Volunteer Spotlight: Irene

Singaporean volunteer Irene Lee came to Globalteer's Peru Community Project at Picaflor House near Cusco with her friend and returning volunteer Choi Kuen Lai. Here, she reflects on her three weeks with the children at the project, the impact that she has had on the children and, just as importantly, the impact that they have had on her...

"The refrains of Marianne Faithfull's As Tears Go By kept reverberating in my mind as I sat and watched the children from Picaflor House play in the makeshift volleyball court."

"It was my last day serving as a volunteer for the Picaflor House Community Project and I was nostalgically ruminating not only the three weeks that have flown by so quickly but also reflecting on the line from the song: It is the evening of the day, I sit and watch the children play, doing things I used to do, they think are new, I sit and watch as tears go by......
"Indeed, sitting there observing the children against a panoramic backdrop of mountains and a sun setting on the Oropesa town, I was bursting at the seams with mixed feelings - happy to have made the acquaintance of these Oropesan kids and thereby, reliving many of my own childhood days. Yet, through it all, I was also saddened by the fact that our childhood could not be any more different! 
"Their playing without a care in the world could mask a thousand and one thoughts, unbeknownst to volunteers like me. As such, I will never understand, outside the confines of Picaflor House, the heavy responsibility they have to shoulder at home at a tender young age, the adult roles they have to assume prematurely and the heavy burdens they have to bear just to survive from one day to the next.

"Yet, I seek refuge in their momentary displays of exuberance when chasing a ball, skipping a rope, monkeying away at the bars and oscillating high at the swings. I even secretly relish the fervour they expend in fighting (yes, physically fighting) for what they deem to be theirs and the non-inhibition of casting away acculturated behaviour that we in the developed world would frown upon......like a boy fingering the remnants of crumbs of a birthday cake on a soiled basin and then putting the spoils delightfully into his mouth! I saw what living in the moment means - truly living for that few hours away from a harsh reality that volunteers would never be witness to, let alone really understand! 
"Prior to my initiation into the volunteer work, I had grander thoughts of changing the kids with whatever privilege was accorded to me growing up in the developed world. Armed with lesson plans that could jolt the interest of the most passive of kids (or so I thought!), I had to abandon ship many times and cast these plans out the window to keep the lessons afloat. In that short span of time, I became a proponent of Julius Caesar's Vini, Vidi, Vici albeit with a twist at the end: I came, I saw and I accepted what I could not conquer. 
"I accept the way that the kids are.....that their reality is different from mine and it's okay. They will never be subjected to the same set of rules and behaviour that I am accustomed to in the classrooms of the developed world and ironically, I - who am quite the disciplinarian at heart - think it is okay! They will never be schooled in the same way that many students from the developed world who went through the portals of established educational institutions did but again, I have learnt to graciously accept that it's okay. 
"The bottom line is that my volunteer experience has taught me to truly embrace the children and their reality as they are. And to sum up my reflections with another line from the same Marianne Faithfull's song: My riches can't buy everything, I want to hear the children sing... I believe that volunteering my time and money cannot buy the children a different reality but the good intentions that come along with my volunteer work, will, I hope, beckon the children to come into the fold of a loving environment that encourages them to continue singing a tune they are accustomed to and then, gently ease them to better themselves of their own accord, in their own time and in a reality that they are familiar with."