I have no idea where that little bit of English entered their vocabularies (perhaps their English teacher at school?), but the young kids I teach in Huaycan never hesitate to use it when they need my attention or see me in the street.
If you had told me a few months ago that I’d be teaching English to 6-12 year olds this semester, I probably would’ve rejected the idea. I used to view English teaching abroad as a cop-out; an almost new imperialism that seemed unnecessary. I’ve since changed my ways, as I’ve come to learn that learning English (like any second language) can open opportunities for anyone, in any social standing. I just had never viewed myself as a teacher. However, when I heard about Luz y Liderazco (Light and Leadership), an NGO that my friend’s cousin had volunteered at, started by a young American woman, I was intrigued. After visiting Huaycan and meeting the children that participate in the extra-curricular English, art, library, and chess classes, I decided to join in the fun. I do enjoy working with children in educational settings (I’ve tutored in El Centro Comunal in Bloomington for a few semesters), and Light and Leadership provides teaching tips and a curriculum, which means that I won’t singlehandedly ruin these children’s English education. Most of them also have English classes at school, so often times these classes are more complementary than a single option. We work to provide a constructive space for the students.
Huaycán is a bit difficult to describe. Is it a city? Town? Suburb of Lima? Population estimates range considerably from 50,000 to 200,000 inhabitants, concentrated in the center of the city and rising up into the hills. Dusty hills – mountains almost. And the standard of living changes drastically as we climb those hills in the tiny combis that threaten to die and fall apart every rock we hit on the road. As the combi leaves the main street and begins its ascent, the building structures begin to simplify; wood replaces brick, pavement disappears on the road.
The classroom that I teach in is in a zone called Los Alamos, and is considered one of the poorest/least developed in Huaycan. Most of my students live in shack-like structures, and our classroom doesn’t have electricity. However, I never really refer to Huaycán as ‘poor’ or ‘a shantytown’ in my head. The term in Spanish makes a lot more sense – pueblo joven – young town. A town still figuring out how to provide for all of its citizens, how to form lasting infrastructure, how to encourage business opportunity.
Our role in Huaycán is interesting, and I’m happy that I’m continuing to question and learn about the various faces of development work. Does our position as a foreign NGO (pretty much the only foreign organization in the city) affect the work we do? Do I really have any business heading an English class when I have little formal training for teaching young children? And the ever-present: Is what we are doing meaningful and sustainable? I don’t have answers, como siempre, but I feel quite good so far about my involvement with Light and Leadership. At the very least, I’ve gained some new skills and met new people, hopefully while doing no harm.
After a few months of coming to Huaycan twice a week, I can’t imagine my time in Lima without it. The commute flies by faster each day, and I relish the sun and dusty roads so different from Lima. I look forward to seeing the kids, and working to creatively present each lesson and engage each student is a welcome challenge. Being in a classroom again has helped me understand my own learning, and I find myself using study techniques that I use in English class to study for Quechua. Sometimes it’s difficult to occupy the two spaces – to turn down travel plans because I don’t want to skip class, to block off two days in which I’m almost never in Lima, and to leave Huyacan each night instead of being able to stay for late night soccer with the live-in volunteers.
But in the small moments – racing Bryan up the hill to our classroom, Kenji getting a hundred percent on his test despite missing several classes, Henry teaching me to mimic his Peruvian accent in Spanish, laughing with volunteers after a long day of teaching – I know that I’ve found a home.