has become a very important part of our after school Education program. It is difficult for the students to finish their homework by themselves and they benefit from the assistance of our HOOP teachers.
In addition, most of the families in the community where we work do not use electricity at night time. This means after 6pm when the sun sets the students have a challenge to complete their homework. We keep our school open after dark and give them our facility to complete their homework with our volunteer’s assistance. Our mothers have now started to attend the sessions with their kids in order to improve their English.
HOOP’s programs are rapidly expanding and in the coming years we will be working on business related programs with the mothers, including a micro-finance program in partnership with 1000 Shillings. In addition, HOOP continues to explore any projects that can help the community with their water problems and infrastructure.
As explained before, my goal was to capture and document the main activities around the schools. I jumped from class to class and wandered both schools, and I can personally say that the interaction of the volunteers with the kids was wonderful; a little crazy at times, but fun, and an amazing fulfilling experience.
There are 6 classes among both schools as well as one additional class given to the mothers twice a week.I needed to move quick between rooms with only an hour a day and try to get the most out of it. I wanted to deliver meaningful, story-telling images. I felt pressure the first couple of days, but then I relaxed and enjoyed every minute. Needless to say this was due to the teachers and the HOOP staff members that participated every step of the way. The organization not only educates but also involves itself with the community as much as possible. They organize many different excursions and I have even witnessed the effort and coordination to bring a dentist on site to give the kids a check-up.
The day isn’t nearly over once the bell rings… – well, there is no bell but you get the point – as everybody heads over to “La Cancha” from both school locations. One of my favorites times in Flora Tristan was the “Cancha Time. On a concrete multi-sport court, here, the hour of fun and play for HOOP’s teachers, staff, and students begins. I believe this is another reason the community has developed such a strong bond. In La Cancha there could be boys playing a futbol (soccer) match or a basketball session, while the girls play on a swing or with jumping ropes. Other girls attempt to embellish a teacher in a new trendy hairstyle, but all at the same time!
After “Cancha time” some of the kids walk back to school with the volunteers, goofing around and having fun. Life here is much simpler than what we are used to. Once back in school the last lesson is given. After all that activity who wouldn’t be up for a glass of water? But of course you need to earn it by asking for it in english. “teacher, teacher, can I have some water please….”.
As the sky turns into an deep dark blue, the street lamps light up. Its almost night in Flora Tristan and time for the volunteers to walk back to the bus stop that will take them back to Arequipa. Hopefully the kombi will be not as crowded as it was on the way up. Amazingly some of the kids are walking with us to the bus stop, and they stay there until we leave. As I peek out the window of the bus, i see the kids waving their hands to us. I think I have come to understand why they ran to hug us shouting “teacher, teacher, teacher…’ when we arrived that day. Those are the words and moments that I’ll never forget.
I am really grateful to the people involved in the project, to Photographers Without Borders and the Staff of HOOP for giving me the opportunity to experience this. I really hope that the photos I was able to produce make a lasting impression of the efforts that the volunteers are putting forth every day for the community, and that my small contribution can help them progress and grow.
If you would like to learn more information about HOOP please check out the following websites or contact Director of Development – Brad L. Brasseur at email@example.com.
Facebook: Facebook.com/HOOP Peru.
Twitter: https: //twitter.com/HOOPPERU