2014 is in full swing here at Light and Leadership with lots of new faces, and a few volunteers and interns that did not get enough in 2013. The positive energy in the volunteer house is palpable with new ideas, games and lesson plans being discussed in every room. Attendance in all zones has been outstanding this first week of classes and volunteers are getting stopped on the street left and right by parents wanting to enroll their kids. With all this enthusiasm and interest there is a lot of potential for program expansion.
Much of the passion in the house stems from Caislin and Avan, two short-term volunteers from the University of Maryland College Park. While both had their their own personal motivation for volunteering with LLI the idea originated with Avan, a Biology major minoring in Spanish, who wanted to go abroad while in college but found that semester abroad programs did not offer the opportunity to engage and give back to the host community. Early on in her communications with Lara, Avan proposed the idea of using her biology background to create an ecology workshop for the kids. Lara’s enthusiasm for the idea demonstrated to Avan how volunteer driven LLI is and she instantly knew LLI was a perfect match for her.
Avan mentioned the idea in passing to Caislin, an Engineering major minoring in Spanish, who instantly jumped on the opportunity. As an Engineering major there are very few prospects for her to study abroad and the combination of affordability, ability to live and work within an impoverished community and potential for short term volunteer stays, fit perfectly within her criteria.
In addition to teaching regular classes, Avan and Caislin have designed an ecology workshop they will be presenting this week in each zone LLI works in. The workshop will focus on different animal habitats and how each animal evolves to fill their particular ecological niche. They will also review how the food-chain shapes and maintains ecosystems. Both Caislin and Avan feel that one of the more valuable aspects of the volunteer experience so far is the freedom they were afforded in creating this workshop and sharing their passion with the kids of Huaycán. For Avan this workshop also serves as an opportunity to be a positive female role model and empower the young women students to pursue the hard sciences, a field that traditionally lack women.
Huaycán offers many new experiences, insights and surprises for volunteers. For Avan, seeing how happy and welcoming people are despite their often dire living and economic conditions, has been eye opening and inspiring. The student’s openness and joy in meeting new people from different cultures with different levels of Spanish are life skills Caislin feels translate globally and can help in future career opportunities.
Even after one week Caislin has been struck by the personal growth she has experienced. Before her first classes she was nervous and intimidated by the idea of being a teacher as she had never considered herself the ‘teacher type’, but her inner teacher has emerged and she is excited for each opportunity to get in front of the class and impart knowledge upon her students.
Halfway through her time in Huaycán, Avan is ready and excited for every moment but says she will value her time teaching, developing a sense of community -both within the volunteer house and Huaycán writ large-, and exploring Lima on this weeks volunteer excursion to Punta Hermosa, where she will have a chance to soak up the sun on the beautiful beach and experience some of Lima’s notorious cuisine.