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    World & Culture

    Student teaches and inspires children in Peru

    By Armando Vera
    Armando Vera
    Published: Dec. 16, 2010

    As a first-year School of Undergraduate Studies (UGS) student, Armando Vera was the inaugural recipient of the UGS Summer Exploration Experience Grant. Vera used his grant to partially fund his travel and program fees for an International Volunteer Headquarters teaching English program in Cuzco, Peru. He spent a month teaching English to elementary school children at the Tancarpata Primary, what he described as “a troubled school nestled within one of Cuzco’s most dangerous poverty-ridden slums.” Not only was his experience rewarding and life-changing, but he was able to travel the country visiting Machu Picchu; Puerto Maldonado, the gateway to the Amazon jungle; and Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake on Earth.

    What follows is an essay in Vera’s own words. Read the extended version of Vera’s interview.

    The harsh reality experienced by Peruvian children is unlike anything American children face. I chose to teach elementary-age children primarily because they are the one group of people who have the greatest opportunity to impact their nation. In Cuzco, Peru, many children only finish their elementary education in hopes of making it big in town, which, according to them, is becoming a tour guide. Faced with that ideal, my goal in going down to Peru was to not only teach English, but above all, to foment in them the desire to expand their horizons and pursue a professional career. Unfortunately, for most children, those types of aspirations are far-fetched since the pervasive Peruvian poverty is a major hindrance on their dreams, their life, their future.

    At Tancarpata Primary some of the challenges I encountered dealt directly with the quality of education the students received. The staff consisted of a principal and about three teachers. Keep in mind, the principal herself was also a teacher. Those four staff members taught grades Pre-K through sixth — understand the pool of students at Tancarpata was easily about 160 or so. This means that the teacher-to-student ratio is about 1:40. In an elementary school, by no means is that an efficient or satisfactory proportion. This really affects the overall quality of education.

    Consider this, throughout a normal day a teacher would only teach in a class for about two hours or less and then leave to teach another class whilst the students remained unsupervised doing assignments — well, at least the teachers believed the students did the work. On a “hard” day, it would be a surprise if two teachers showed up.

    Notwithstanding the many impediments, I was able to gain a lot of experience from teaching two classes. The experience I gained was unlike any other. Those children I encountered really taught me how to become a much more patient, understanding and relaxed individual. Coming from the U.S., where I’m both a full-time student and a part-time worker, I’m well accustomed to a very busy, on-the-run lifestyle; in Peru, however, life is, well, much slower. The sudden change in environment really pushed me to view, or moreover appreciate, life in a different manner. It helped me understand the importance behind breathing and listening to the student. What’s more, I was able to experience the importance of connecting with people from a very different culture. Those children really accepted me as one of their own. Every day the children would run to me and hug me; they would beg my full embrace, ultimately in search of that warmth and care, that affection that every child yearns for.

    Had I dealt mostly with adults, I realize my experience would have been much more different. Yes, working with children is an art (and for that I want to thank every teacher out there that devotes their life’s work to teaching the children of our world), but loving children is a very different thing. After a month of being with those beautiful students of mine, I became aware of how much I loved each and every one of them. I finally understood how powerful my presence there had been: they could sing their ABC’s, count from one to fifty, and even say “Go Longhorns!”

    My last day at the Tancarpata Primary was a rather difficult one; those children didn’t want to see me leave. I wrote each one of them a personalized letter reassuring them of their immense potential and the possibility of a bright future. To top it off, I even made them all goodie bags loaded with the heaps of American candy that filled up one of my suitcases. The last goodbye was a sad one. Walking down that hill for one last time was sad, hearing those children’s goodbyes magnified the emotion. And as tears rolled down, I looked back one last time and then heard the roar of one of the airplanes taking off. That moment was very special to me since it reminded me of one of my favorite students who once told me that every time she sees an airplane taking off on the runway below, she wishes she were there, going somewhere special, some place where she can live a good life. That moment really touched my heart. It changed my life.

    Photos by Armando Vera

    Continue reading Vera’s essay …

    • Quote 2
      chicago window repair company said on May 11, 2011 at 5:37 p.m.
      In my opinion the data layed out in your subject is great. I am participating in a very study regarding the topic whilst your writings just answered quite a lot of problems I had. I’m doing an dissertation and school assignment with regard to my English class in addition to presently looking at quite a few sites to study.
    • Quote 2
      windows 7 tricks said on May 11, 2011 at 2:51 a.m.
      superb post! i’m bookmarking this kind of!
    • Quote 2
      Marisol said on Jan. 18, 2011 at 9:49 p.m.
      Armando you are an amazing inspiration. You have literally changed the world by touching not only your fellow classmates with your remarkable compassion, but the children who I am sure have changed their views on life forever. Thank you and sending the same blessings to you!
    • Quote 2
      Edgar Carvajal said on Jan. 11, 2011 at 10:12 a.m.
      So proud to be your cousin!!!!!!
    • Quote 2
      Itzel said on Jan. 10, 2011 at 2:45 p.m.
      Que pedazo de literatura mas bella, y del corazon. Lo que se escribe del corazon se siente hasta en las entranas. Muy lindo. Buen trabajo.
    • Quote 2
      Marcus said on Jan. 3, 2011 at 10:18 a.m.
      Talk about leadership at its finest!
    • Quote 2
      Bill said on Dec. 26, 2010 at 4:22 a.m.
      Antonio Banderas, eat your heart out! Mando, quand tu seras à Paris, la langue de Molière te tourmentera... Mais, quelle souffrance exquise pour un esprit éclairé.
    • Quote 2
      Agustin said on Dec. 24, 2010 at 11:37 a.m.
      Im peruvian so to read this was enormously emotional to me. im thankful for armando to take the time to teach the children of my country the lessons of what we all hope to learn. thank you armando.
    • Quote 2
      Guillermo Cabrera said on Dec. 23, 2010 at 5:51 p.m.
      Excelente historia, y buen ensayo. Enhorabuena Armando
    • Quote 2
      Guillermo said on Dec. 23, 2010 at 9:46 a.m.
      Thanks to help childrens from my country Armando...as Michael says about our institution's motto: "What Starts Here Changes the World"
    • Quote 2
      Michael G. said on Dec. 22, 2010 at 9:17 p.m.
      I love how Vera's experience abroad upholds our institution's motto: "What Starts Here Changes the World"
    • Quote 2
      Ashlyn said on Dec. 20, 2010 at 10:11 p.m.
      This is so amazing, Mando :) what an incredible experience! Your pictures are so touching and you have such an inspirational gift. So proud of you!!!
    • Quote 2
      Jennifer said on Dec. 20, 2010 at 10:07 p.m.
      This is a beautiful and touching experience to share with us readers. You are a wonderful person Armando!
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