Emma Cresswell is the Deputy Head of Piper's Corner school based in the UK. In August 2016, 15 students from the school volunteered at Picaflor House, on a life-changing tailor-made cultural and volunteering programme at our Community project in Cusco, Peru. This is her story.
There are limited opportunities for this age group to volunteer on this kind of scheme abroad – usually they have to wait until they are in the Sixth Form, so we were very excited about the opportunity to challenge our girls in this way.
Why did you specifically choose a trip that involved a significant element of volunteering rather than a straightforward cultural or sightseeing trip?
It is a core part of the ethos of our school to develop the whole person and not just the academic. Our students are often very well-travelled and used to overseas trips with parents to exotic places. To visit somewhere less developed and where they would encounter challenges of language, culture and be exposed to the realities of poverty we thought was an experience they would truly benefit from. They also had to opportunity to visit truly historic sites such as Machu Picchu so had the perfect blend.
What value do you think your students brought to Picaflor House?
They approached the tasks with enthusiasm and with a fresh ‘non-adult’ perspective - many have younger siblings and so could engage with the whole age range of children. Their sense of fun overcame any issues with language and they and the children formed strong bonds. Their willingness to demonstrate a dance, sing a song or do a sack race made the children less self-conscious about having a go themselves.
How did the activities your girls were involved in fit in with the long term aims of Picaflor House?
The students supported all the activities in English, Maths and Art as well as sport –they brought their own specialist knowledge to these areas and also helped the children develop their confidence in developing their language skills in particular. They have also established a bond with the project the school can hopefully develop and proved that this age group can meet the challenge of volunteering.
What kind of impact do you think this trip has had on your students? What do you think the long term benefits of your trip have been and will be for both your students and for society?
The trip opened our student’s eyes to the issues of development in a way that a textbook never could. The poverty and opportunities that tourism provides but the potential cultural damage this can do. The children made a lasting impression on them as did the staff at Picaflor. Many have come back with the intention of pursuing other volunteering opportunities in the 6th Form and beyond. I think it took them out of their comfort zone and in the long term made them better world citizens.