Melissa and I rolled into Cusco, Peru after a long bus ride from Nasca. We had just seen the Nasca Lines aboard a small aircraft, boogied down sand dunes at Huacachina, and celebrated my birthday in Lima. Our major goals were to relax my injured knee, take Spanish classes at a school in Cusco, work on our website, and to teach English for a local organization.
Arriving at Casa de Haydee
We took a short taxi ride from the main bus terminal in Cusco and were delivered to Casa de Haydee for a 25 night stay. Casa de Haydee is a house that belongs to a local woman named Haydee. Her son Yuri Valencia welcomed us into his mother’s home and showed us to our room. After offering some coca leaf tea, to fight the altitude in Cusco, Yuri explained that he is the founder and manager of a local non-profit.
Volunteering with Yuri Valencia at Aldea Yanapay
His project is called Aldea Yanapay and Yuri accepts volunteers year-round. Aldea Yanapay is many things. It is a school where young children from Cusco can experiment with art and music which hosts a weekly themed performance. Teenagers go to Aldea Yanapay to receive help with their homework, have English lessons, craft art projects, or just play games. Adults are invited in the late afternoons for practical French and English lessons. Aldea Yanapay is also the name of the family’s restaurant which serves delicious meals and hosts a weekly Bingo/Quiz night near the Plaza de Armas.
Over three weeks I ran an English program for children aged 9- 17. I developed a 15 lesson curriculum aimed at beginners and themed on topics such as computers, maps and flags, and making schedules. I had a wonderful time collaborating with volunteers from places like Spain, New Zealand, France, Argentina, and Canada. The centers at Aldea Yanapay are run on many principles and only committed volunteers need apply. If you are looking for a place to make a difference near Cusco, consider Aldea Yanapay.
Selling cupcakes at Santuranticuy in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas and Moving Day
On our first full day in Cusco, we joined a group of several dozen volunteers from around the world. Volunteers met at the Aldea Yanapay restaurant to pick colorful outfits, provide their faces for a face-painting specialist, and grab baskets of cupcakes for sale. Aldea Yanapay had also secured a table for the annual Santuranticuy. Many pilgrims and travelers visit Cusco during the Christmas and spend New Year’s Eve in the Plaza de Armas.
Santuranticuy is also known as, The Sale of the Saints. On December 24th of every year Cusco is invaded by throngs of tourists and local villagers looking to sell their wares. Religious items and Christmas presents are displayed on tables and many others walk around to vend products. In the morning, Melissa and I took footage of volunteers as they sold cupcakes by uttering charming lines and repetitive phrases that still linger in my mind. In the afternoon, Melissa needed to nap off her altitude sickness. (Is it still a nap if someone sleeps for 40 hours?) After bringing her back to the Casa de Haydee, I returned to the Plaza de Armas and sold a bunch of cupcakes with my team. Later that night I bonded with fellow volunteers (as Melissa continued her slumber) and celebrated Christmas Eve with the whole crew at Haydee’s place.
Moving school locations for Aldea Yanapay
Santuranticuy marked my first volunteering activity with Aldea Yanapay. I began my English program after Christmas and it ran Monday to Friday until mid-January when we returned home to visit family in New Jersey and New York.
One of my last experiences with the organization was during moving day. I arrived at the Aldea Yanapay cultural center expecting to videotape young children singing songs for a presentation. When I arrived I was surprised to see a huge truck being unloaded. A hoard of items was piled into mounds on any open space on the property. The musical performance had been rescheduled and all hands were needed to take the contents of an old school and move it all to the cultural center. Furniture, books, materials and a huge paper mache cow all needed a temporary home until everything could be sorted.
Aldea Yanapay had the use of a truck and the many strong hands of an international and local delegation of volunteers. The group consisted of new and established volunteers as well as staff from the youth hostel, restaurant, and homestay enterprises. There were students from a high school in Quebec that had been helping with the early education program for weeks. They were all eager to help lug supplies on moving day. In addition we were aided by a group of random biology majors from the University of Minnesota. They showed up out of nowhere just as other volunteers were getting tired and stayed until the final items were added to our moving day mounds.